The parent coach is in: Compassion and safe-keeping during challenging times

By Leah Persky, PhD & Certified Family Life Educator • Family Life Education Manager

What are parents dealing with lately? Well, a lot! They are agonizing over questions of safety; childcare; figuring out how best to engage in physical distancing this summer; thinking about how we can educate ourselves and our children about issues of racism, police brutality and inequality in society, and be an active part of the solution. Yes, this is quite a list!

I am hearing from so many parents who are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by all of these tasks and decisions.

All of these important daily decisions rest on the larger concerns of social instability, as our society deals with the interrelated issues of institutionalized racism, growing inequality, a global pandemic, and the increasingly partisan political landscape. This is A LOT to deal with and so many parents are simply exhausted and have little extra time or resources at their disposal.  

I have fielded many questions that all relate back to these issues and how to handle this new social and health landscape we all find ourselves in. Here are my three top pieces of advice that I find myself sharing with parents:

1. We are all doing our best, we must work to have compassion for ourselves and others. You have probably heard about people feeling judged or shamed by the decisions they have made for their families; both online and in person. This is so damaging because most people are doing their best to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy. What one family needs will be quite different from what another family needs.

While it is hard, we all must first appreciate and acknowledge all the work we are doing around the safe-keeping of loved ones; we must also give ourselves some credit! From there, empathy and compassion for others will grow. One of the hardest and most compassionate things we can do is realize that some people fill us up and others do not. If we keep butting heads with someone, it may be the best decision to take a break from each other for a bit.

None of us is perfect and unfortunately, neither is the information we are working with. This graphic I created highlights what so many parents are feeling now, and this is just the surface. We are pulled in so many directions and have so many unanswered questions.

2. Ambiguous loss is a concept that we are now as a society experiencing. Dr. Pauline Boss coined this term in the 1970s, and today it is used to apply to situations of loss that lack clarity or closure around death and other losses. Dr. Boss specifically studied grief and loss as it pertained to the loss of a loved one, accompanied by very few facts or details about the death or whereabouts of the individual. Examples include deaths from wars, genocides, natural disasters or missing persons. The term is now used to apply more broadly to a variety of situations and experiences, including everything we have lost over the past few months.

What have we lost? The tangible and intangible. Many of us are mourning the loss of our old lives. The sense of safety that many have been privileged enough to take for granted, is now gone. We mourn our lost social connections, a certain type of employment or job, possibly our health, time with family and friends, and the loss of the school year for our children. This is a type of loss and longing that slowly has gripped us on an individual and community level. We realize that we have lost a certain element of control and safety in our lives, and we don’t know when we will regain it. This may manifest as sadness, frustration, apathy and regression in behaviors for adults and children.

I felt this loss keenly as I visited my 90-year-old grandmother last weekend. We were there to celebrate her birthday at the nursing home where she lives. We talked through a window, with masks on, and I could only drop off some items for her. It was hard to have much of a conversation, hard to hear, and of course we were not allowed to hug or touch. I kept reminding myself that this was better than no visit at all.

The first step of acknowledging this loss is a powerful one. It can lead us to a better place. We have all demonstrated that we are strong and resilient and can get through this challenging time, which is temporary. Acknowledging the losses will make space for new connections and energy in our lives. For more on Ambiguous Loss, click here: Ambiguous Loss Pioneered by Pauline Boss

3. Make a mantra for your family. If you clearly state your intention or what you desire, this will help guide the decisions you make and where you spend your energy. Think of this as your family motto or mantra to get you through this time. Making decisions will become easier if you have this clearly in mind and provide a coherent foundation or goal for your actions. The key is to repeat the words over and over to yourself and continue to do so throughout your day. One I like to use is: “Be safe, be calm, be kind” and “Trust yourself.” The beauty of these is that they are short, easily repeatable, and you can change them depending on what you and your family need.

JFCS is here to support parents and families in so many ways. For example, the JFCS Parent Coaching Line is here to meet your everyday parenting needs and challenges and help support you during these uncertain times. Parent coaching provides tailored, empirically-supported, action-oriented, forward-looking support to address challenges you are facing. We do not diagnose conditions or provide therapy. Coaching calls are free at this time, although we do accept donations to JFCS to help fund this important service. You can make an appointment for your free 30 minute coaching call here or by calling 952-546-0616 and leaving a message with your name and contact information. We will return your call within one business day.