My family's world is speeding up again as the world around us reopens. That makes me happy in many ways, but I've also enjoyed the slowed-down rhythm that our lives have taken on since the start of the pandemic. I'm afraid re-entry is going to be tough — and I'm certain I am not the only parent worried about this!
I don’t have the answers, but after thinking over what this last year has taught me, here is my plan as we move forward:
1. Ask for help
I need to get better at asking for and accepting help. I read a great quote recently that said, “Depression is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign that you have been strong for too long.” If you feel yourself floundering, don’t wait until the water is above your head to call for help. Find families to carpool with. Use grocery store pickup or delivery. Ask friends or family to help when needed — we're all in this together after all!
2. Tell your partner what you need
In my house, I'm the keeper of the calendar, the planner of playtime, and outings. And in talking with friends, I know I'm not alone! It can be mentally exhausting to feel like you're the one making all the plans and decisions. Tell your partner if you feel overwhelmed or anxious about having to make family decisions most of the time. Ask your partner to take on more of this responsibility. If, like my husband, your partner doesn't even know where to begin, start by signing them up for your local Macaroni Kid edition!
3. Set new priorities
Take this opportunity to re-evaluate and reset priorities and boundaries. I used to insist upon activity-free Sundays, but then my son made it onto a travel team. We didn’t find the downtime we were giving up elsewhere. We just kept adding activities without replacing or removing any. Use the lull in activity we've all had as an “elimination diet.” Reintroduce activities slowly, test the waters, and see if there are any that you might be able to eliminate. I find it is easier to avoid adding things back in, than it is to subtract them once they are underway.
4. Keep using those cool new tools!
Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Google Meet, etc. were new discoveries for me and many of my co-workers and friends. While we may have all suffered a little “Zoom fatigue," don’t let that take away from the utility of these tools. The ability to connect, visually, with multiple people at once was invaluable at a time when we could not gather in person, but it's also a huge time saver for those of us with family and friends all over the country. Keep using them to stay in touch!
5. Give yourself grace
Overwhelmed by the idea of the return of "normalcy," even as your friends and family cheer it on? You're not alone! Psychologists even have a name for it: Re-entry fear. If you're feeling anxious, take it slow, find something that brings you joy and find time to do it every day, make a list of things you're excited about doing again, and don't hesitate to reach out and talk to someone about your fears and anxiety, whether it's a friend, your partner, or — perhaps best yet — a professional.
Remember that we're all in this together as we enter this new phase of the pandemic. You are not alone.
Debra Flanagan is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Chicago Northside.