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Parenting During Self-Isolation: A Doctor Mom's Tips for Staying Sane

Parents with kids
Hansa Bhargava, MD - Blogs
By Hansa D. Bhargava, MDBoard-certified pediatricianMarch 18, 2020

It’s been overwhelming. Schools closing, jobs going remote, social distancing, constant news updates about COVID-19, and of course hand-washing, hand-washing, hand-washing. And on top of it, now we are home with our kids 24/7.

Kids are wonderful – I have two of them, and I love being a pediatrician, but it is not easy being around kids all the time. Especially now, with the added issues of keeping everyone healthy, having enough groceries in stock, staying hydrated, working online, and the list goes on. We know we need to engage in social distancing to slow the virus in its tracks and keep ourselves healthy, but it’s going to be a tough few weeks.

How do we get through this? By making accommodations and letting go. We simply cannot do everything the way we did during ‘normal’ times. It is a different world right now. And in order to survive, from a mental and emotional perspective, we need to let some things go and be okay with it. Here are some things that I’m doing as a mom:

  • Do what you can to add a little structure so that everyone gets sleep and rest. Have regular bedtimes, wake up times, and meal times. This will help you carve out some time for yourself (for work or self-care) and also keep the kids’ mood and energy on track.
  • Allow meals to be imperfect. You do not need to act like a professional chef or nutritionist right now. The kids will be fine as long as you hit the main groups such as veggies, protein, dairy – it doesn’t have to be perfect. In the morning, plan a couple of balanced meals, and allow the third meal to be freestyle – whatever works. Have the kids help with the meals if you can, and certainly with clean up. Kids who are 5 or over can pitch in!
  • Learning is important, but it doesn’t have to be a constant focus. Older kids will have online school and homework, so let them get that done before they get on screens. For younger kids, plan a couple of educational activities if you can, but divvy them up between you and your partner. That could include reading books, doing a workbook, or even watching an educational video together. There are plenty of free online apps and programs that the kids can do, so that you can break away to get your own stuff done.
  • Loosen up on the screens. I’m not saying that the kids should be in front of the tv for 8 hours, but definitely lean on the electronics when you really need to – which will probably be a lot more than you would in ‘normal’ life. There are actually some good ways to do this: kids’ educational programs, documentaries, and even good podcasts. ‘Brains On’ is an example of a good educational, but fun, podcast. Some social media is okay, too, but it should be age-appropriate.
  • Move your body, and get the kids to move theirs. Get outside for a family walk, shoot some hoops, or do a dance party inside. Exercising can make a difference not only physically, but also mentally by elevating those ‘happy’ chemicals that get released when with it. And a bonus is that the kids may sleep better if they are tired out!
  • Take care of yourself. I can’t emphasize this enough. Social isolation can affect your mental well-being. Can you have a porch ‘date’ with a neighbor or friend who is sitting 5-6 feet away? If not, can you FaceTime your sister? Social media can help with social interaction too. Also, make sure you turn off the news feed to reduce anxiety. Take a bath or watch a funny show. It all helps. Also use social media for good – are others getting the food they need? Do they have internet access? Check apps like Nextdoor or FaceTime groups to see what you can do to help.

I remember a time when my twins were young – I was incredibly overwhelmed. Crazy busy days turned into nights and into weeks. There were times when I was so sleep deprived I thought I would lose it. With two babies, my days were jam-packed: make their food, feed them, do laundry, change diapers, and then start it all over again. Anytime I’d try to sit down and eat, one of them would inevitably start crying or need something. So, we made changes. We divvied up tasks, and I had the neighbors kids come play with them. I let go of the home being messy and laundry that wasn’t folded and put away. And my husband and I decided that the kids would have cartoon time. Yep, time on screen so that we could actually sit down and enjoy OUR food and get just a pocket of peace. It was important so that I could stay healthy and, therefore, be able to take care of them. 

It is a strange time for sure, and all of this can feel like A LOT. We know what we have to do to stay physically healthy and avoid the virus, but we need to stay mentally healthy, too. And that means letting go and loosening some of the usual home ‘rules’. And if that means you need a break, cartoon away. Remember, this too shall pass. Social distancing works – it worked during previous epidemics like polio and the Spanish flu – and it will work now. But in the meantime, we all need to get through it. So let go of trying to do it all. Relax, and just do what you can. The kids will be alright, and so will you.

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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is a medical editor and WebMD's expert pediatrician. She oversees the team of medical experts responsible for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of the pediatric content on the site.

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