Parenting in a Post-Pandemic World
By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC www.CreativeExpressionsConsulting.com
Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults
It is clear that the pandemic has taken a toll on parents and has impacted the approach to parenting altogether. New parents have had to make adjustments and decisions with little to no guidance because of its unprecedented nature. This often leaves them feeling anxious, as they are only beginning to build the foundation for a family.
We are currently navigating through the second school year of the pandemic which has had its own challenges due to mask mandates, remote learning, quarantines, and polarizing opinions on the issue. Many parts of the world are not only experiencing these challenges but are also dealing with environmental and economic issues such as wildfires, floods, droughts and unemployment. So how does a parent manage unforeseen events that impact their parenting approach? The Norman Rockwell idea of family and parenting is archaic. Back-to-school nights and parent teacher conferences feel like eons ago. Online meetings have become the norm. If relationships are built on interaction, then how can parents build a rapport with teachers and other parents through e-mail and Zoom? Many of us have come to the point of exhaustion - shifting our perspective and continuously pivoting due to these unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes my brain has had to shift in so many directions that I am left feeling dizzy from the experience and without a sense of direction.
We must not give up nor give into fear and anxiety, and begin to reorient ourselves and our families to live a healthy, post-pandemic lifestyle. As a start, we can use Art Therapy techniques to answer the following questions:
What have I learned over the last 18 months?
How have I changed and how has this helped me and my family?
What could I have done differently?
What traditions or practices would I like to implement moving forward?
As an art therapist and teacher, much of what I observed over the last 18 months is that most concerns parents have are interlaced with the idea that the pandemic has some influence in how a particular situation is being constructed. For example, parents fear the worst for their child; they get fatally sick from Covid-19. This concern has been voiced throughout the pandemic. What I remind these parents is to consider that children’s safety and well-being was a common fear before the pandemic and to not put the onus on the pandemic itself. I then suggest techniques to help them address their anxiety, such as Art Therapy and mindfulness practices.
Individuals who blame the pandemic for things that were in existence before the pandemic are only looking for a scapegoat.
The pandemic changed how new events are being experienced and constructed. The word constructed is deliberately being used because it gives responsibility to the person who is experiencing the issue. We have the power to construct or de-construct our own thoughts and beliefs about issues we face throughout life. We also have the tools to help us manage life’s challenges with a different perspective and clearer intentions.
If an individual was anxious or had a negative outlook on life before the pandemic, these conditions were only magnified during the pandemic. Oftentimes, people will blame the pandemic for their issues rather than dealing with them in a constructive manner through therapy and other self-development techniques. Playing the victim card will never allow us to learn and grow from life’s challenges.
An art instructor once taught a technique that enabled me to look at my work with a different perspective. Turn the painting to either side and ask yourself, ‘does this look well-balanced?’ If the painting is well-constructed it will look balanced. We can use this metaphor and apply it to different aspects of life: parenting, our career, our well-being and our relationships. If we view certain situations from a different perspective, does it look well-balanced? If you are not getting the results that you strive for, it is an indication that it may be time to do things differently.
When working with parents in Art Therapy, it is my goal to help them see their challenges from a different perspective and guide them in constructing a new path and thought process. A grounded individual that has a balanced and well-constructed viewpoint is better equipped to manage life’s challenges and grow from the experience. I often ask the question, is this person able to see a different perspective? Or does their lack of insight prevent them from being able to see? Art therapy helps to put self-limiting or destructive thoughts at bay and open the mind to new ideas and viewpoints that will better prepare them to deal with challenging circumstances like the pandemic.
This pandemic pushed us to consider the following conditions and life events whether we wanted to or were ready to face them:
Freedom, and how we choose what we do and how we are in this world.
Pursuit of happiness, and how we are the owners of our happiness and how we choose to pursue it.
Responsibility, and how we are all responsible for our choices, for others, and for ourselves.
Death, and its inevitability.
Many people who had the most difficulty dealing with the pandemic rarely considered one or all of the these key events and basic human conditions.
As I reflect on my own life and family before the pandemic, I recall our emphasis on prioritizing family time to discuss certain issues. We continuously worked hard to maintain a balance between work, social activities, school, and family time. The hard work it took to maintain this balance paid off for us during the pandemic, as it only strengthened our values and allowed for open discussions on topics about freedom, happiness, responsibility, and death. Working and schooling from home was a huge adjustment but we figured out how to manage and respect everyone's learning and working style. It was not a fluid transition, but it was accomplished. Through this experience, I learned that my husband is a talker and likes to converse while he works and listen to financial news. This was different than how he usually is after coming home from work. As for myself, I am a silent worker and often lost in my thoughts, which is a contrast to how I am after work. Prior to the pandemic, neither of us knew these things about each other. My daughter needed to be in the thick of things, right at the dining room table with frequent breaks to pet our dog or cat to help keep her energized during the long Zoom days. My sons needed their rooms and going up and down the stairs frequently for food aided in their ability to keep on track. We celebrated more of our quirks and interests during the pandemic. Was it easy and smooth? No, but it was necessary and we did it. We accepted the inevitable nature of our situation. Because we worked hard at building a foundation prior to the pandemic, we were able to maintain and even strengthen a healthy and harmonious life at home during the pandemic.
While this may have been the case for my family, I also realize that the opportunity to establish family traditions or personal boundaries may not have been awarded to new families during the pandemic. New families were robbed from creating new traditions, whether it would be family gatherings, attending fairs and festivals, seasonal activities like pumpkin or apple picking, visits to the zoo, vacations and other events that bring us closer together. These are the foundations for establishing traditions that allow us to connect with other families within our community and build lasting friendships. The pandemic has left new families to figure out alternative ways to create new traditions and rituals. This is going to be impactful for generations to come and will be something that mental health professionals may be presented with when working with children and families in the post-pandemic future.
How do we help families learn how to detach from the influences of the pandemic and decipher what parenting issues are normal vs. issues that are connected to the pandemic? We help them understand that there is a continuum to parenting and it is normal to fluctuate between intense and relaxed feelings based on circumstances. However, it is also key to identify and manage these emotions in order to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. How will we re-teach our children who were influenced by pandemic rules, masking and social distancing that it will soon be OK to engage in normal activity without feeling fear or anxiety? With patience, persistence, and compassion, we can help ourselves and our families get through tough times and come out stronger on the other end.
For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.
Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here: www.CreativeExpressionsConsulting.com