Article By Dr Lisa Osborn, Psy.D*
No one is immune from the impact of COVID-19. But for moms with newborns and toddlers, the isolation and distance from loved ones and support networks is especially hard.
You may find comfort in this important article we commissioned from Dr Lisa Osborn, Psy.D, an LA-based Clinical Psychologist specializing in maternal mental health, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, reproductive trauma and couples’ adjustment to parenthood.
It’s beginning to sound a little clichéd, but this is a very difficult time. It’s critically important for us to actively keep that in mind as we live through this event, especially as we see our friends crafting with their children or baking bread on Instagram. We do not ask or even consider ‘optimizing’ time when we go through equivalent losses or hardships.
Think for a moment about what we expect of ourselves if we lose a loved one, a job, a pet, fallen ill, etc. This is an uncertain period, and we have to marshal all of our coping mechanisms to get through it. Yes, that can certainly mean more screen time than any of us would otherwise be comfortable with. This is not a time to make your life more Instagram worthy, or clean out that closet. This might sound like current parenting heresy, but screens can make an excellent baby sitter. Anyone who tells you differently doesn’t have children.
There is a lot of talk about ‘all the free time’ we now supposedly have on our hands. I don’t know about you, but that has not been my personal experience, and I certainly do not hear that from parents of young children. If Instagram helps you feel connected to others and good inside that is awesome, but if it ends up leaving you with that all-too-familiar feeling of not doing enough, it is time to rethink your relationship with it. Similarly, if you do end up having time to clean out ‘that closet’, congratulations! I know how great that can feel. But, if you’re not getting to tasks like that, this is not the time to feel bad about yourself. Remember, this is a time to get through with your sanity in check - anything else is gravy.
Practice Gratitude. While looking for silver linings in our shelter-in-place can be helpful, it doesn’t mean that we should expect to always see those linings, or to see them at all. Gratitude only works if you genuinely feel it. It completely backfires if you say to yourself “I should feel…” That’s called a guilt trip. You do not need that right now. Remember, it’s already hard enough. If the idea of feeling gratitude makes you feel like expressing an expletive instead. That’s okay. Try again by connecting to the smaller things you enjoy. Try savoring them in your mind. For example, think of your cup of coffee or tea in the morning, finding an optimal delivery window, getting fresh air. Less is more here, the smaller the better.
Practice Self Compassion. Moms are way too hard on themselves. Self-compassion is one thing moms of young children need in your average day. So we certainly need it to survive during a COVID-19, shelter-in-place, social distancing, with pre-school on Zoom day. What is self-compassion? It is the act of feeling for yourself and your struggles. Here are some simple steps to try. First, notice your suffering. It will show up as frustration, impatience, sadness, guilt, etc. Validate the feeling for yourself first by naming it, and then by making sense of it. Say, “This is frustration. I’m frustrated because my pre-schooler isn’t interested in Zoom school.” (Of course she isn’t!) Offer yourself compassion—Say, “This is hard. Zoom preschool is hard. It’s hard for both of us.” Softening the moment for yourself helps you to soften with your child. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now? What would be helpful?” And end, with offering yourself the following statement. “I’m doing the best I can right now.”
In addition to practicing gratitude and self-compassion, I also like the following framework for guiding our mindset and behavior to help us get through this time called The 5 Ms. The 5 Ms stand for Mindfulness, Meaning, Mastery, Movement, and Maintain.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness can be practiced more formally, but what I’m suggesting is practicing more of an everyday kind of mindfulness that involves keeping tabs on your internal experience along with the self-compassion described above. This can help us provide ourselves with the necessary self-care needed throughout the day.
Meaning. Living through this pandemic provides us with a new and unique way to determine what is truly important and meaningful in our lives. Let’s use this time to learn and discover what is truly meaningful and vow to hang on to it once we can return to our ‘normal’ lives.
Mastery. Consider using this time to get better at something that will bring you pleasure or greater peace of mind. It can be anything. I suggest starting with mastering self-compassion.
Movement. Keeping our bodies moving is the best medicine for mental health. Research has shown that moderate exercise is as effective as anti-depressants for mild to moderate depression. Try your best to integrate daily exercise into your new routine.
Maintain. Daily predictable routines are also important to our mental health. Likely, your daily routine has changed from before. Do your best to maintain healthy sleep and eating, which are also foundations upon which our mental health rests.
*Lisa Osborn, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist specializing in maternal mental health, reproductive trauma, and couple therapy related to the adjustment to parenthood. She serves on Maternal Mental Health Now's Governing Council and was the 2016 President of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association. Dr. Osborn is active in the California Psychological Association and worked for the American Psychological Association for nearly five years. She is adjunct professor at Pepperdine University.