Help! I Need a Break!!

Hard working parents have a lot of juggling to do even in more normal times.  Now, with schools unexpectedly closed, no access to daycare or most sitters, with one or two parents working from home (blurring the lines between work and childcare) and extra financial and personal stress, things have gotten MUCH harder.

Not surprisingly, parents need a break from the stress.  One woman wrote:

“We have HUGE issues with needing to both still work full time while now covering all childcare too. My ADHD partner is essential services, so he still leaves for work each day, and I also have to work full time still while taking care of our toddler. We have split our schedules to help share childcare load but it's still exhausting and has us working very long days with absolutely no time for ourselves. Add in having my ADHD stepchild here each weekend instead of every other and that’s even less time with my partner. My ADHD partner is stressed out, not sleeping well at all, often because of anxiety. Toddler doesn't sleep well at night. My partner has always been inattentive towards me, making me feel lonely and ignored but this is SO much worse because we barely have ANY time together as we're ALWAYS working or doing childcare. I'm supposed to be the strong one who keeps it together for everyone and helps everyone to manage their emotions but I'm losing it. I have a high stress job and increased workload due to COVID-19 and can't take this much longer…”

Another described the small things that could keep her on this side of sane:

“I have 2 kids with ADHD , am trying to work, trying to support 1 high schooler who also has dyslexia & dysgraphia. One who is bored because he can’t go to work. My husband calls repeatedly so I can remind him of what needs to be done.  It really taxes my executive functions!

I have tried to explain to my husband why I need a break, especially after dinner.  I would love that dinner be cleaned up without giving them all directions. Or not have to do bedtime. Or not need to chat when my husband comes home.  But without a break I tend to hit overwhelm pretty fast…”

The problem with overwhelm

Unfortunately, once we are overwhelmed, our ability to cope goes way down.  We are more irritable and short-tempered, less open to ideas that might help out, more likely to feel resentful and carry that around with us, less likely to think clearly, more focused on the negative, and more. 

This isn’t news.  But it is why you have to pay attention to feelings of overwhelm and do what you can to avoid it, particularly when times are hard.

How to find that break you need

Remind yourself that this will pass.  Like more traditional wars, this feels all encompassing and endless.  But it will pass, and life will start to return to normal some time in the next months, not years.  This can provide you with mental fortitude.

Put aside as much as you can during this time. Do a 'triage' on what is REALLY important (like eating) and put everything else off that you can. Don't do extra projects, do laundry less, clean only as much as is critical to do, order take out sometimes if you are still allowed to do that in your area, cook prepared food or make soups etc that will last for several meals, consider using paper plates on particularly busy days so there is less clean up.  This triage may ease some of the pressure.

Both partners should spend some time right before bed calming yourselves. That could be with deep breathing for 3-5 minutes; meditation; stretching and breathing...something that is calming so that you fall asleep quickly and sleep more deeply. Sleep is your friend when trying to keep things together. If your partner is being woken up by things that he remembers in anxiety in the middle of the night, suggest he keep a pad of paper and pen beside his bed so that he can capture the ideas and go back to sleep more easily.  3mg of Melatonin might help, too.

Try to get outside with the kids If the weather and your local rules allow.. Sunshine and exercise are both good for your emotional state and may help you get more energy. For a quick burst or energy if you're lagging, do 10 jumping jacks.

Create a private space only for you.  Explain to family members that they aren’t to disturb you when you are there.  Retreat when you feel you can handle things no longer or as part of an agreed upon schedule with your partner for recharging time.

Try not to drink alcohol while under such stress, or at least drink more alcohol. It messes with your sleep (because it breaks down into sugar as you are sleeping), and may make you a bit sluggish, depending upon how much you drink.  Using marijuana as a coping tool can also make things worse, as it lessens your ability to pitch in and help you partner with all of the stressors he or she is facing.

Try to keep children on a sleep schedule that starts with a calming routine (like cuddling and reading) and gets him to bed early enough. Some younger kids do better if they go to bed earlier, (for example before 8pm). Worth trying if you haven't before.

Carve out 10 minutes a day (minimum) where it’s just you two.  Yes, this is one of those things that should survive your triage.  Focused on each other.  Hold hands.  Spoon in bed.  Say nice things to each other.  Remind each other you care for each other.  You may wish to use one of my favorite check-in tools (see “What You Need to Know About Me Today Is…”).  It’s quick and easy.

If other things don’t work, get some help at least one day a week from a local high school or college student who is home.  Try to hire someone whom you know and trust to take care to not be interacting with others when not with your family.  Provide a good mask for both the caretaker and, if your children are old enough, your kids.  Encourage them to do activities where they don’t have to touch each other (example – playing outdoors, walks, creating artwork, video games.)  Carefully clean surfaces they will/do touch both before and after.  Think of it as child supervision.  Prohibit hugs.  In other words, get a little help and make it as safe as you can for everyone involved.