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Why Parents Need Time To Play During COVID-19

Aug. 8, 2020 Psychology Today

Parents need to play too! 

This occurred to me as I observed my son multi-tasking even more than he normally does. 

Since the pandemic, he and his sister have worked tirelessly to keep their afterschool sports business afloat by setting up virtual classes and filling out applications for government funding. But he also needs to keep his daughter occupied who, at five years old, is missing her friends and caregivers at the daycare she’d been going to since infancy. So while running his business, he also has set up a regular schedule for his daughter at home, to compensate for the life she’d previously known that has now been completely disrupted. 

He makes sure that her days are filled with a balance of play, rest, and online school. He helps her with homework, which he has dubbed “home play,” and makes sure she gets outside to ride her bike, play soccer, and look for insects, and then home again so she can FaceTime with her friends. And, he never misses their nightly father-daughter talk time before bed.

Then, as if that weren’t enough on his plate, I have been staying with him in between my travels visiting friends. This time, I’ve stayed much longer than either of us anticipated. My presence there has not been a big help to him, because I am a third-stage cancer patient as well as a multiple trauma survivor with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), who’s currently living with daily triggered vivid memories of past abuse brought on by the COVID-19 quarantine. The side effects from the chemo pills I take twice daily also leave me exhausted, light-headed, and with a lack of focus. 

So, the bulk of the housework falls on my son, who also shops for the entire family including his sister, whose impaired hip prevents her from carrying heavy packages. And, he has been so careful in not doing anything or going anywhere that would expose me to COVID-19, since I am 77 years old and at high health risk.

In my own fog, I hadn’t even noticed that he hadn’t been able to do many of the things that he loves doing.

Why Is It Important for Parents to Play?

Parents, coupled or single, can hardly take time for themselves when everything is normal. So how can they do so during a crisis? 

Make no mistake: The pandemic is a global crisis, one of massive proportions, the likes of which we have not experienced in our lifetime. While we expect stress in our lives, we’ve also learned to cope with it in our fast-paced society. Yet, a crisis is a totally different animal. If we don’t take steps to lessen the impact, it has all the characteristics of trauma, defined as “an overwhelmingly negative event that causes a lasting impact on the victim’s mental and emotional stability.” 

Parents need to think about what will happen to their families if they get sick, can’t work, or worse, die. All of this can weigh heavily on someone. To stay sane — even though there aren’t enough hours in the day as a parent — you need to:

  • Formally schedule time for yourself, with your partner and individually. Make sure you follow it!
  • Continue with the things that bring you joy and pleasure. 
  • Take time to do something you’ve always wanted to do and haven’t, i.e., draw, read, garden, etc.

This is crucial for your physical, mental, and emotional health. Research claims that stress suppresses the immune system, and while this isn’t a problem in the short term, it could leave the body vulnerable to illness in the long-term.

Furthermore, internalizing trauma could lead to anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. You could unconsciously pass the trauma down intergenerationally to your children.

To avoid this, keep these tips in mind:  

  • Do not deny that you are in a crisis. The sooner you accept that you are in a crisis, the quicker you can make decisions to find a “new normal.”
  • In any crisis, remember: Whatever you do during normal times, will not work!
  • While quarantined, do not further isolate yourself. Cell phones, social media, and Zoom are lifelines. Use them.
  • If you don’t have one already, start an exercise regimen. If you do, then continue. There are videos galore that offering free lessons on yoga, t’ai chi, aerobics, weightlifting, etc. Keep your body moving. It will thank you.
  • Eat healthy. Stay off sugar and carbs. You’ll feel much better.
  • Get enough sleep, i.e., 7-8 hours each night. Dreaming is important for releasing pent-up emotions that you don’t deal with during waking hours.
  • Last, but not least, do not wait until you’re burned out to seek counseling.
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