Remote rescue for parents!
Earlier this week I wrote a ‘Remote Rescue’ post for photographers, as my social media was overflowing with self-employed photographer friends and colleagues understandably despairing at the impact of Covid-19 on their businesses. As I wasn’t able to make the virus disappear (still working on that 🤓!) I decided to share some practical ideas and resources to try to help them navigate through it instead.
Recent developments over the last couple of days mean that now I’m not just seeing my self-employed friends panicking about their businesses, I’m also now seeing my parent friends anxious about their families… So many more families are now on lockdown or facing the probability of having to do it, and are also worrying about vulnerable loved ones and their own mental health. I’m seeing a huge uptick in anxiety levels.
So, I wanted to share some pieces of advice I’m currently giving myself (have given myself a fair few stern ‘talkings to’ over the past few days lol), and pull together some practical ideas and resources for parents and families to hopefully help you ride the storm too. I really hope they help. Sending so much love to you all.
1) Remember that we’re all in this together
In times of anxiety, it’s so easy to retreat into your own head, to get lost in panicked thoughts and feel as though you’re alone. Reach out to friends and family, ask for help, don’t be scared to say you’re struggling or worried. Your loved ones will want to reassure you and to help you in any way that they can. Surround yourself with positivity and love, you’ll feel better for it. The benefit of our hyper-connected world is that there are so many ways you can connect with people you love. Skype and FaceTime are your friends – we might not be able to see each other in the flesh but thanks to technology we can still connect, hear each other’s voices and see each other’s faces.
2) Prune your social media
The flip side of this hyper-connected world is that there is SO. MUCH. NOISE. The incessant babble of social media can feel just as overwhelming as the isolation. Just as you don’t want to be at one extreme of cutting yourself off from others, try to avoid the other extreme too. If any social media platform is making you feel anxious, come off it for a while, or delete the app from your phone. If you need to be on Facebook (perhaps for business reasons) then ‘snooze’ or unfollow anyone whose posts are stressing you out. Unfollow or mute on Instagram. Mute or leave any WhatsApp groups that are doing your head in. Ensure that the only input you’re having from the outside world is positive and makes you feel supported and reassured. You don’t need to be connected to everyone, just the people who matter and who nourish you.
3) Only read the news at set times and from one or two outlets
With everything changing so quickly it’s tempting to check the news every 5 minutes for developments but that can feel completely overwhelming. It’s also so easy for it to become one of those things you start to do compulsively just because it’s become a habit. Remember also that much of the media is guilty of scaremongering that can panic you unnecessarily. Stick to one or two trusted news outlets that you know will give you balanced and sensible information. Decide on one or two specific times of the day to spend 5 minutes checking the news for important updates, perhaps 9am and 3pm (NB NOT last thing at night!) and stick to these. If you’re worried about missing important information then perhaps set up a small WhatsApp group or similar with a few close friends you trust, where you can agree to share anything important that you think will benefit the others so you don’t have to worry about missing stuff.
4) Create a trusted, nourishing, supportive ‘pod’
Following on from previous points, whilst limiting your exposure to groups/feeds that drain you, try to create just one or two ‘pods’ of trusted friends/family who you know will be positive, supportive and reassuring. You could set this up on WhatsApp if it’s not already, or maybe agree to have a group Skype call or similar every so often if you want to avoid social media. Within this pod, you can share resources to make each other’s lives easier and that will be practically and emotionally useful – ideas for play and learning (if you’ve got schoolchildren at home), easy recipes, at-home exercise resources, good books, films etc.
5) Eat well
I know when you’re worried you might lose your appetite or not feel like cooking, but try to eat as heartily and healthily as possible. It will make you feel better and will keep your strength and immunity up incase you do get ill, so that you can recover as quickly as possible. By all means stock up on packets, tins etc incase you can’t access fresh stuff, but try to eat as fresh as you can while you’re able to. Soups are great as you can pretty much just chuck in whatever you have to hand. They’re cheap, easy, and you can just whack them on the hob in the morning and keep them simmering away all day. It’s also easy to make loads of it and freeze/refrigerate the rest for later when you can’t be arsed cooking. Here are loads of easy soup recipes, as well as loads of store-cupboard recipes too so you can whip up something tasty even if your supplies are low.
6) Sleep well
Again, look after your mental and physical strength by making sure you get 8 hours a night if you can. Try to be really strict about not looking at screens in the hours before bed, and especially don’t read the news or social media later on, you’ll find it so much harder to settle. Personally I’ve found a nifty little routine this last week or so. I’ve been going to bed really early (pretty much as soon as I’ve got my 5 year old to sleep), reading a nice ‘escapist’ book to chill me out before sleep, then getting up early. That way, I’m still getting my 8 hours (perhaps 9pm to 5am) but I’m not awake during those later evening hours when I tend to feel most tired and anxious. It also means that I have an hour or two in the mornings before the kids get up when I can have some peaceful, calm time to myself and/or get some work done while I’m feeling refreshed and rested.
7) Make use of the wealth of online ideas & resources available
Over the last week, I’ve seen soooo many amazing free resources shared to support families and keep you and your kids occupied in the weeks ahead. Try Phonics Play, Busy Things, NRich Maths, Pobble 365, BBC Bitesize, 25 non-screen activities, TTS Home Learning Packs, this amazing list of home education resources by The Mother Side. plus this great Stay-at-Home Survival Guide by The Imagination Tree.
8) Don’t let homeschooling be an extra stress or pressure
By the same token, you’ll most likely be seeing loads of links to learning resources on your social media (including the ones above!) but although helpful, this can also feel overwhelming and lead you to feel anxious that there’s lots out there you’re not doing that you should be doing. School WhatsApp groups and social media may also start to become a bit of a ‘let’s see who’s doing the best at homeschooling’ show-off arena. Your child’s school should be sending resources home for you if they haven’t already, so just keep it simple and start with those, perhaps supplemented by just one or two other fun resources you’ve come across. Try to follow ‘unschooling’ principles if ‘homeschooling’ feels overwhelming. Remember that younger kids especially won’t need as many hours of structured learning one-to-one with you as they had in a large group setting at school – you can do it in smaller, concentrated chunks. Younger children also learn huge amounts through play, so just try to keep them happy and engaged, and let them lead activities where you can. The main thing here is for us all to navigate through this storm happily and securely. Put your own and your kids’ mental health first before any educational targets. I love these words (shared by ‘The Neurodiverse Woman‘):
“It’s going to be stressful. If things get worse you’re going to be stressed, your kids are going to be stressed. Your kids might be scared of things they’ve heard or seen on TV. Arguing with your kids to do work is not what anyone needs right now. Instead, cuddle up together and read, read, read. Take turns reading. Read them your favourite novel (yes, you can read novels to kindergarten age kids). Do a puzzle. Build a fort. Bake. Watch TV together. Paint. Get out the lego and build together. Set up a tent in your living room and camp out. Look at photos of when you were a kid. In other words, don’t stress about homeschooling them. Just spend time together. Your kids won’t learn much if they’re feeling stressed. Though this is a scary time, it could very well be a time they remember as the best time in their life.”
9) Relish time with your kids
As parents we often say we wish we had more time with our kids. The wonderful flipside of this awful situation is that we’ve just been handed exactly this on a plate, which is great! Try not to stress too much about what you should be doing with them, or thinking the pressure is on to entertain them or to school them. Really listen to them, play with them, and just try to relax into just hanging out with them. When this is over and we’re all back into whirlwind mode again you’ll long for more time with them again. Make the most of it while we have it, it won’t be for long. I know that many of us still have to juggle having the kids at home with working from home or running our own businesses, so here’s a resource I put together for simple family activities that take minimal time and resources but still create precious moments of connection. None of them are time-consuming (I actually wrote this to support families during ‘normal’ times when they are busy working!) so many will still be useful while on lockdown if it’s a day when you’re particularly busy with your own work or other tasks.
10) Create a schedule or routine
Sit down with your kids and together draw up a schedule or routine for your days – first get down a list of all the things they want to do (e.g. play, watch TV), then think of all the things they need to do (e.g. learning, exercise). The kids are much more likely to buy into it and stick to it if they have some ownership of it. You might be surprised (and helped out) by some of the things they suggest – my youngest today suggested we do ‘circle time’ which I’d never have thought of myself. Then work out what YOU need and want to do too. Try to combine them if you can – for example, can you all exercise together somehow? Can your kids help you to cook the dinner? Try to emulate some of the routine they had at school so there’s some continuity and ‘normality’ for them. You’ll all find it much less disorientating if you have something more concrete to follow that you’ve all agreed on, and it will help to prevent potential arguments about what to do next and when. It will also take some of the mental load off you that comes from thinking up activities on the hoof, and you’ll be able to plan your days in advance more easily.
11) Reach out to the vulnerable and the struggling
We’re all struggling right now, but we’re all struggling in different ways and we need to support each other to get through this. Do this for your own sake too – focusing on others and being kind is good for your own mental wellbeing – it shifts the focus off you and your own worries and boosts your own mood. Check in on your elderly, disabled or infirm friends, neighbours and relatives (by phone / Skype – not in person!) and make sure they have everything they need. Do online grocery shops, or drop things off on their doorstep. Consider any self-employed friends whose income might be disappearing – plug their services, share their social media posts, encourage others to buy from them if they can, even if it’s just vouchers to use later. Join local aid groups if you have the capacity – there are loads popping up all over the place. Check in with people who live on their own such as single friends, the elderly or solo parents who might be feeling a bit lonely and craving adult company, comfort and conversation. Pop slips through neighbours’ doors letting them know in which ways you might be able to help them if they need it. Kindness makes everyone feel good.
12) Get some exercise
Try to do some kind of physical activity every day if you can. Running, exercise videos, lifting weights, skipping, sparring, dancing, dog walking, anything at all that gets you moving your body. Many of these things you can do with your kids too – it can turn into a fun family activity and time to bond and laugh together. The healthier your body, the healthier your mind, and the better chance your body will have of quickly fighting off any lurgy.
13) Reconnect with your purpose
It’s so easy to drift along doing the same things we’ve always been doing, out of habit, because we don’t have the time or energy to re-evaluate them. Take this enforced ‘pause’ as a time of reflection and to reconnect with what really inspires and drives you. What are you passionate about? What brings you joy? When do you feel ‘in flow’ and time passes quickly, easily and happily? If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you be doing? Try to spend this time to really consider what you want to be doing when the world ‘re-starts’. Do you want to be doing the same things, or do you want to use this opportunity to make a fresh start with something new or to start introducing some different things into your life?
14) Learn something new
Think of the things you wanted to learn but never got round to – yoga, photography, crochet, cookery, meditation, writing, a new language, anything. Try to really look forward to the chance to explore this and try something new and fun. If you did want to try learning to take better photos, I’ve written this free blog post Get Better Results With Your Cameraphone: 10 Top Tips, and have also put together this free pdf 5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Of Your Kids.
15) Meditate and/or practise mindfulness
As my friend Lizz so helpfully put it when we spoke at the weekend, so much of our anxiety is about the past or the future – anger about things that have already happened, or fear about possible scenarios that haven’t happened yet. The present moment is usually a hell of a lot less stressful than either the past or possible future. Try to give yourself a break by being present in this calmer ‘now’ as much as you can, and try to empty your mind of any thoughts of the past or future. Use a meditation app like Calm or Headspace if you want guidance with this, or try this trick my yoga teacher friend taught me. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor, your hands in your lap, and your eyes relaxed. Go through all your 5 senses, taking it in turn to notice as much as you can using each individual sense at a time. First focus on what you can see, then what you can hear, then what you can smell, then what you can taste, and then what you can feel against your hands, feet and body. It only takes a couple of minutes but is a really quick and nifty trick to calm you down and ground you again if you’re feeling flustered or panicked.
16) Remember this will pass
What is happening now is really tough, but it will not last forever. In the not too distant future, we’ll be out of the other side of this and it will be a memory. We will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and carry on, just as we all have done with our own individual troubles and struggles that we’ve already experienced throughout our lives. These difficulties will make us so much tougher, more resilient and resourceful than we were before. We’re going to learn what really matters, and what doesn’t matter. ‘Normal’ things that we’ve always taken for granted are going to be such a treat. In the near future, we’re going to feel so lucky and joyful. Instead of just focusing on the tough times ahead, try to look forward to these happier times too.
17) Use this time to prune your life
Before this happened, I used to hear from families all the time, myself included, that we wanted to slow down, have more time, more peace, more space, focus on less, make things more simple, pare things down. Now we have this time and space, and less resources, let’s make the most of it and really pay attention to it. In the coming weeks we’re going to realise that there are so many things, so many items, that we thought we needed that actually we can do without… Activities we thought we needed that actually we don’t miss… Habits we used to religiously stick to that actually don’t stop the world turning when we don’t do them… Let’s use this time to cut out all the unnecessary crap in our lives so that when normality resumes we can focus only on what really matters to us.
18) Muck out the house
Following on from the above, on a practical note, we’ve just been given the perfect opportunity to have a proper old spring clean! Go through each room and get rid of stuff you don’t use, don’t like or feel indifferent to. If you’re doing the kids’ rooms you can also make it into a ‘fun’ activity, where you play with each toy as as you sort them out – it’s a slow process but at the end of the day you’ll have played with your kids loads and will have a tidy, organised room to show for it. When all this chaos is over, your house will feel so much fresher and lighter.
19) Teach your kids resilience and empathy
This is the perfect opportunity to strengthen your children and model how you want them to grow up. We don’t want them to grow up fearful, nervous, anxious and selfish – we want them to grow up confident, resilient, positive and empathetic. They will be looking to you now more than ever for guidance, and will model their behaviour on yours. It’s ok for them to know you’re worried and that you’re finding things hard – you’re showing them that you’re human, not a cyborg. But you can show them how to face worries and troubles with humanity, strength and grace. Show them how you want them to deal with difficult times, because this definitely won’t be the last difficult thing they’ll ever deal with.
20) Release the tension
Finally, it’s ok to feel stressed. It’s natural and it’s normal. This is an awful situation and you’d have to be seriously strange to not be massively unsettled by it. You’ll have moments when you’ll feel overwhelmed and traumatised by it. Don’t fight that, lean into it and accept that it’s ok to feel like that. But make sure you acknowledge and release the tension and stress that’s building up in your body – otherwise it will fester and grow. In nature, when animals survive a traumatic experience, many shake to discharge the adrenalin and cortisol from their bodies – it’s a primal, physical necessity to enable them to continue functioning – they “shake it off”. As humans, we need to do the same – you can read all about it here. You can try some Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) if you want to, but if shaking’s not your thing (yeah it does look pretty strange lol) there are loads of simpler things you can do that will achieve similar results and help instead. You basically have to do something that exerts a fair amount of physical effort or nervous energy – going for a run, going somewhere quiet and screaming as loud as you can (like a ‘primal scream’), having a really good loud, ugly cry (this is why it’s true that ‘you’ll feel better after a good cry’), flap your arms loads, wail, punch something, belly laugh… anything. Let it go, and move on. Extra bonus points for looking or sounding as weird as possible. If nothing else, it will give you and your loved ones something to laugh at 😉
So that’s it! My Remote Rescue advice for parents – I really hope these help you to feel a bit calmer or more positive during these tough weeks ahead. Let’s all stick together and give each other a helping hand. WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS!
PS If you have any resources or advice of your own, please do share these in the comments below – let’s help each other as much as possible – strength in numbers!!!
Tips, inspiration and resources to inject some joy & lighten the load
Manchester family photographer, for down-to-earth, adventurous, big-hearted families all across the North West, London and UK
Creative, documentary family photography in Manchester, Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, London
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