Parents have always taken it upon themselves to feel responsible for their families, especially their children. With everything that’s going on in 2020, parents are confronted with challenges that none of their predecessors have ever experienced before. Tapping into this topic with Amber Hawley is Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, a parenting coach, speaker, bestselling author of Shame-Proof Parenting and founder of Diversity in Parenting. Together they discuss the major challenges parents are facing during the era of COVID-19. As the school year opens up, do you choose to send your children to school, learn online or skip the year altogether? How do you assist in your child’s learning now that you are all staying at home? How do you achieve family-life balance while working from home? These and a lot more difficult questions are causing mental and emotional stress to every well-meaning parent out there. How do you somehow get through all these? The key is to cut yourself some slack and be confident that you’re doing your best under the circumstances. Join in on the conversation and learn a lot more!
Parenting 2020: Making Tough Decisions For Your Children And Your Family During COVID-19 With Mercedes Samudio
I have a very special guest, Mercedes Samudio. She is a parenting coach, bestselling author and speaker. We’re going to talk about something that’s on a lot of people’s minds. Every day news is changing about people with kids that are in school. What’s happening? How are they going to school? What’s that going to look like? What are we going to do? We were talking and I said, “There was a plan.” All of a sudden, they met for a board meeting and it all changed again. It’s the 2020 version of school. We wanted to talk about how you can cope as a parent and set yourself up for success for the remainder of the year that probably will flip flop, change, do loop de loops, and all of that. Welcome, Mercedes.
Thank you so much and I agree with everything you said.
As humans, we love knowing what’s going to happen for the most part. Even if you’re somebody who likes adventure or surprises. We don’t do so well in limbo as my experience. I was like, “This is one long limbo.” I feel like this will be such an important episode to support all the parents out there that are needing some sanity, strategy and humor. We’ve got lots of humor for ourselves here. If you could give us a little more of an intro so that everyone else can know all the fabulous that is you.
I am a licensed psychotherapist in Southern California. I primarily work with parents in my parent coaching practice where I support them on feeling more confident, which is exactly why we’re talking. They can do this whole child-raising, child-parenting. My other hat is I am a nonprofit creator. I created the Diversity In Parenting nonprofit where I work in helping bring more diverse voices to the parenting and mental health professional world. When we’re talking about parenting and family, we tend to always have this homogeneous view of what a family is. It is usually cisgender, white, heterosexual. We need to talk about how can we infuse more diverse voices in this expert pool, in this professional pool to show the diverse ways that we raise children and create families. My whole life is parents, families, kids and supporting them and being healthier together.
You wrote the book Shame-Proof Parenting and that’s at the heart of all the work that you do. It’s helping parents not be in that place of shame. That’s such an important message for people because it wasn’t until I became a mom myself that I saw how rampant the shaming is of parents, especially of moms. It’s such a struggle and it’s already hard. Most of us are trying to figure these things out and you can never fully be prepared to be a parent. All of this stuff is coming at you. All this judgment that’s all a bunch of crap. As you’re saying, if a lot of the advice and a lot of the push is coming from one particular type of family like that’s the way we’re supposed to be, that makes it hard because we are not all the same. Not even close.
This works in the climate with what we’re dealing with, even more so because parents are having to make tough choices that they’ve never had to make before. No one’s ever had to be at the beginning of the school year and say, “Am I taking my kids back to school?” It was always a given. At the beginning of the school year, everyone goes back to school and I feel like this is one of those moments where shame for parenting is such an important piece of your decision-making process, because we have a whole society that’s divided on how this should look, but then individually in your family, having to figure out how is this going to look for us? What are we going to do? There’s a lot of shame and judgment that can come from something like this because it’s a big decision to make for your children and for your family.
There was somebody in my friend network who posted and she said that they’re choosing to have their kids go back to school. She’s like, “Let the judgment begin.” She sets it up beforehand to let people know, “Don’t even bother. I’m getting rid of you.” It was one of those things that sucks because people do have strong viewpoints. I understand that but I do wish that people would be more understanding of people who make decisions. They have many pieces of data that they’re making their decisions with that we have no idea about. It’s such a struggle. This is something we’ve never had to worry about, but it’s coming down to if you have your kids go back to school, somehow you don’t care about them or their health.
You never know what people’s circumstances are. This whole shelter-in-place pandemic thing showcases how little we care about families, family structures and supporting people. I feel like with everything virtual, on one hand you’re like, “Cool,” but then on the other end, when you have families who are working parents with kids who still need support and help in school, putting everybody in front of the computer and learn for a few hours, not every family can do that. Not every family’s child is able to teach themselves or have that interaction online. Not everybody’s home is set up to deal with the bandwidth of everybody being at work and at school at the same time.
What I’ve noticed, especially working with parents and talking to families during pandemic is that this is a time when if you weren’t aware of your family’s boundaries and limits, you are now because you have to spend time together to figure out who people are. On the one end, it’s great. We know each other and we’re going together. On the other hand, that’s psychologically and emotionally very taxing. As parents, you’re doing all of the heavy lifting. You’re doing your job still if you’re working from home virtually. You’re also trying to make sure your kids are okay.
It’s even different than when we used to have summer vacation, because even in summer vacation, you could send your kids somewhere. You could say, “Go to camp for a few weeks,” or “Go to your friend’s house and hang out for a couple of weekends,” but because of the pandemic, it’s harder to navigate those social spaces because a lot of places are closed down or a lot of places are having very strict shelter in place orders. You and your family have been stuck together in the house 24/7 for months. That’s a lot of time.
This is one of those things where everyone has strong views. I have my own strong views. It’s important that in this time, as a society, we come together to say, “How can we support parents in making this decision healthily? How can we help them feel confident if they decide to send their kids back? How can we support them in making healthy decisions and making sure their kids stay safe?” If the family decided to keep their child at home and homeschool or do virtual learning, how can we make sure that families have the materials that they need to make sure that their kids are still getting things and learning environment that they deserve? There’s no yes or no, right or wrong, straight away answer to either of those situations.
There’s that other layer of if you’re working from home, it feels almost impossible with kids around. I know some people who are doing it pretty well that have very compliant children who are naturally self-driven. They do their thing and they do what they’re supposed to do. Most people I know, it’s more of a struggle. It’s keeping their attention and then having to shift your own attention and making sure you’re doing your work. The readers are mostly entrepreneurs, but that also adds the layer of stress around money and making sure your business is sustainable. At the same time, you have to keep making money so your family can live, eat, be supported. I’m hearing many people talk about the immense pressure of, “I don’t want my kid to fall behind this year because I can’t devote the time.”
That’s something to think about. Going back to some of the nuances of this final decision that families are going to have to make. Sometimes there are some school districts that decision has been made. Either your kids aren’t going back or the district has decided that they’re doing virtual learning. Either way, it goes back to that point of whatever happens, we do need to still think about how do we prepare families for the uncertainty of what the school year might look like? How do we make sure that they have access to resources, access to tutors, and all of the services that kids would normally get in that school setting? If children have special needs or getting occupational therapy or getting speech therapy, all these other services that were easy to access when you were sending your child to the school building every day. How do we make sure that children are getting those same services in some capacity?
Maybe not to the same extent they were getting it, but in some capacity because it’s not fair to make parents feel like they have to be the sole ones teaching their child when many parents are not teachers. Many parents don’t understand the pedagogy in terms of teaching and how to help kids understand concepts. One of the things that’s eye-opening during this whole pandemic space is to realize how much our infrastructure isn’t supportive of parents, children and families. Even before, someone would try to take family leave and they might get in trouble or they might get back pay or things like that. Now, we’re noticing we don’t have infrastructure around supporting parents in their dual roles of being a parent as well as somebody who’s a worker or an employee or a business owner. We don’t have any infrastructure to support people in that way.
One of the things that I’ve been sharing with parents and supporting them on figuring out is figure out what your kids’ learning needs are. It’s important to do that. Before, parents were doing it haphazardly or more like, “I need to know where they’re at,” but not taking an active interest and say, “How do you learn? Do you learn by listening? Do you learn by moving?” In those moments, when you learn or understand how your kid processes information, how your child gathers information, then you can even be more proactive about, how do I give them that enriching space? Maybe they do sit for two hours, but if you have a kinetic learner, they’re going to have to get up and do something. They can’t just sit and look all the time.
If you have a kid that has a hard time, either they have ADHD or some other attention space where it’s difficult for them to focus, learning how to set up the environment or giving them space to say, “If after ten minutes you are feeling antsy, turn off your video, turn off your sound and walk around the house a little bit, or go to the kitchen and get some water and come back.” Helping families to understand that is such an important part of helping them move forward into this uncertain school year. Especially for parents who never had to be this involved with their child’s educational and academic pursuits. Usually, you send your kid to school and they’re at school for eight hours and they’re learning, “I can focus on X.”
You can’t do that anymore, especially if your school district has decided to do virtual or some hybrid of it. You have to be mindful of, “How does my child learn and what do they need in their learning environment to feel connected, safe and confident?” If you’re struggling with either decision, ground yourself by saying, “How can I figure out what environment is best for my child to learn in? How can I figure out how my child learns? Even if worse comes to worse and we do have to start off the semester virtually, how can I set up their learning environments so they can feel prepared to at least start the semester off in the right way?”
That’s such a great point here that people might not have a grasp on how their kids best learn, because when you go to school, teachers are dealing with many kids. There’s this one way or they’re doing different things throughout the day. They might not understand that they thrive when they do this kind of learning. That’s one of the most important things because that would be the easiest way. How can I set this up so that they can learn in the way that’s easiest for them to learn? I agree with you about the resources because to put the pressure of you’ve got to figure it all out on your own and you’ve got to make it all work on your own is totally unrealistic.
We’re all in unprecedented space, including the schools and the teachers. I know they probably don’t have it all figured out either, but this is where that space for grace and patience for everybody, not to judge and say, “Why does this school have it this way?” No schools ever had to deal with hybrid learning or the idea of having a whole virtual semester. “Why aren’t the parents doing more?” What parent has ever done anything other than in August and September send their child back to school? No one has ever had to think, “Am I going to send my child back to school during the fall school year?” No one has thought about that before when it comes back to who’s making what decision to step out of yourself and say, “How is my family going to work on this?”
I always think about if you spent the same amount of energy on your own family as you did on judging someone else’s family, you probably have better solutions for your own family. Thinking about, “I don’t care what Amber’s doing. Amber sends her kids back to school. We’re deciding to do virtual.” How can I support my family? If we decide to send them back, how can I make sure that my kids understand the rules for social distancing and washing their hands? How can I make sure I’m in constant contact with the school to keep up with whatever processes they have in place for keeping kids safe and free from infection? At the end of the day, we are eventually all going to have to go back to some semblance of school and work, whatever that might look like.
I don’t think it’s necessarily you don’t care about your kid’s health by sending them back to school. I definitely think the rhetoric should be, whatever you decide to do with your child, to give parents the best support they can get in that situation. Whether it be they go back to school, do some type of hybrid or they’re all virtual, how can we support parents? How can I support my kids and myself? How can I keep myself safe? How can I remind myself that my family is my responsibility and I cannot worry about the school district or the government or whatever those officials are doing? I have to sit and say, “This is our house. These are my kids. How are we going to navigate this space?”
When I go back to Shame-Proof Parenting, that’s the first thing that I talk about. Understanding your own views about things and understanding how your views help to influence the decisions you make for your family. How to talk to our family and say, “This is what we think. We believe X, Y and Z. Since we as a family believe X, Y and Z, what we’re going to do is A, B, C.” You can sit down with your kids and talk to them. A good strategy to move forward as you’re going into the school year and whoever is part of your care-giving unit that makes the final decision is to talk to your kids too. All kids of all ages have some semblance of, “I like to go back and see my friends,” or “I like to see my teacher,” or “I like to go back to my playground and play a little bit.”
Sit with them and talk to them and see, are they anxious about going back to school or are they excited? What’s going on for them? For kids, we forget that when the school was closed down, they lost all their friendships and all of the social networks that they had at school. That’s from kindergarten all the way to high school. Let’s not forget how many kids didn’t get to do their graduation or their promotion ceremonies.
For some kids who may be promoted or got promoted to the next grade or graduated to the next grade, they had a loss too at the end of the school year because they didn’t get to celebrate in the ways that they normally would get to celebrate. How are they feeling moving now into a new school year that might be a new grade or might be a new school? Talk to them as well as you’re making that final decision to see how they are feeling. Are they excited? Do they want to or are they anxious? What’s going on with them? What are their feelings? That might help influence how you make that final decision too as a parent.
Much of what you said was important, but the piece about figuring out what’s right for you before checking in with anybody else. That thing that would make me feel heartbroken for people is people who feel pressured into making a decision because of their extended families or friends, how they’re going to view them. I know a lot of people feel intense pressure about that and it is hard. People don’t post directly to a person, but they’re posting and they’re saying like, “If you do X, Y, Z, you’re an idiot.” If you see your friends posting that all the time, and then you think, “How do I tell them I’ve chosen to send my kids back to school?” that’s going to cause you distress.
It is about getting clear about why you’re doing it. There might be valid reasons. Most of the people I know who are choosing to send their kids back to school, they also feel comfortable with the school’s plan and how they address things. I absolutely don’t agree that you don’t care about your kid’s health. In my own household, we’re not in agreement. We rarely are. We’re so different. Our school was going to do one week virtual, one week in-person and do half the school in all of our whole district.
My husband wanted them to go back, I did not, and the kids wanted to go back. It was one of those things. I said, “I don’t think it’s going to be like you think it’s going to be, but I’m willing to give it a shot and see and make sure, do I still feel comfortable that safety protocols are happening?” I feel like I can always change that. We can always assess and say, “This isn’t working.” Probably, what a lot of people are going to experience is all of a sudden, they changed it. Now it’s 100% virtual until September. I was like, “We have a little bit more time to figure it out.”
That’s the thing of everybody makes their own decisions. I did not post it on Facebook because I don’t want to hear other people’s opinions. There’s already enough divisiveness in more of them. It’s one of those things to think about for yourself. When you get clear on your why and why you feel comfortable and why you need it. I especially get it for people whose kids are pushing to go back and they’re distressed and depressed. You feel safe about it but it’s also like, “I cannot get work done with my kids at home.” For me, it’s impossible. I have ADHD as well. It is so distracting.
You mentioned something that is important. That is, you do have to make this decision and understand your family’s why because when people start asking questions, you need to be able to say something that makes sense to you and your family. I have talked to many parents and they always say, “I don’t know what to say to my mom, to my aunts and to my friends.” We always start coaching without any judgment, “Tell me why did you make that decision.” They’ll start to go into this and that, these circumstances, and these nuanced things. I’m like, “That’s what you say.”
You compare it down to, “Me and my family have a few different nuanced issues or a few different complicated things that make this decision the most viable for me and my family.” You leave it at that because at the end of the day, being a parent doesn’t mean that you now have to listen to everybody and everyone gets to be a part of your life. Being a parent means that now you were over a whole family unit of people who you get to say, “How are we going to work together as a unit? This is our unit.” Other people may be a part of that unit, may support that unit, may even know about your unit. At the end of the day, it’s you and your family making that last decision.
I often tell parents that this is how and this is something I’ve always said, but it works during the pandemic to sit down with yourself, your partner and whoever else you deem as part of your caregiving decision unit, whoever that is. Sit with them and as a unit decide, “This is what we’re going to do. This is our decision about school. These are some of the contingencies. These are some of the reasons why.” That way, when you do share with people, whoever you decide to share with, and they say, “I don’t agree with you. Have you thought about this and what about that?” your definitive statement is, “This is our decision because,” and there’s a period on that. That’s you and your family’s decision to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. No one else has to understand it. No one else has to agree as long as you and your caregiving space understands that this is how we’re going to take care of the children this school year.
The second piece of that is I tell parents all the time, when you’re on social media, be mindful about the energy you’re bringing in. I’m a huge proponent of unfriending people, blocking people, unfollowing people that aren’t supportive to you. Social media does not absolve anybody of being respectful and decent. If you’re around people who are saying, “You’re dumb. You don’t care about your kids,” how dare you. Those are not the people you engage with. You have enough stress especially during this time, trying to navigate work and school and kids. You don’t need to feel comments about how dumb you are, how you should make a better decision or, “How about you read this research.” It’s okay to unfollow those people. I understand for political reasons, you can’t always unfriend people who are in a family and things like that. I also have a family that I can’t unfriend people, but I can unfollow them. I can choose who sees my posts. I can do things like that.
In this day and age of technology and social media, and I know how many of us have been using technology to connect with others, it’s important that when you’re making major decisions for your family, that first and foremost, before you even put it on social media, you talk to the people who are in your social network, who are supportive of you, who are in your village first. Make sure that you feel supported. Make sure that you feel heard and then decide, “Am I going to share this on social media?” Once you’ve got that holding space from your village, you may not need the holding space that social media provides.
I often talk about this because sometimes we use social media as a safe place. Especially during the pandemic, it might not be the safest place to share your ideas about what you’re doing with your child. Especially, if you have people on your timeline who aren’t divisive and who tend to oppose things and talk and share their very opinionated ideas. Be mindful that you don’t have to share your opinion about what you’re going to do with your kids on social media. You don’t even have to talk about your family decisions on social media. I want to give people that permission to decide whatever you decide in your home. It doesn’t have to go on social media and you don’t have to open yourself up to that type of scrutiny and judgment if you don’t want to.
I personally am a liberal unfollower. I’m very conservative in unfriending people. I had gone years without unfriending but now I’m getting more like I need to. I’m also not trying to shut down other voices and I’m trying to be understanding, but then there comes a point where it’s like, “No. There’s no point in this.” I love what you said about many people post because they’re hoping to be held and supported. There are many positives to social media, but the problem is when you do that and that’s your expectation and then you’re getting the opposite, it’s devastating for people. It could be for many reasons like you didn’t get enough support or people disagreeing with you. It’s so hard.
I love that recommendation of going to your friends first. Sometimes that impulse and that need you’re wanting can be met elsewhere and probably should for some topics. You get to figure that out. It’s one of those things where it’s not because I’m hiding things, but because I don’t care about your opinion on certain things. I know that people either are going to say things that pissed me off, and who needs extra bother for that? They’re going to have judgments and not have a conversation with me about it.
That’s excellent advice. That goes for a lot of things especially this parenting thing. As you’re saying, have the why and there are some people that are in your inner circle that you’re going to explain it to and have a period at that. You don’t have to convince or get somebody to be on your side. It’s not going to happen. We’re all very different. Sometimes they will. Sometimes they won’t. I also think it’s also okay not to have to explain yourself to other people. If people came to me to talk about if we were sending our kids back to school and they had a problem with it, I don’t know that there are many people that I’d be willing to have that conversation with. Why does it matter to you?
I’m not stupid. I’m educated. I understand the health risks. At a certain point, why do I need to explain this to you? I can’t imagine anybody outside of my immediate family or my nuclear unit. That’s the boundary. It’s figuring out, what is my why? How am I going to talk to the people that matter? Where’s my limit as far as whose input I’m going to take in? Everyone has opinions, but that doesn’t mean you need to go through them. There’s too much to do.
I’ve been talking to many parents about that, “What is your limit of screen time?” Before this, people were always on their screens and now, I’ve heard people say, “I’ll never see another screen again, it would be too soon.” One of the things that’s important about being a parent is understanding that you are still human underneath your parent title. You still need to understand, “I have a limit.” When you don’t understand your limits and you put all this undue stress on you, then it pulls back into your family and the way that you connect and relate to them.
Especially during the pandemic, it’s always been needed where there’s so much stress and many decisions need to be made. Not just big decisions but every day little micro decisions that you’ve got to be making all the time about this or that. It’s important for you to say, “I’ve hit my limit today. I’m not talking to anyone about X,” or “I’ve decided, let everyone shut down and let’s binge out and watch TV.” Learning your limits especially when we get back into the school year, realizing that sitting at school for eight hours is one thing, where you’ve got lunch and recess. Sitting at your desk in front of a computer for eight hours is a whole other thing. Being open to understanding, what’s my limit? What is my child’s limit? What’s my partner’s limit or whoever else was in the house?
That way we could also navigate those fields for us too and not feeling like, “My kids were in school eight hours a day during the normal school year. They’re going to sit in front of the computer eight hours a day.” No one can do that. Not even me. I love the internet. I’ve got to get out of here after a couple of Zoom meetings. No more for the day. I’m good. Knowing your limit in terms of how you talk to people who you explained it to is important. Also, as we’re moving into the school year learning, what are my family’s limits? How do I know when someone is getting to the point where they’ve got to their limit or at the end of their rope?
That way, you can remind, “It’s okay to get off. It’s okay to move forward or after you finish this, it’s okay to go outside and take a breather. It’s okay if we’ll watch TV or play a video game.” I’m saying these arbitrarily. Make your decisions based on your family’s needs. Knowing your limits is going to be a huge part of navigating this next semester, whether it be hybrid, all in-person or all virtual. That’s going to be a different space that we’ve never been in before. We’ve never been in this space where we’ve had to be this involved with each other’s work and living environments. We need to understand limits. We used to have a break from each other for eight hours a day and now that’s not so much, so learn how to manage that.
Sometimes people get into this place of when it’s for themselves because we’re more in tuned with ourselves like, “I did all of this. I had eight hours online. I feel super tired.” We can be more understanding, but sometimes we forget that about our kids. We think kids have so much energy so it’s like, “They’ll be fine,” and assessing that. I have many friends that are teachers and I love them so much. They do the work of angels but what I’m going to say will piss them off. I had already decided that if we’re 100% virtual, there is no way we’re spending more than three hours a day on school. I refused because we don’t also take into consideration. Even when you go to an office, you do not work for eight hours. You are kidding yourself, if you do.
Some people are more productive than others or they have different types of work. Maybe you have five hours and then you have time where you’re talking to people, chatting, brainstorming, getting food and connecting. It’s the same for kids. There are all these transitions and whatnot. If we could eliminate the stress associated with guilt that we take on for making our decisions, wouldn’t that be amazing? As a therapist, you know the stress that comes from guilt is immense and we discount it. We think all about like, “Here are the tangibles,” but we don’t think about like, “Be unapologetic. This is how we’re going to do it.” I will make sure the work is done, but I’m not going to make one of those intense schedules. I can’t even follow one of those. I would love to and they’re beautiful, but I cannot.
We’re going to have time blocks of things and we’re going to try to change it up a little bit. There are going to be those days where it’s like, “I have a lot on my plate.” I don’t care if you’re on your own for five hours because I have to get through the day. For the most part, I’d like most of it to be a little bit different. That’s such an important thing. You have to figure out what your limits are but also think about your kids and pay attention to that. My son who’s eight, we noticed that in the afternoon he’s getting super emotional. He’s already a very emotional kid but he’s getting super emotional. I’ve noticed that my son and my husband go lay down around 4:30 and take a nap. They might not even fall asleep, but they’ll just lay and they’ll listen to music or sometimes they’ll watch a YouTube video. That’s not the norm of what we would do, but it’s been so helpful because then he feels rejuvenated for the rest of the evening.
That’s a great example of shifting our perspectives from how we were pre-global pandemic, because pre-global pandemic, all the infrastructures were in place for us to keep ourselves at that expectancy level. Schools, shops, restaurants were open, so you could keep going in the same ways that you were. We’re starting to realize that if you have it already that things are not going to go back to that level even when things opened back up. How do we support each other and shifting our expectations of ourselves and our children?
How do we change the ways that we set up our day? Before the day was 9:00 to 5:00 work or school, but now we’re doing things where it’s not going to be 9:00 to 5:00 work or school for anybody anymore. It might be 9:00 to 12:00 work or school, and then 12:00 to 1:00 we’re eating lunch, and then 2:00 to 5:00, we’re probably chilling out, relaxing and trying to get back some semblance of happiness and hope. I’ve seen many people during the pandemic as a therapist and a parent coach, people were saying, “I’m so tired, so fatigued.” I’m like, “That’s the emotional part of dealing with something that’s uncertain.” You could see like the cartoon light bulb go off on their head where they’re like, “Right,” because we’ve never had this emotional load on us before. For a lot of the parents who might be sending their kids back to school, one parent says something important to me that it took a lot out of me. I started crying during our session.
She said, “After everything we’ve dealt with in 2020, I wonder what will happen when our kids go back to school because of school shooting drills and these types of things.” I took a deep breath in session because I care. If you think about some children who are children of color, thinking about all the racial and social stuff that’s been happening and now they’ve got to go back to school and to the world, that hasn’t shifted as much as we’d like it to shift. When you think about the emotional and mental toll 2020 has taken on us, going back to school isn’t going to be like, “We’re going back to school.” It’s going to be this huge emotional upheaval to get us back into that mindset of normalcy.
We mentioned back to school shopping. That’s a whole other space because all the places are close that you would go to and do back to school shopping. How does that look? Being mindful of the emotional and mental toll that has taken on you and your family, and then also being aware of that as the school year gets started. This will be a very emotional transition for kids. Some kids may be going back to school. Some kids may be able to see some of their friends. Some people might not ever get to see their friends because that friend’s family has decided to do all virtual. Being mindful of that emotional and mental space that is going to accompany your kids and yourself as the school year started. It is not going to be the same as previous school years where there’s more excitement like, “It’s the new school year. It’s a new chance to reinvent myself.”
With that, there might also be a lot of fear, anxiety, apprehension and worry. I’ve definitely talked to parents who have kids that are anxious about the germs, the virus and what that looks like. What I’m saying is don’t think about the planning of, how are we going to go back to school? How are we going to do homework and work? Think also about how are we going to take care of ourselves mentally and emotionally because this is a different school year that we’re entering into.
There are logistical things that you need to figure out but the shift of, how can I make sure we’re taking care of ourselves emotionally and mentally as well? How do I incorporate that? You’re not going to do it perfect. You’ll probably figure some things out. You might try something and it might not work. The good news is you can shift it. You don’t have to know. It is such a big piece. I was saying before we started, I had this moment and it wasn’t until I was talking to a friend of mine who is a therapist.
In March and April, I was good at talking about, “We need to have grace with ourselves. We can’t expect too much. We have to take care of things.” I was feeling so much anxiety about the fear of getting sick or people dying. I was in that space so much and I did a good job of practicing what I preached. I had this awareness that I had this fantastic day and then I worked a long day. The next day, I got up and I ended up starting the day playing with my son because I said I would play with him, but a meeting run late with my staff. I ended up working later. It was too late and I had dinner late at 9:00. I said, “I’m sorry.”
We started the day and then I felt terrible by the time we finished playing our games, it was 12:30. I felt like the whole day is ruined. I was feeling like, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be consistent and productive? Nothing has changed since March and April, except for there’s this long-term fatigue.” I found out that school is not going back. We have to figure out the next however many months. Sometimes, we need a reminder to check in and let’s still be kind to ourselves and we have to manage our own expectations.
If we’re not taking care of ourselves as parents, then it’s going to be impossible to support our kids. I was feeling guilty until I had that talk and I was like, “This is ridiculous.” I felt good that I was able to play with my son and we had fun doing that. It made me think about I’m going to make sure we’re splitting up the days where we do something like that. We like to play games as a family. There’s a lot of learning that comes from that because we play strategic games.
They’re going to have their Zoom meetings or however the school looks. I’m going to do like, “Let’s do something physical,” whether that’s going outside. I bought this dance program that teaches kids dance and I love dancing too. I was like, “That’s what we’re going to start doing.” We already did impromptu dance things but, “Let’s try to learn some dances together and have fun.” It will be back to screen and is there something else that we can do? Maybe drawing or something that doesn’t involve a screen. I’m going to try to be creative and setting that up a little bit. My husband has to be in charge of it because I’m going to be seeing clients or doing interviews. It’s one of those things of I myself who preaches this all the time was like, “Why am I not more productive?”
I liked that idea of that mantra, “Be kind to yourself.” Since we’re talking about strategies, put that everywhere, on your refrigerator, on your computer screen, on your bathroom mirror. Many of the parents, especially moms that I’ve talked to during the pandemic have been like, “I need to be able to do all these things and make sure that everybody’s structured. They have stuff to do.” I’m like, “It’s okay if everyone binges out for a couple of days, it’s okay too.” We have to realize that level of go with our pre-global pandemic selves.
Especially in the United States, we are go people. We’re always scheduled. Everyone has somewhere to be and somewhere to go. During the pandemic, you have to shift all of that need to always have something prepared for ourselves or for our children and getting back to even being quiet. One mom told me that they started doing this quiet thing in the evenings after everybody wound out around 2:00 or 3:00 where everyone goes quiet. Whether you want to be quiet together in the living room or you want to go to your respective little cubbies in the house. It’s going to be quiet where everyone does whatever they would like to do in a quiet space. Watch TV, play a game, read, garden, paint, draw, whatever. Give yourself 1 or 2 hours to do that.
She noticed that when everyone had that, like your son who takes his little rest time in the evening, everyone was able to come back to the evening time and have dinner together and not bite each other’s heads off and not want to punch everybody like they were ready to do that. I’m not saying you and your family had to do that, but definitely look at, “How can I give my family and myself a rest period?” We don’t have to be on a call. We don’t have to be doing anything productive. We don’t have to be doing anything that’s learning or academic. You can leave it hanging out, chill and see what that feels like to slow down and not be go-go all the time.
I reiterate that as we’re moving into the year, our minds are already pre-scheduled to say, “Back to the grind.” Take a step back and say, “Even though we’re going back to school or maybe some people are transitioning back into some type of hybrid work situation, not to get yourself back into that hustle and bustle of go grind.” Remind yourself and you said it perfectly, “Nothing’s changed.” We’re still a part of a global pandemic. There are still things that have to be sussed out and figure it out. Even as you go back to some type of normalcy of school or work, realizing that it’s not going to be to the level it was at the beginning of 2020 before all of this happened. It might be in a lesser capacity or might be with less expectations for you and your family to get back to the “game of life.”
I love that you said that because that go-grind wasn’t serving us before, but it was normal for many people and I get it. I don’t say that with judgment for the people who has full schedules. We don’t want to say busyness is the goal or we don’t want to revere it, but I know a lot of families who have young kids like I have three, we’re busy because that’s the nature of having three kids with different things. Trust me, we are not overloading but it is something to remember that maybe that wasn’t the best thing for us anyway.
I need lots of little nuggets that I have to tell myself when I have those moments pop up where I feel bad because I should do this with the kids. There’s nowhere to go except around here, we have places that you can go and swim in a river or go fishing. My kids have been doing stuff like that where you’re alone, but you get to do fun things. Even then I’m like, “I don’t like the heat.” My husband likes doing it. He can take them. I then get my downtime and vice versa. I feel bad like, “I should be going.” Self-care should be paramount. How can I take care of myself so I can show up and then do the things as a family?
One of the things that comes with the guilt is our expectations about reality and how things should go. To combat some of that guilt, I tell people to sit down with yourself and however you like to dump, whether you type, write, or do anything else. Dump all those should down somewhere else and look at, would you say that to anyone else? Write down all your shoulds, “I should go here. I should do this. I should be productive,” and then say, “I’m going to email this to someone because that’s what people should do.”
Most of us would never tell someone else, “Do you know what you should do? You should go to the river with your kid and you should do this.” No one would say that to anyone, but we say it to ourselves. It’s one of those things that we’ve learned to do but as you learn how to do that, you can also learn how to talk to yourself. Even if you start with instead of all should, break that up with the, “Be kind to yourself.” I should be kind to myself.
Starting to change a few of those sentences into, “Be kind. I’m doing my best. I’m doing what I can do. I am at my limit, but I will be soon.” Starting to infuse some of those, not taking away all of them because taking away all the shoulds is a hard thing. It pretty much changes every aspect of who you are to take away every should. We all have some symptoms of guilt or shame or judgment about ourselves because we’re human and we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others.
If you can start every now and then with 1 or 2 mantras that you can interject in between all of that guilt, it will start to help shift some of that perspective from, “I am not doing enough,” to “I’m doing the best I can with the resources I have.” You might be right, maybe it’s not enough or maybe it’s not everything your neighbors are doing or so-and-so is doing. You could be completely right on that. Knowing that you’re doing the best you can with the resources, energy and emotional space that you have, remind yourself of that. It helps you shift. It doesn’t mean that it will all go away but it will help you shift in those times when you start to get overwhelmed with all the shoulds. Remember, “Based on what I have and based on what I can do, I’m doing that right now,” and move forward in that way.
That’s a common mantra I’ll say. I’ll talk to clients about and I’ll say it to myself like, “You did the best you can at the time with what you had or the resources.” I know my type-A self will often be like, “If I took care of this or I did this, then I could have the energy.” You said a mantra I’ve never heard someone say and that’s gold, “I am not at my limit now, but I may be soon.” That’s a truth bomb. That’s the thing. We can’t wait until we’re at that limit. It devolves and it goes terribly. I loved that one because otherwise, I could be in that place of if I went to bed earlier and I did this, I can come up with those things but I love that.
I’ve never thought of writing down the shoulds. I liked the idea of some of those top ones that we say to ourselves all the time and maybe exploring. Can you address that in a way that doesn’t mean you have to do that thing? It’s like, “I should go to the river with my kids every time,” instead of maybe I’ll go once a month, but I’m also great at doing fun things with them around art projects. I might not take them to the river, but I also invest time in dance parties, art projects and playing games. It’s remembering that there are things that we still do. I love the idea of writing them down. That’s great.
You touched on one of my Shame-Proof Parenting tenets, which is being confident in yourself. Almost every time I do a parent workshop, I say, “Raise your hand if you’re confident in being a parent.” It’s literally like crickets. I start to explain to them exactly what you said. I said, “All of you guys are good at something. Some people are good at homework time. Some people are good at bath time. Some people are good with arts and crafts. Some people are great at planning events. Some people are good listeners with their families. They’re like, “I do this and that good.” That’s the confidence piece that allows you to balance some of the guilt and the shame that you might feel. When you know that you’re confident in certain things, then you’re able to not only feel good about yourself, but you’re also able to say, “I need help in these other areas.”
A lot of times parents feel like they supposed to do everything, “I’m supposed to do homework time. I’m supposed to know how to do this and that.” There’s no human on earth that can do everything, whether they’re a parent or not. When you know what you’re good at, then you can reach out to your support system and say, “I’m good at writing, listening and supporting my kids in this way and do an art project. My husband or my partner’s good at this. Grandma’s great at that. Your best friend’s mom is great at that. Why don’t you guys go over there and do that?”
You now are not putting it all on yourself. You’re realizing that in your support system, everyone has something that they’re great at. That’s supportive of helping your kids feel whole, that’s supportive of helping you feel good about yourself. When you’re going through, “I suck. I don’t know what I’m doing.” Stop yourself and say, “What am I good at doing though? I’m good at making peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I can do that.” Go and do that. Feel confident in yourself. My husband and I often joke about the fact that I’m good at cleaning the kitchen and he’s good at cooking. It’s a great symbiotic relationship.
Those are the moments where I don’t feel bad that I don’t cook because he goes in there and he loves cooking. He likes figuring out recipes. I don’t, however, he doesn’t feel bad about not cleaning up because I liked being in the kitchen. I turn on the music, I go and set to do it. It works because we both feel confident in the things that we can contribute to the relationship. The same thing happens when you are a parent. “What do I contribute to my family, to my kids’ lives? How good am I at doing things?” Looking out to your support system and seeing other people who may be good at supporting you in ways that maybe you’re not good at or you don’t even like doing. Allow someone else to support you on doing that.
I don’t know if people are going to be like, “How did you not think of this before?” I’m guessing somebody with me on this. When you said that, for some reason, when it comes to parenting, there’s a part of me that’s like, “You should learn or figure out a way to be good at all the things.” If you invest the time and energy, you will learn the rest of the things. It wasn’t until you said it the way you said it that I’m like, “Is that my goal?” That wasn’t my conscious thought. In the deep part of me is like, “I eventually have to get better at that.”
Even in the story that I tell myself, “Probably, when you’re in better shape, then you’ll be able to tolerate the heat and you’ll get up earlier and you’ll take about early before it’s too hot.” I was holding that belief of I understand it. Every other area of my life and my business, I’m going to hire my weaknesses. I’m not going to try to learn my weaknesses. Some of them, maybe get a little better. I’m going to hire my weaknesses in my marriage that I worked for that symbiotic or acceptance that there are some things that I don’t care about I’m not going to do. Personally, there are things I care about and things I don’t. For some reason, that was still lingering. When you said it the way you said it, it was like, “I am holding this belief that somehow once I get it all figured out, I’ll be doing all those things.”
It’s funny because there’s no human that can do that. I have noticed that parents do this to themselves all the time. I’m on this space of changing the way we do parenting, not just individually, but on a societal level. I’ve realized that’s why parents have this all-encompassing, “I should do everything,” because society blames you if anything happens to your kids. You don’t know how to do everything or you don’t know every thought your child has ever had, or you don’t know every action they’re probably going to take some time in the future. Everyone looks to you and says, “What did you do wrong?”
It’s like, “I didn’t do anything wrong. My child is their own person just like I’m my own person.” That societal systemic understanding of you have to own up or take responsibility for everything your child thinks, seems, feels, does. It makes parents feel the way you said which is, “I don’t know how to do everything, then what if they mess up? I could be blamed for it. What if something happens and I didn’t know about it?”
That type of mental jujitsu that parents have to do to themselves is taxing. It’s emotionally tiring and overwhelming. It produces this emotional fatigue that makes even trying to hang out with your kids on a normal moment feels like it has to be a learning opportunity and it has to be academically enriching. It’s like, “No, it can just be rolling around on the carpet, laughing, joking. It doesn’t have to be a learning activity.” It’s times like that especially now where it is going to be important for you to realize, “It’s okay, mom and dad, if you do not know how to do Math. You don’t have to know how to do Math.”
It’s okay if you hated school and you were thankful when school was over, that you might not be as invested in teaching your kids as you may have been before. It’s okay. Know what your strengths are and then hire out. I like that space of looking out into your community and see if there are other ways, other resources you can use to help your child get what they need or to help your family get what you need. If I had kids, I would not be the Math tutor for my family. Once I finished my first year of college, I haven’t done a single Math class because Math and me are not friends.
That will be one space where as a parent, I would get a Math tutor or get someone to help them with that because Math and me are not friends. Writing papers, reading books, I’ve got them, but everything else, I’m not good at. When it comes to science stuff like biology and physics, I’m out of it like get me out of this. I say that because as we get into the school year, some parents may have to be more proactive about helping their kids manage their academic spaces but understanding, “Where are your limits?”
If you’re good at Math, English, History, great. The subjects where you’re like, “I don’t even like that when I was in school,” get support. Ask maybe friends to help. Maybe you can have the Zoom where all the friends get together and do homework together. I’m throwing out ideas but the overarching space is, “What is your limit?” Don’t make yourself feel like, “I’ve got to learn Calculus.” No, you don’t do that. It’s fine. Know your limits and know where you are good at. Allow your support system or look out into your community and support system to see who can support you on that. The same way, like Amber said, you would do in your business or at your job or anywhere else in your life and in your relationships, you would look for outside support. I’m giving you permission to do the same thing with your parenting.
For me, it wasn’t even a conscious thing. I am somebody who would be like, “I’m not going to do Calculus with you. I was glad to finish it when I finished it.” On a deeper level, if the guilt is coming from this place of, is there a belief in you that somehow it would be better if you did something different, it would work out? If I did it better then it would feel better. The way you said it, there is something on that deep level that I feel that even though consciously I know those other things. We’re not going to do five hours of work. If we don’t finish the homework in one week, I’m not going to care or sweat that. I know ultimately they will be successful and I know nobody’s going to be perfect and kids are going to struggle.
At a deep level, that’s an ingrained parenting thing that maybe I used to be. Society does push that. To go to practical strategy, I have seen in my friend group, I know people who have decided to hire somebody to come in. Even if it’s a few hours a day to have like a person who is a nanny or something like that, but they’re also helping them with schoolwork and keeping them a little structured and they’re supporting them in that so they can focus on their own work and their businesses.
In our area, this one woman had posted, she’s a retired teacher and lawyer. She’s like, “I’d love to support kids and families in some way. I don’t know what that looks like.” There are people willing and wanting that connection too and there are ways to do that safe. We are practicing physical distancing. You can still do that in a safe capacity even if you choose to do 100% virtual. You might want to bring somebody in that you know is practicing safety precautions. Allow yourself options, because if we say, “I’m doing virtual because I don’t think it’s safe,” but going to school is very different than having one person come in your home.
Give yourself options. A lot of parents pigeonholed themselves like, “We have to do it this way because that’s the way to do it,” instead of thinking, “What is unique for my family?” There were some overarching things that every family could do like eat more vegetables or drink more water. There are also things that are unique to a family that you might need to address that other families might not ever have to address. Being open to the options and saying, “Amber’s family does this but my family does this. This is okay because our family has these unique needs or issues that we need to address.” Some families may be able to do some of these things and some families are like, “We can’t do that but we do need help. How do we get it?”
That’s the space that I often share with parents. They say, “I can’t do.” I always say, “Let’s think about what is within your limits to do. I’m not saying that you have to do all the suggestions I’m giving you, but based on all the suggestions we’ve talked about during this session, what do you feel like is in your capacity, in your skillset, in your space that you can do? Pick one of them.” Usually, parents said, “I know I can get this started before the next session.” “Perfect, get that started and we’ll see how that’s going and see if you want to add something or see if we want to maybe take away something.” That’s something that each family can do. List all the things that you feel like you need to be doing or trying to do and decide, “What can we as a family collectively pick one thing that we’re going to try to implement? We’re going to try to implement drinking more water. That’s it.” Get good at that. Get good at bringing that in, and then decide to do more stuff.
“Let’s try and get to bed on time. Let’s try to be more active.” Don’t ever feel like you’ve got to change your whole family overnight or do everything overnight. Take one thing as a family or one thing as maybe individuals and say, “This is what I’m going to work on and get in the habit of doing,” and then giving yourself options to say, “Do we enhance that? Do we change that? Do we reassess it?” Reassessment and restructuring are a huge part of being in a family where some things work until they don’t and when they don’t, coming back together and say, “That’s not working anymore for us. What do we do?”
It’s opening yourself up to that. Look at what are these options, “What else can we do? What other options do we have?” If you’re at a space as a parent where you feel like there are no options and you don’t know what else or you exhausted all of your capacity to see the problem or understand the problem, don’t feel guilty, reach out, get some support parent coach. There is somebody who can be in a neutral space in your family’s life to maybe look at it in a different way. Maybe you and your family were in it in the moment and have a hard time maybe seeing all the intricacies or other options. Reach out and see if you can find somebody. Reach out to see if there can be a neutral person or even a community support that can give your family a good space to say, “We run out of options on how to support each other. What else can we do?” Allowing that neutral person or that community person or that support to offer some support to help your family figure out other options.
When we’re in our own stuff and little world, we don’t realize when we have created those places where it’s like, “I don’t see options when there are plenty.” It’s because we have a belief that we’re holding like, “If I do this. I can’t do this,” or “This is how it has to look.” It’s very normal. This is what it’s like to be a human. Sometimes we’re so tired and exhausted. We need somebody from outside of us to say, “What about this?” I’ve had many moments as a parent like that where somebody says something and I’m like, “That’s so much better than what I was doing. That’s a way better, way easier.” If people are in that place or maybe you don’t feel that stuck, but you’re wanting some extra thought or supports about how to approach this, they should definitely reach out to you. What is your parenting coaching website?
It is ShameProofParenting.com. You can find there a link to my book, my social media, old blog posts and new blog posts that I’ve put up talking about different spaces. That’s the best place you can find me.
I feel like I can keep talking to you. All these ideas and things that are coming up, this is such an important topic because this is so unknown and this way of what we have to approach. Let’s figure out how can we do this with as much ease as possible. Understanding there’s going to be stress with taking care of ourselves and our kids as much as possible. Understanding it will not be perfect. We all need a little extra support and kindness towards ourselves. I want to thank you for coming on. You can go to the My Biz Bestie YouTube page and see our first interview, which had a lot more laughs. This was still valuable but what was nice though in that interview, we also did talk about other strategies, supporting our kids emotionally and how even fun things of using movies to help them talk about what’s going on for them. It was such a great discussion. I love it and I found so much value in it and I know other people did too. Thank you, Mercedes.
ABOUT MERCEDES SAMUDIO
Mercedes Samudio, LCSW is a parent coach, speaker, bestselling author, and founder of the Diversity in Parenting, Inc. who helps parents and children communicate with each other, manage emotional trauma, navigate social media and technology together, and develop healthy parent-child relationships.
Mercedes started the #EndParentShaming movement as well as coined the term Shame-Proof Parenting – using both to bring awareness to ending parent shame. You can read more about her parenting expertise at http://shameproofparenting.com.