Parents and the pandemic: is there a risk of burnout or an opportunity for growth?

Parents and the pandemic: is there a risk of burnout or an opportunity for growth?

The Covid-19 epidemic, which has affected the whole world for a year now, has certainly changed the family life.

We have all found ourselves stuck at home with overlapping hours between school and work. Has it been better, worse, or more complicated? It is definitely not easy to answer this question.

Even in March 2020 at the beginning of the crisis, the famous scientific journal The Lancet spoke about the risk of “serious implications” that the situation of confinement and isolation in the family could have, especially for those particularly “fragile” families who were already experiencing economic and social hardship. The journal invited its readers to “take advantage” of the new dynamic to build stronger and more meaningful relationships with all family members, in particular with children and adolescents, transforming hurdles into creative opportunities.

Studies and research – which began a few months after the global spread of the virus and the consequent measures to mitigate its diffusion – have focused on the psychological aspects of the pandemic. Topics – once talked about amongst friends during rants at the end of the day – have become the main themes of scientific investigations: stressed parents who are tired or worried about losing their jobs, anxious about the family’s future, exhausted from smart-working, distance-learning, socks scattered around the house, dishes to wash, rooms to clean up... In short, we realized that something was happening and that it should be monitored in order to be able to then offer all the help and support needed.

Pandemic parental burnout, there’s a real risk, and it shows

“Parents on the verge of a nervous breakdown” might work as a title of a series on family life in the time of the Coronavirus. Experts explain that the risk right around the corner is the psychological aspect of the pandemic known as parental burnout. This occurs when, just like at work, a person reaches a point of maximum stress and feels so overwhelmed by events and commitments that can no longer manage them. Now, pandemic parental burnout is even more evident and according to the results of studies, this stress has a negative impact on children’s lives and their well-being even more so during this period. How do we, as parents, curb chronic stress, or at least manage its side-effects, to prevent it from harming our children?

Less parental stress, greater well-being and tranquility for children, research confirms

In August 2020, a study was published in the journal Science that looked at “Stress and Parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic.” The study – conducted on parents with children under the age of 18 in the western United States – found that parental stress often puts children at risk of abuse and neglect, and that because of Covid-19, families around the world are experiencing a new range of stressors that threaten their health, safety, and economic well-being.

Looking at Europe, various data was published from an October 2020 survey – conducted in Italy by a group of researchers from several Italian universities, including La Sapienza in Rome – on the psychological distress experienced by parents and children during the pandemic. In particular, the study showed that the psychological problems of parents, due to the quarantine and its consequences, have a clear effect on the well-being of the child. In extreme synthesis: less calm parents have less calm children. In practice, it has been found that in families where parents have a more positive and optimistic outlook on life and confidence in their own parenting skills, children feel incentivized to behave even better than their parents. They are able to manage and express their negative emotions in a measured way and demonstrate resilience in the face of an obstacle. They are therefore able to bounce back in difficult or adverse situations and are much more likely to be grounded, showing low levels of sadness and depression.

Parents and the pandemic: facing both challenges and opportunities, here is some advice

“Parents on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” we’ve said… but how can we experience this situation as a sit-com so as to prevent it from turning into a horror movie?

By turning challenges into opportunities, and not just in the metaphorical sense, but actually, practically – in real life.

So, here are four tips to help guide us through these times.

1. Tip #1: Recognize stress in order to handle it better. Let’s be less reactive and more pro-active, as advised by the famous coach Peter Covy. Talk and openly communicate your emotions with your partner, including all the responsibilities you have to your children. This is very important in the process of coping, as well as avoiding physical and emotional isolation. As parents, we have had the opportunity to spend more time with our children, to get to know them even better and to show them more of ourselves in return. It is also a chance to understand, for example, that it is ineffective to reprimand our teenage son for using a smartphone too much, while maybe we use our own all the time.

2. Tip #2: sharing and reciprocity, because, as we have seen from research, we are the first example of resilience and tranquility––even more so during this time in which our children do not have many chances to see people outside the nuclear family.

3. Tip #3: it has to do with being “too saturated with connections” or being too occupied with a screen. Children should certainly have regulated time to use their electronic devices, as well as benefit from supervision and accompaniment while surfing the net, especially young children. And everyone should be committed to respect these rules, maybe even sharing the feed on the device with respect to app usage, social networks, etc. The result could actually be a “challenge” with winners and losers, tokens and prizes.

4. Tip #4: self-deprecation! Let’s go ahead and be the first to laugh at the fact that we’re a bit inept, and we struggle to clean the house or cook a meal or a simple cake. Responding with a smile at even one’s teenage son’s forgetfulness who, having gone out for groceries with a list, may have forgotten something, whilst caught up in other thoughts. Convey the joy you have in your heart, which does not mean not being unaware of the difficulties, but which brings us to cultivate patience and hope. This can be, as research confirms, a valid antidote to fight the virus and to get through it even stronger and more aware of our limits and, above all, of our desire and effort to be better people and parents, and to take advantage of any situation to do so. So how could we pass up this opportunity the pandemic has given us?

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