Collaborating With the Unknown: Resources for Parents

While platitudes like “the only constant in life is change” may be true, they can hardly bring comfort to the reality of the daily challenges parents are experiencing. Indeed, most parents already felt pressure to have all the answers and make the right choices for their kids long before life changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, you may be experiencing a whole different sense of inadequacy as a parent as you strive to deal with compounding pressures of your personal, professional, and parental lives.

If you’ve come to this article seeking guidance or relief, you’re in good company. Many parents are overwhelmed by the pressures of parenting and feel like they’re failing daily (even if they’re not). As parents, we owe it to ourselves and each other to create supportive spaces and shift our expectations away from the unattainable and “perfect” and toward the genuine and realistic. No one has all the answers, and it’s perfectly normal and completely OK.

Knowing you can ultimately trust your best judgment and instincts, here are 5 tips to help you navigate the unknowns of life and the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Acknowledge (and honor) how you’re really feeling.

Stress is a complex experience, and all of us respond to it differently. While tuning into emotions is not always an easy or comfortable experience, pausing to acknowledge how you really feel can help you clue into what type of support or self-care you need. If you’re feeling amped up with anger, for instance, you may consider ways you can express that excess energy, like going for a walk or getting out of earshot to scream into a pillow. If you’re feeling flooded with worry, you may consider wrapping yourself up in a blanket and reaching out to someone you trust, like a therapist or a friend.

Feeling angst, grief, worry, stress, and all the emotions in between are normal parts of the human experience that say nothing about your ability to show up and be a good parent. What matters most is that you give yourself grace for being human and space to feel what you’re really feeling and seek the support you need from yourself and others.

2. Practice reframing your expectations.

Have you ever told yourself that you should have done something better or that you should have the right answer? Though your intentions are noble (you want the best for your kids), you may have an opportunity to reduce the amount of pressure you’re feeling by softening your expectations around what you can realistically achieve right now.

To reframe your expectations, try incorporating aspects of mindfulness into your day. If you hear your inner voice telling you that you “should” have it all figured out or that you “should” know better, take a moment to check in and offer yourself compassion for being human. Give yourself credit for showing up in all the ways you do and consider repeating a phrase, like “I’m doing the best I can today, and that’s enough.”

3. Focus on what you can control.

If you’re anxiously seeking answers to everything because you’re feeling out of control, you may consider making a list of things you can control and taking action on those things. For instance, while you may not be able to control missed milestones, like the first day of school or graduation, you can take small but meaningful steps that help your child keep their smile strong and healthy. Though their childhood or adolescence may be shaping up differently than you both imagined, your child’s smile will be with them for life and will benefit from extra care and attention.

To prevent unnecessary dental issues, you can guide them toward great oral hygiene habits, like twice-annual visits at the pediatric dentist and twice-daily brushing and flossing. If you know or suspect your child may be having a dental issue, like a damaged or decayed tooth, you can prevent the issue from becoming worse or more difficult to treat with a timely restorative dentistry treatment. Last but not least, you can bring your child in for an orthodontic evaluation, so you can start making plans if your child would benefit from treatment.

4. Prioritize fun and inspiring activities.

Playtime is a boon to your physical and psychological health at every age and can help both you and your child navigate the ups and downs of dealing with uncertainty. Play diffuses stress, fosters skills and presence, nurtures relationships, inspires imagination, and supports your sense of life satisfaction, vitality, and well-being.

Collaborate with your child to choose activities you can do as a family, such as picking a day of the week for game night, going for a hike, doing a puzzle, or baking winter treats. You can also look for opportunities to invite small moments of play into your everyday routine, such as turning up the volume on a favorite song and dancing your heart out until it’s complete.

5. Seek answers for tough questions together.

As a parent, one of the challenges you may be facing is witnessing your kids trying to navigate uncertainty and change, which may feel more intense during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though it’s never easy to know your child is experiencing difficulty, challenging moments are also opportunities for your child to learn healthy self-regulation and problem-solving skills that will stick with them for life.

Drawing from tips #1–4, you may start by helping your child acknowledge how they’re feeling and seeking healthy ways to express that feeling, like physical activity, drawing, or getting a hug. You may also collaborate with your child to develop a phrase that encourages self-compassion in tough moments or identifies things over which they have control. You can also support your child’s overall well-being by helping them identify and prioritize activities that nurture their passions, imagination, creative problem-solving, and joy. Last but not least, you may share with your child what you’ve found to be true: sometimes, we don’t have all the answers, and that’s OK.

Don’t worry; you’ve got this!

To all the wonderful parents of patients at Spinnaker Pediatric Dentistry, we see you, admire you, and are here to support you and your child during the pandemic and beyond. To get answers to your questions or to schedule your child’s next pediatric dentist appointment, contact our office today.