“Lately, I feel like I’m to blame for a lot of things,” I’m hearing from parents. “I can’t figure out why it’s taking me a whole week (or longer) to do a task that is, in theory, only supposed to take me 10 minutes. I can’t seem to bill the number of hours I used to. What’s wrong with me?” they ask.
Personally, when I’m not careful about catching myself, I can fall right into the self-blame pit, too. I can, if left unchecked, have a tendency to assume responsibility for anything that goes wrong. One of my sons is being really critical of himself lately. And upon hearing his criticism, my first thought was about what I might have done, that caused him to think that way about himself. Yikes.
There are, of course, other instances over the past few months where it’s obvious I did mess something up. I mixed up scheduling for meetings. Forgotten critical details. Said the wrong thing.
In addition to being frustrated with our own perceived shortcomings, I’ve noticed a tendency on the part of working parents to be really short with those around us, too. Our patience reserves are so depleted right now, particularly with what we perceive as other people’s incompetence. Gah!! How could they possible have messed that up? Why is this process taking so ridiculously long?
The Pandemic Year Has Really Gotten to Us
My sons returned to in-person school last week for the first time in 13 months. Amen. Hallelujah. Yes, it’s only 4 days per week, but I’ll take it.
It’s absolutely better (for all of us!) than being home, but even my kids notice that the world is still not quite right-side-up yet. My 8-year old son came home last Thursday and said, “Mommy, I don’t know what’s wrong with the teachers. They’re not the same. It’s not that they’re being mean, but they’re also not like they were. They’re just acting like Zach Bots.”
For those of you who haven’t been subjected to hours and hours of Wild Kratts videos, Zach Bots are robot minions that work for the bad guy in the show. There wasn’t anything specific the teachers at the school were doing that was a problem, my son just noticed that things were “off.” Perhaps it’s the masks and the social distancing. Or the temperature checks by hazmat-looking workers in the mornings. But it’s just not quite the same.
Adam Grant’s recent and helpful article didn’t talk about all of us turning into Zach Bots, but he did give this state we’re in a name: languishing. His New York Times piece entitled “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,” is spot on in recognizing that most of us are living in that grey middle between depression and flourishing. It’s the “stagnation and emptiness” that makes it so incredibly hard to complete even simple tasks. “It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield,” writes Grant. “And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
This languishing is what’s wrong with us. It’s why we can’t muster up the motivation for simple tasks. It’s why we’re getting things messed up and making mistakes.
And if we don’t name it for what it is, we wind up blaming ourselves (and others) for the problems.
Whom – or what – can we blame?
Do we have to place blame when something goes wrong? Perhaps our brains are pre-wired on that front. I don’t know. Pre-pandemic, my mantra for times when I’d messed up and wanted to move on from self-flagellation was, “Oh well.” I picked up this refrain from an episode of Sara Holtz’s Advice to My Younger Me Podcast.
Since the pandemic started, I’ve moved on from that mantra. I’ve found it helpful, instead, to simply blame COVID. On a daily basis. Perhaps 17 times a day. “It’s not me, it’s COVID,” I’ve reminded myself when I botched something. “It’s not you, it’s COVID,” I have offered many times to those apologizing to me for their own errors.
We are all so very close to the edge these days. The edge of collapse. Frustration. Our outer bounds of patience. None of what we are living through is normal, and as Adam Grant’s article reminds us, the languishing is universal.
I find that simply blaming the pandemic releases me and others from whatever problems or self-blame we could find ourselves stuck in. I find it such an effective mantra, that you shouldn’t be surprised if I keep uttering it long after we’re all vaccinated. Long after the new version of the roaring 20’s are in full effect.
What mantras help you get through your COVID days? Do share in comments. (And see some of my other favorite working parent mantras here: 10 Best Mantras for Working Moms.)
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave