Before I left on vacation for about 10 days away and unplugged, I was starting to wonder a bunch of things. When would I ever get a break from my children? When would I find joy in my days again? How could I possibly lead a retreat for the Mindful Return community, when my own cup was so empty I was licking the bottom for half-drops of water to sustain myself?
I was in a really bad spot. As I’m sure many of you can relate, our family’s mental health had spiraled dramatically downward over the past few months. Sibling fighting was out of control. Patience was non-existent. Screaming was a daily occurrence.
And grief over so many losses was taking its toll on all of us.
We spent the first few days of our vacation with family on a farm in Pennsylvania. Our kids rode tractors and splashed in a creek. Cuddled with puppies and fed bottles to goats. Ran through fields, explored a tunnel, and picked blackberries. Then, we spent the second half of our time away with family in North Carolina at the beach. The boys gave boogie boarding a try. Dug in the sand and played games. And stargazed under a gazebo far away from city light pollution.
The change of scenery, ability to slow down, and the good fortune of hugging and being held by family members outside of our immediate household of four left me feeling human again. It also left me with some “aha” perspectives I couldn’t have had in the thick of our 100+ day cloistered routine.
The Social-Emotional Crisis is Real
The dramatic – and I mean REALLY dramatic – change in my kids’ behavior during our time away highlighted for me just how unhealthy the chaos of the last few months has been for them. They talked to family members in torrents of words and laughter that showed how much they’d been craving interaction with others. Cuddling with animals was therapy. Playing new and challenging games with other playmates got their little brains running again.
While before our trip, there was nearly all-out daily war between the boys, the past few days since we’ve been home have been full of giggles and endless happy Bey-blade battles between them. Creative new games on the trampoline. And a patience with one another unlike anything I’ve seen in the past few months.
My husband and I had a chance to take a few naps. Read books that gave us new things to talk about. And we didn’t have to think about much by way of meal-planning, work, or kid entertainment. Aaaaah.
Now that we’ve been through the process of agonizing (ad nauseam) over the COVID-related risks of travel plans and came out on the other side of well-calculated interactions (thank you, Potette Plus for helping us avoid public restrooms!), we’re more comfortable opening up our family’s interactions in safe ways. Valuing our sanity is now a much more important factor in decision-making that it was before.
What did we decide to change as a result? We are now planning to enact the “family pod” idea, of teaming up with one or two other families for more frequent interaction particularly in the fall. We now know we can’t do the entire school year alone, lest we not make it through. And we’ve now also said a full-bodied YES to family visiting this fall to help out.
Vacation Needs to Interrupt the Always-On Work Mode
With childcare taking over so many work hours, and work being relegated to evenings, we – like many – have been through a long stretch of being constantly “on” and pulled in a million directions 24/7. Yes, my husband and I had been “gifting” one another a 3-hour period of alone-time each weekend for the past few months. But we now realize that wasn’t enough.
Slowing down, relying on an out-of-office message for work e-mail, and truly pressing the reset button made us realize how “always-on” we were. And how unsustainable that is, given this COVID marathon isn’t ending anytime soon.
What did we decide to change as a result? We now know we can’t relegate our downtime to weekends. We have a new routine (so far, so good!) of having a hard-stop on work at 10:30pm. And we’re holding one another accountable for it by doing a 10-minute meditation together before going to bed.
We’ve also realized just how important frequent re-sets are going to be through the long slog ahead. We’re building pauses and opportunities to get away into our fall plans, so that every 6 weeks or so, we know we’ll get a break.
If You Have a Chance to Get Away, TAKE IT
One of the worst parts of the pandemic, for us, has been the death of the looking forward. So many of the things we’d anticipate with such joy have simply vanished. And having even a relatively simple vacation to look forward to was a gift, in and of itself.
I recognize the immense privilege that comes from being able to take this time away. And I urge you to take time to shut down and re-set as an individual and as a family, even if you can’t leave the physical space where you are.
A Note to Employers and Managers
This vacation was the most-needed break I have ever taken in my entire life. EVER. In my 41 years on the planet.
Managers and employers, please urge your employees to take a real break. Give them express permission to let go of guilt and disconnect from work for some significant stretch of time this summer.
Working parents are beyond fried. We are decimated. And if we’re going to make it through this fall, we need you to tell us it’s okay to take care of ourselves for a while.
A New Equation for Life
I came away from this vacation with a new equation in mind: Surrender + Reset = Patience.
Allowing myself to surrender to the reality of what is, and reminding myself of the frequent need to pause and reset during this COVID marathon left me with more patience. More patience for my kids’ many needs. More patience as a wife. Patience with myself. More patience for the work I’m doing in the world.
As working parents, we are being asked to do the impossible right now. Let’s surrender and stop trying to do it all. Together, let’s take a step back. Let’s slow down. Together, we will get through this.
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