The Best We Can
Recently, an unnamed writer penned a thoughtful essay about how we are all weathering the incredible stress and myriad of changes to our daily lives as a result of the Coronavirus. The essay was shared over and over again on Facebook. The theme of the essay was that although we are all weathering the same storm, we are all doing so in different boats. We hear that saying all the time – “We’re all in the same boat.” But we’re not all in the same boat, and the boat that we’re in makes all the difference in the world.
Each of our “boats” encompass our experiences and circumstances. Each are unique and impact how we get through each day. That’s especially so during this current situation.
While some people are enjoying their days of solitude, others are experiencing unbearable loneliness. Although many of us are able to continue to work from home, many others have lost their jobs and are experiencing devastating financial hardship. Some people have the added stress of knowing that they are putting themselves (and their families) at risk every day just by going to work – whether they are first responders, medical professionals or people who bag your groceries at the super market. Some of us are pretty healthy while others suffer from health conditions that put them at increased risk. Some are lucky enough to live in a home with outdoor space to run around and breathe fresh air, while for others home may be a cramped apartment with no privacy and no way to move around. Some may be enjoying their weekly trip to the supermarket and trying out new recipes, while for others getting food means spending hours in line at a food bank – many for the first time in their lives. Some of our children easily navigate online learning while for others, parents have had to take on the hands-on job of guiding them through the online lessons – some after having already worked a full day. And many don’t have the basic resources of a device and internet to allow them to adequately participate in online learning.
And I think it’s safe to say that pretty much every parent is at least to some extent experiencing the increase in irritability, frustration, anxiety, sadness, disappointment, boredom, loneliness and sometimes meltdowns, of kids whose whole worlds have been turned upside down. Each of these circumstances and more impact our journey and make everyone’s journey unique. As parents you keep trying your best to do what you can to make it all “okay.”
In the meantime the media is filled with wonderful stories of people doing amazing things during this pandemic. We see tons of people successfully helping their kids to navigate virtual classes, volunteering their time at the food bank, learning new skills, decorating their neighborhood, working out faithfully every day, etc. We see these stories and then set expectations for ourselves based on someone else’s experiences and as a result we inevitably come up short. Comparing our experience, ability or accomplishments to someone else’s is an exercise in futility. And none of us is perfect. Nor should we expect to be.
Mr. Rogers, who was pretty much always right about this kind of stuff said: “Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect.” So our mission now is to accept and believe that. Repeat after me - “I am not perfect and that’s okay.”
So speaking of being okay with imperfection, when we first began to stay at home I thought - “what a great time to start a daily work out plan. I’ll have plenty of time and energy.” So I pulled out all of my workout gear: mats, weights, those stretchy bands, stability ball, and I set everything up in my home office where I’d have a private space to work out. Every day, I thought about working out, I planned a specific time to work out and even wrote it into my work schedule. The first month I worked out twice. So … I decided to move all of my equipment into the living room where I knew I’d see it at the end of each day as I was zoning out on the couch, binge watching some long awaited TV show. I definitely did see my workout gear, but seeing it did not inspire me to workout more. Instead it made me feel guilty and stressed and very disappointed in myself.
But luckily Mr. Rogers’ words again spoke to me about this perfection issue. He said: “Some days doing ‘the best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect – on any front – and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect from ourselves or anyone else.”
I decided Mr. Rogers was right, as usual — I am doing the best I can and that’s okay. I printed out his wise words on some lovely paper and taped it to my stability ball.
So that takes us back to the issue of our different boats. The responsibilities of my “boat” do not currently support my daily workout routine. It may work great for someone else but not for me. I do try to to take a walk every day if I can because that brings me joy. And joy is good.
So how can we utilize Mr. Rogers’ wise words to be realistic about our boat and our journey, and to give ourselves permission to be imperfect?
Set reasonable expectations for yourself and for your children. Focus on things that you can control and that bring joy rather than stress into your life. Plan activities that you know you will be able to follow through with and let your kids add them to the calendar. This will help everyone to feel a sense of control in this unpredictable time, and feeling in control decreases our overall stress level.
If things go wrong, if things don’t work out the way you expect them to, if you can’t follow through with whatever you planned in #1 above, don’t get stuck or discouraged, instead forgive yourself, come up with a new plan and move on. Flexibility promotes resilience in ourselves and in our children.
If your child is having a particularly challenging day and you find you are out of patience and are stressed to the breaking point, try to give yourself some time and space, even if just for a minute or two. Do some Controlled Breathing exercises (refer back to the Controlled Breathing exercises in the Managing Stress and Anxiety blog.) If you say something or respond to your child, in a manner that you regret, first pull yourself together (see Controlled Breathing) and then apologize. Apologizing for what was said or done is so important to model for your child. Taking responsibility and trying to make amends is an essential life skill for your child to learn and if done sincerely, will typically quickly bring down the level of intensity in a difficult situation.
Find ways to experience personal joy and peace – whatever that means to you – even if it’s just a few minutes of solitude in a locked bathroom or listening to one of your favorite calming songs. *(A great, simple activity to do with (or without) your child is to create your own playlists. You could create a calming playlist, a happy playlist, a playlist of songs to dance to, etc. Be sure to allow your child to choose his or her own songs. Music has such unique meaning to each of us. It’s unlikely that you will both feel calmed by the same list of songs.)
Be willing and able to accept or ask for help if you need it. This is often a difficult thing for many of us to do. We may tend to equate needing help with weakness, but asking for and/or accepting help can actually be an act of bravery as it requires us to show a side of ourselves we may typically keep hidden. In difficult times such as these, looking out for others in our community is a natural instinct and an important way to maintain the sense of community and connection that will pull us all through.
Remember that everyone’s situation is unique and some are struggling more than others. So if you can help someone else in any way, offer to do so. Helping typically engenders feelings of joy and satisfaction in the giver, and often benefits the giver as much or even more than the recipient. Giving does not have to be something that involves money or even much time – it can be something quite simple. If you are unable to help, you can give by going out of your way to be kind. Even a simple word of kindness can change someone’s day. And because kindness feels so good that it is often passed forward, that one act of kindness can often change the day of many.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any boat-themed quotes from Mr. Rogers to appropriately end this piece. But here’s another of my favorite Mr. Rogers quotes that shares a similar sentiment:
“To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” – Mr. Rogers
That includes ourselves and our unique and individual boats. (My words, but I’m sure that’s what he was thinking too.)