By Dr. Laura Netzley and team
Overwhelmed moms and dads – this one’s for you
Dr. Laura Netzley of Novant Health Pediatrics Blakeney has noticed that most of the parents of her pediatric patients seem anxious and overwhelmed. There are no easy answers now, but she says parents must – must! – not neglect taking care of themselves. She and two of her team members have a message for anyone at the end of their rope: You’re not alone.
This has happened a lot lately: I’ll be halfway through a video visit with a parent – often a working parent – and she will suddenly break down. The angst and the tears are partially for the child – but also for the parent. They’re at their wits’ end.
Parents are now being asked to have a full-time job, be a full-time parent and a full-time teacher. It is impossible. Obviously, stay-at-home moms are having a lot of stress and depression, but working parents are completely overwhelmed. I don’t just see it in my patients; I also see it in my staff.
Jenny Lopez, Certified Medical Assistant
I’m a single mother of two girls, and I work full-time. This is the most challenging time we’ve ever faced. My first-grader is learning to read, and my third-grader is learning multiplication, division and cursive. And they’re having to do that online.
I get them up every day and get them ready for school. They’re too young to do their own hair, but they want their hair fixed, so I do that while trying to get myself ready for work.
My mother comes over to help out, but she is not very much into technology. It’s hard for her to navigate the system.
The teachers are giving so much homework that some nights we are up until 11 p.m., which throws our whole routine off. I was overwhelmed with it all recently and wrote our principal an email. I told her: This can’t be possible.
The school emails me videos showing me what my kids did in class, which is supposed to help me help with their homework. But they’re sending so many, it’s hard to find time during the day to look at them all.
As the pandemic drags on, it’s become clear that this isn’t something we just have to live through. It’s something we have to learn to live with. When we first had to shelter in place, I praised the people who followed the rules and didn’t leave the house unless it was necessary. But more than five months in, I’m talking to people who haven’t left the house since March. That’s not sustainable – for marriages or mental health. I tell them: Some risk is worth it for your own mental health.
I can always tell they’re relieved to get the green light. They’ve just needed someone to give permission.
I am not advocating going without a mask. Masks save lives. Wear the mask. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. But socialize with a few close friends. People are being asked to go back to work. So, you can certainly see your sister or your best friend.
Maybe you have a weekly social hour in the driveway with some neighbors. Pick your people, and plan a regular thing with them. Or get together with friends on someone’s porch or patio.
I want parents to know: Everyone is feeling more stress now. If ever there was a time to talk to a therapist, this is it. They’re all offering virtual visits. I encourage everyone over the age of 11 to go to therapy. Being a teenager is hard anytime; it’s especially hard now. Talking to a professional with an outside perspective can really help.
My own therapist suggested I not listen to the news in the morning. I don’t have children, but I realized that turning on the news first thing was stressing me out before I even left the house. The news I need will make its way to me throughout the day. But I don’t have to start my day with it.
Megan Dunn, Nurse
My mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, and, in 2019, I started seeing a therapist to cope with the stress and anxiety. It has put me in a better mental space.
I work three days a week and have a daughter, Fiona, who started public kindergarten this year. My mom has stage IV cancer, and my in-laws are also in a high-risk group, so they can’t help with my daughter as often as they want to. They try to spend time with her only outdoors, and they always wear masks. On the days I work, we send Fiona to her old day care center, where she and her peers share space with pre-K students. Although her day care is exercising all the precautions, I still worry about COVID-19.
Another reassurance I give distraught parents: Your kids are going to be fine. Even the kids who get COVID-19 are doing well with it. But if parents get sick, they could have a far worse outcome. Kids pick up a new normal so easily. They’ll bounce back.
When I visit with patients, the kids seem comfortable wearing their masks. It’s the adult who can’t stop fiddling with it out of frustration. It’s adults I worry about. People are having more stomach issues now. Reflux is on the rise. Headaches are lingering. These things are directly related to stress.
This time is particularly hard on parents with newborns. They’ve given up everything for this tiny human. And the support systems normally in place – grandparents coming to help during the first weeks – are no longer feasible for many.
When you have a child, that child goes to the very top of your priority list. And the parent drops to the bottom. The mom and dad are suddenly even lower on the list than doing dishes, laundry, pets, the lawn.
I tell new parents all the time: Make caring for yourself as important as caring for your child. You can’t be last on your list. Get outside, exercise, cover for each other. Build time for you into your schedule.
I’m lucky to have a supportive partner who works full-time. Money is tighter than we thought it would be, because we’re now paying for an extra year of day care we hadn’t planned on. I seem to run out of hours in the day for everything I want to do – including exercise.
I sneak it in when I can. I have a desk cycle under my desk at work. As a phone triage nurse, I’m sometimes on the phone for long times – on hold with an insurance company, for instance – and I’ll start pedaling.