Pandemic Parenting Fatigue & The Miracle Question
Last week, I took my very first COVID-19 test. Nearly 2 years into the pandemic, and I was certain the coronavirus had finally come for me and my family. And as I was waiting to get my results, I found a strange little part of myself actually hoping for a COVID positive result. Ummm… excuse me, what?
Anyone who has talked to me about COVID since the pandemic began knows that I have been pretty anxious about it. And I have been taking precautions seriously. So why on earth would a positive COVID test be something even remotely desirable?
Upon reflection, I realized that I thought being infected would ironically mean I could take a break from worrying about COVID. I would be facing my fear. There would be nothing left for me to worry about or do to avoid exposure. My husband and toddler would also likely have COVID, and we would all probably be just fine based on statistical reasoning.
But, as it turned out, my test was negative. Which was of course great news. So getting that negative test result made me take a step back and question my previous logic. Why had I convinced myself that a positive test result would have been a good thing?
At the beginning of a crisis, most people are able to tap into their surge capacity – a collection of mental and physical adaptive systems that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations. However, when dire circumstances drag on, they have to adopt a different style of coping, and fatigue and demotivation may be the result.
Pandemic Parenting Fatigue
As this pandemic drags on and on, pandemic fatigue is settling in. And for parents, pandemic parenting fatigue is rampant. As a stay at home mom, I know I have not been impacted to the degree that many other parents have. So I wonder, if even I am feeling pandemic parenting fatigue, how are other parents managing right now?
While I’m certainly not minimizing the patience, work and energy it takes to be a stay at home mom (because it’s A LOT), I recognize that my days are relatively predictable and stress free.
I know many parents who are struggling to manage childcare and/or school closures with busy work schedules. And parents dealing with unemployment. There are parents who are forced to work in unsafe work environments so that they can pay their bills. And parents who are struggling with mental health issues. Not to mention, parents trying to support their children’s mental or developmental health, with access to few, if any resources. And then of course, parents who may be sick with COVID themselves, taking care of sick children, or dealing with long COVID symptoms.
These are all very real and very big problems that many parents are facing right now. And they have been facing many of these problems for the past nearly 2 years. The Atlantic puts it well in their article, Covid Parenting Has Passed the Point of Absurdity. Melinda Moyer describes parenting in 2022 as “unsustainable” and “chaotic”.
Waiting for The Pandemic to End
I often have to remind myself, that even though there is no end in sight, we have come a long way since the pandemic started (anyone else bleach their groceries back in the day?).
It’s difficult to see this progress though, because in many ways, time seems to be standing still. I often have the feeling that I have been living the same day on repeat.
If it weren’t for the fact that my child transformed from a baby into a full blown toddler over the past 2 years, I’m not sure I would know how to quantify these recent years.
So despite the fact that time is passing and progress is happening, there is still a sense of waiting for some sort of confirmation that we can all move on in life.
And for many parents, they are desperately waiting for that confirmation.
What is to be Done about Pandemic Parenting Fatigue?
So what can be done to help these parents? Where is there to go from here?
Parents aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and magically have all of their problems solved. Their childcare problems won’t be solved. Schools may close at a moment’s notice. Their work will be waiting for them when they wake up. Workplaces will continue to treat their employees poorly. Etc etc etc…
Solving all these problems in an ideal and timely manner would take a miracle.
Finding Motivation to Carry On
After I thought about needing a miracle, something I learned back while working in the mental health field came to mind. I started to reflect on “the miracle question”. Maybe all of the big problems can’t be solved overnight, but maybe a little magical thinking can provide some motivation to carry on.
I encourage anyone facing mental health challenges to seek professional counseling services. Please note that this post is not meant to provide advice for individual health concerns.
The Miracle Question
The miracle question is part of a therapeutic approach called Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). And its purpose is to encourage a solution oriented mindset.
In an interview with psychotherapy.net, Insoo Kim Berg (one of the founders of SFBT) shares how a therapist might pose the miracle question;
Suppose a miracle happens overnight, tonight, when you go to bed. And all the problems that brought you here to talk to me today are gone. Disappeared. But because this happens while you were sleeping, you have no idea that there was a miracle during the night. The problem is all gone, all solved. So when you are slowly waking up, coming out of your sleep, what might be the first, small clue that will make you think, ‘Oh my gosh. There must have been a miracle during the night. The problem is all gone?
Initially you may ask, what benefit could possibly come of asking this question? People are looking for real answers, not fantastical stories to tell themselves. Parents of young babies and toddlers are looking for real in the flesh daycare providers or babysitters, not daydreams of them.
Springer Link explains though, that the benefit of this question becomes apparent as clients develops narratives about life improving. Within those narratives, small details emerge that help people find “hidden resources or solutions” to their problems.
The Power of the Imagination
And then somehow through those imagined narratives, people actually start to feel a tiny bit better. Even though the picture they are painting is imaginary, the feelings they are having about it are not. And their mindset and their mood shifts. Rather than focusing on problems and staying stuck in those problems, little beacons of light and hope start twinkling in their minds.
And these glimmers of hope are motivating. So instead of continuing to ruminate and dwell on problems, there is movement. Solutions seem possible, even if they are only very small solutions. Small steps are taken towards those small solutions. And even though those steps may be very small, they are powerful.
Because I am really fascinated by the possibilities that the miracle question offers, I was curious to explore it for myself. Maybe it could offer a little pandemic parenting fatigue relief.
My Miracle Question Experiment
So as I lay in bed one night, I thought about the premise of the miracle question. And I started to imagine what I wanted my day to look like the next day. How would I feel when I woke up if all my problems had disappeared? How would I know something was different? What would I do? What would my close friends or family notice about me?
Waking up to a Miracle
I imagined waking up feeling refreshed and rested after having slept through the night. This doesn’t usually happen. (You can read more about sleep issues and being a parent in my post on Postpartum Insomnia).
Additionally, I wake up an hour or 2 before my toddler. I have time to drink a cup of coffee and get a little work done.
And once my toddler wakes up, I am fully and joyfully present with him. We enjoy making and eating some breakfast together, and then we get ready to head out for the day. And I feel lighthearted.
We have somewhere to go. Something new to see. Friends to spend time with. I get to watch my toddler play with his toddler friends and jump around like wild little monkeys. And I am not worrying about possible covid exposures or imagining worst case scenarios.
I am also not wondering how this pandemic may be impacting my toddler’s social development. His shyness is just a normal lovable part of his temperament, not something related to me sheltering him too much during this ongoing pandemic. (For more on shy toddlers, you can read my post Shy Toddlers and 5 Ways to Support Their Social Development).
And later we head home. Walking into our house brings joy and comfort, not monotony and isolation. And I feel energetic throughout the rest of the day and evening as I play with my toddler and go about our business.
I would even have energy after my toddler goes to bed, and I would work on my projects or spend quality time with my husband. And then finally, I would close my eyes and easily fall asleep and wake up refreshed to start another day.
My Miracle Question Experiment Results
When I actually did wake up the next morning after this thought experiment, I reminded myself of what I imagined feeling and doing in my imaginary day. And oddly, I was able to orient towards and connect with some of those same feelings I had imagined. It felt good.
And as I continued on throughout the day, I kept reminding myself what my imaginary day felt like. This motivated me to try and make my day look more like that dream day.
I ended up doing something novel with my toddler outside the house that day. We went and sat in a mostly deserted coffee shop, and my toddler had so much fun. He scarfed down a donut and wandered around, exploring some toys that were stacked in the shop’s corner. This seemingly small and insignificant outing, was actually quite significant.
- Low risk covid outings with my toddler to the local library and coffee shop.
And the day continued on in this same manner. I noticed myself appreciating the small and simple moments.
And when my toddler went to bed, rather than heading for the couch to watch tv like usual, I decided to instead spend the last couple hours of the night working on a project. Then I went to bed feeling content, and I actually managed to fall asleep at a decent hour. I woke up the next morning feeling better than usual.
So maybe, I will start imagining more better days, and see what happens.
Final Thoughts on Pandemic Parenting Fatigue
I wanted to share my thoughts on pandemic parenting fatigue and imagining a brighter future, because I think we all need a bit of empathy and encouragement right about now. Because who knows when this pandemic will end.
Miracles aren’t going to happen overnight, but maybe small glimmers of hope and joy, even if just imagined, can offer some form of sustenance through these challenging times.
Please know that you have a space in the comments below to rant and rave about this pandemic, share your dreams and visions, or all of the above ☺. I would love to hear from you! Be well ~