Self Care... Is It Even Possible During COVID-19

I am convinced that COVD-19 has given me 50 new gray hairs and has taken off at least a year or two of my life. Not because of my fear of illness, but because of the lifestyle created that is necessary to stay safe in the midst of it.

What does this season look like for our family? It looks like working from home full time with 4 small children quarantined while my husband continues to leave daily to go to work. When I attempted to sit and write this the first time I had my oldest son spewing random historical Titanic facts at me instead of completing his assignments on powerschool like I asked. Then our current placement was yelling at me to get her ration of toilet paper since she was all done (and yes, with 6 people in the house they are no longer allowed to have unlimited access to toilet paper). As I finished getting the toilet paper and acknowledging the useless Titanic facts the eldest continued to spout as he followed me through the house, then my five-year-old asked me to outline a drawing for him to color while the three-year-old threw a tantrum on the floor because no one was playing cars with him and my phone rang with my boss calling. That is a 5-minute snapshot of this season of life we are in during COVID-19.

Two nights ago, as I got ready for bed I recalled the moments of the day to my husband had my eyes brimmed with tears as I said, “school is cancelled till May 15 and there is no end in sight.” No school, no church activities, no sports, no trips to the library, no outings to childrens’ museums and no more parks. In my mind that immediately translates to the following: no outlets, no relief, no quiet moments, no renewal and no end in sight. My husband responded with the following, “what do you need to make this manageable, how can you do self-care to make it through this uncertain season?” I wanted to laugh out loud or get angry for what I thought was a ridiculous question. Self-care? I have not had my hair cut in a year and a half, cannot tell you the last time my toenails had polish on them or recall the last time the two of us went on a date. I am lousy at self-care under normal circumstances, how on earth am I supposed to practice self-care when I am stuck at home with the many demands and stressors during this pandemic?

As I tried to quiet my thoughts and go to bed one of my favorite authors came to mind, Lauren Casper. During an event where I heard her share from her heart about mothering children from hard places she said something I will never forget. When asked what she does for self-care she laughed and said, “I pee when I want to, and oh the freedom that offers.” I recalled the sweet time of fellowship at the event she spoke at and the joy of breaking bread with her in our home the next afternoon. I heard this humble, genuine woman of God share about having a lens that sees the world with compassion and empathy. (check out her newest book: Loving Well in a Broken World) Lauren spoke of the image of self-care in the United States with pedicures, spa dates, fancy dinner dates with your husband and weekends away with your girlfriends. She then posed this question, “if that is how we define self-care how do the other 99% of women around the world who don’t have those luxuries practice self-care?”

I allowed the wisdom of this Godly woman who I admire tremendously to fully sink in as a I fell asleep last night. How can we practice self-care in quarantine with children, work demands and the fears and uncertainties of this pandemic swirling around us?

We start with meeting our physical needs… we pee when we need to darn it! We don’t put it off to make another PBJ or change the fourth diaper of the day, referee another fight between the kids or ration toilet paper. We stop, we go pee. We get a drink of water, or we step outside and close the door and breathe in fresh air for 5 minutes. It is fascinating how meeting my own basic needs can be a critical piece to establishing patterns of self-care.

My toes aren’t painted, my split ends are awful, my connection to my girlfriends is a group text and with no public places open a date with my husband seems even more improbable. But that doesn’t mean that I, just like mothers all around the world cannot practice self-care.

Self-care for this mom, in this season, is this… I pee first instead of putting it off to answer an email or meet another darn need that one of the millions of munchkins that seem to swarm my house have. Then, I simply tried asking myself this question: What would give me moments of feeling calm in the midst of uncertainties?

Here was the list I came up with that I thought could provide some practical relief:

Asking my husband to adjust his schedule and going into work an hour later so that I could refrain from setting the alarm at 5:45 am and instead get up at 6:45 so I could still finish my run before the kids got up but get a little more rest to be ready to take on the day. (an extra hour of sleep, or sweet mercy how dear you are to me lately)

Paper plates, paper plates, paper plates. I am far from “green.” I don't grow my veggies, nor do I compost my leftovers and rarely recycle more than I throw out. In this season, for me the greatest gift of all is not doing dishes all day long (I don’t live in CA anymore so my recycling guilt has lessened over time)

Not wiping down the counter every time after the kids eat, and letting go of my compulsive tendencies to pick up after the kids ALL the time… Even though constantly looking at goldfish crumbs everywhere may make me feel like I’m dying a slow death internally. I attempted to shift my perspective because since school is out and the only thing my kids know how to do is argue with each other and eat then my compulsive cleaning is not sustainable right now. Plus, I would put the Windex Company out of business if the quarantine keeps going and I attempted to keep up my old ways.

Saying aloud to my kids, “this is not fair, I am angry, and I don’t like this either.” My British stoic tendency is to avoid big emotion. But when one of the kids is pitching a fit from being stir crazy, I try to literally sit down with them, and I allow myself to have a pity party with them. We say out loud, “I am angry because I am sick of being at home all the time, I miss the outside world, I miss being with others and doing things I love, this is hard, and I am over it.” We give permission to all feel angry and sad about the new way of life and admit it’s hard for all of us. (we do this several times a day for the record).

After we say “this is hard” we try to end the day and name 5 positives things we can be grateful for in this moment. For me today it looks like this:

Thank you Lord for:

1) Four boys in my house: our toilet paper should last longer than if I had all daughters, instead of just one.

2) The fact that no one saw my kids’ outfits. Each night after baths I do a load of laundry and since the kids aren’t going anywhere I just put out the same outfit each morning and no one knows all my kids have been in the same outfit all week (or that the goldfish crumbs are still strewn about) and my mom life can feel simplified

3) The gift of an Aspberger’s Diagnosis during quarantine. There are no daily social situations to navigate outside our home, no awkward moments at grocery stores where my son says exactly what’s on his mind and I have to explain he didn’t mean to be rude while simultaneously avoiding judgmental looks we typically receive. Plus, I can explain his online schooling assignment once and he gets it! (Oh, sweet boy you make homeschooling look like a cake walk)

4) Social worker visits via video chat instead of in person. All I had to do was pick up one small room, brush my hair, flick on mascara and by a miracle we looked OH SO put together (despite the fact PJ pants hid under the computer screen). Plus the added bonus being it took much less effort than a “normal home visit” where we got the whole house meticulously cleaned and had cookies on the counter.

5) Healthy children. Children who argue, wrestle, talk back, make messes, have meltdowns, drive me to the brink of insanity every hour on the hour. Thank you they are healthy enough to do all these things in a time where people worldwide are praying for health, let me not take for granted the health of those in my home (no matter how crazy or unglued they make me feel).

Self-care in CoVID-19 is this. I stop and pee when I need to, I leave all the children in the home unsupervised for 5 minutes a few times a day and I take slow intentional breaths. I sleep in a little later than I used to and ignore the crumbs on the counters and floors. I admit this is hard, scary and even sometimes annoying, not just for my kids but for me too. Then I try to see little things that I can be thankful for, no matter how ridiculous they may sound to others. This is self-care for a “mama of many” during the Coronavirus. I may have split-ends and ugly toes, but at least I can stop and pee when I need to… and maybe even use a square or two more than I let the kids use for a little extra pampering!