Believing in one’s own abilities makes parenting during a crisis easier, which bolsters a sense of self-worth and strength—suddenly, your other problems feel lighter. If you’ve been a parent for any length of time, no doubt you’ve proved yourself able to change in ways you never thought possible before you had kids. You’ve lived with less sleep than ever before. You swore you’d never let your kid wear a princess dress or Spider-Man mask out of the house, and we all know how that ended. You’ve already sharpened this skill, and it is a crucial tool for this new season.
Before Jake died, if you had asked me whether I was capable of labor without my partner, or bringing home a newborn without him there, I might have told you no, not possible. But crises can teach you a lot about your capabilities.
Practice makes slightly better over time. It’s no “practice makes perfect,” but perfect is not what you’re after. You’re not instantly going to be an expert homeschooling mom who also works a full-time job, nor should you try. Once you’ve decided what kind of mom or dad you are, do something small every day to put that identity into practice. Clear puts it this way: “Prove it to yourself with small wins.”
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For me, in 2015, that meant getting out of bed (grief is physically exhausting, but grief plus third trimester is a doozy), keeping a job, taking my kids outside, and wrestling my toddler into a Mogwai costume for Halloween, by God. Every day, I got a little better at doing the things that make a home happy. Many days, my small win was a hot breakfast, and that was all I had in me. Some days, I had a hangover and it was Cheerios in my bed for the toddler until I could Skype with my therapist. On those days, I was the kind of parent I wanted to be only for a couple of hours—and that was fine too.
In the midst of a crisis, you’re just getting through an hour at a time. Later, you advance to a day at a time. The idea of forever is crushing. So give yourself a shorter timeline. Get through this morning, get through Monday, get through this week, and watch Tiger King with a glass of wine when you're done.
In her best-selling book on resilience, Option B, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg recounts how she trained herself to see the possibility of light in the darkness after her husband’s death: “I … tried a cognitive behavioral therapy technique where you write down a belief that's causing you anguish and then disprove it. I wrote, ‘I will never feel okay again.’ Seeing those words forced me to realize that just that morning, someone had told a joke and I had laughed.”
You’ll have to make the same progression with your family now. Write your story, start small, get a tiny bit better every day, and give yourself a break.
Finally, remember how cool your kids are. My daughters got me through my crisis. Parenting is not easy, even in ideal conditions. But my responsibility to my children saved me from a worse fate. Standing in my kitchen in sweatpants, in a life that no longer felt familiar, I listened to the sound of sizzling bacon and my girls’ laughter, and knew that I was getting up every day to give them what they needed.