How we can support ourselves and our relationships in a pandemic

Parents Mental Health
04 June 2020
Catherine Hine
Catherine Hine is CEO of Fastn. Prior to this, she led and advised programmes and campaigns tackling poverty and inequality nationally and internationally for over fifteen years and observed first-hand the key role that family and dependable relationships have on life outcomes. 
These strange times have got me thinking more and more about the centrality of relationships to our lives.

I’m a home-based worker. I lead a charity that is all about encouraging dependable relationships. The new normal’ — children at home, home learning, moving friendships and other family relationships online’ — ought to have offered fewer surprises. It has felt like running a marathon. A heavy dose of self-compassion has been required, as we prepare for more uncertainties to come.

Our relationships feel more important than ever. Relationships are key to our wellbeing. As our educationalist advisors remind us, our children learn from us about relationships all the time, and especially now. It is also one of the few aspects of our children’s education that cannot be put on hold or caught up later (whether we like this or not). 

I want to share some insights and learning from our work with relationship organisations, practitioners and parents, which may provide you, as it has me, with some reassurance and support.

Supporting family

  • Noticing and listening to each other as family members has never mattered more. The World Health Organisation encourages us to notice how each child responds to stress, listening, accepting and supporting.
  • Checking in. Relate, the UK’s largest relationship support provider, recommends regularly checking in with each other about how we as carers are feeling and how new routines and plans are working. Being honest and calm during these discussions helps us support one another.
  • Playing together. Play can happen at home and remotely. Angela Greenaway, a relationships and parenting practitioner at Tavistock Relationships, tells us that laughing and playing has all kinds of health benefits, from easing stress and anxiety, countering depression and boosting positive mood.
  • Exercising together. We can make the most of daily exercise to build relationships with family. FASTN has talked more about this here..
  • Feeling your way through. Mary Taylor, Head of Programmes at Family Links, recommends reflecting on how you would like to feel. Then it’s possible to behave in ways that help achieve these feelings. View Mary’s Vlog here.
  • Routines. Clinical Psychologist Dr Kerry Ashton-Shaw suggests consistent waking and sleeping times, family mealtimes, a little time for exercise, for play and relaxation. While we can’t achieve everything we would like to – some rhythm, some routine, some predictability helps us and our families regulate and stay connected.’
  • Answering tricky questions. Relate recommends communicating with children away from bedtime, using facts delivered calmly and simply. This avoids children’s concerns disrupting their sleep and offers a good way to support their understanding of changes to their lives. You can read more here.
  • Saying thank you’. We have been thanking key workers for the amazing work they are doing for every one of us. It’s also so important to thank each other. Angela Greenaway says: thank you is a magical phrase that prevents feelings of being taken for granted and resentment. It creates a positive cycle… encouraging us to repeat generous acts’. 

Supporting ourselves

  • Being kind to ourselves. Like many of you no doubt, I really have to work at this one. Dr Kerry Ashton- Shaw reminds us to practice self-compassion – no one can do everything. No one can continue employment, provide perfect home-schooling, prepare perfect meals, run a family, maintain previous levels of exercise, walk the dog, complete the project. Stop. Take a breath. Shift your expectations, be compassionate to yourself.’
  • Staying connected. Relate recommends staying in touch creatively and making use of wider support networks. You can read more about their advice here.
  • Getting a good sleep. Working from home, supporting home learning and running a household is a lot to fit in. It can lead to late night working and reduced sleep. Relate recommends that home-workers try to stick to office hours as much as possible. According to Dr Kerry Ashton-Shaw, apart from sticking to a sleep schedule, keeping exercise to at least two to three hours before bedtime and finding time to relax before bed, improves sleep.
  • Seeking support. We all need support from our partners, parents, friends and others. Leading relationship research charity, OnePlusOne, recommends three types of support — emotional, practical and delegating, where we take on tasks to give our partner a break. Read more here.
  • Keep talking with your school. It’s easy to forget that schools can help support us with any concerns around our children’s education. School staff have so much to deal with at the moment. We all have a responsibility, as Parentkind reminds us, to keep communication between parents and school staff open and empathetic. Our children will be learning from how we conduct our relationships with each other at this time.