“Hope is not a matter of waiting for things outside of us to get better.
It is about getting better inside about what is going on outside.”
I know there is now a great deal of advice out there for managing during this time, but I thought I would add some especially for HSPs in my last blog, and this time especially for couples and parents, perhaps because they are on my mind due to the new book on HS parents and the very new documentary on couples (both are announced via email here). I will write in List-ese, a favorite style these days. I start with couples, as I believe they generally come before parenthood:
- Research is very clear that stress can destroy even the best relationship. We know the divorce rate rose in China after couples were in quarantine. Dare each other not to allow your relationship to be another victim of the virus! Under stress we are not at our best and we are easily irritated or maybe disappointed by how the other is handling it all. Remember the big picture—all the reasons you are with this person. And just how well are YOU handling it? Try to think through your criticism and shelf it. If there is a conflict, watch the new documentary, which provides the rules for safely arguing it out.
- Start a conversation with your partner about the stress you are both under, beginning with vulnerable feelings or a caring question. Try just listening to each other expressing anxiety and irritations without trying to fix it. Listening without interruption can be the greatest gift. But be responsive to the emotions.
- Feeling irritable? It’s time to get away from each other. If your local regulations allow you to go out, go out by yourself sometimes. Can’t go out? Sit alone by a window. Or go to another room. No separate room? Agree to be in silence for a while. Always be clear how long you want to be apart or silent and that it is not about them. As an HSP, you just sometimes need to be alone. Assure them that you will be better company afterwards. Your partner will see it’s true.
- If one of you can work from home and the other cannot, do not let all of the drudgery or childcare fall onto the one not “working.” Even if that person is always at home, there is more drudgery work to do with more people around the house. Remember, work comes in three categories: drudgery (torture, especially for HSPs); craft (which gives the pleasure of feeling effective); and calling (the pleasure of doing what you were meant to do). Divide drudgery fairly. Maybe the one not making the dough can practice the “craft” of looking online for new resources or entertainment for the evening.
- Research is clear that doing something “novel and exciting” together makes two people feel more in love, as long as both agree on that activity. Even shut in, you can try watching an opera for the first time or a sport new to you (do a search for “watch great sporting events from past”), watch travel shows about exotic places, take online art classes, or cook up something crazy with the ingredients on hand. Brain storm your crazy list, then cut it down to what you both would enjoy trying.
- Research shows that time connecting with another couple you are close to also enhances your own relationship, so use Zoom to make it happen.
- When it’s time for romance, do some role playing. Each of you takes on a new personality, dressing in something that fits it and that the other has not seen often. Maybe play out the other’s fantasy. (Finally your partner has that cowboy or cowgirl! A swaggering rock star! A real prince or princess with tons of money!) Use an accent if you can. One of you knocks at the door and right then the gradual seduction begins. If you really like doing this, order some wigs on line.
- Keep conversations interesting. Spend time learning about something the other doesn’t know about yet, so you can talk about it over dinner or whenever. Or each of you reads a novel, one chapter a day, and tells the other what happened in the chapter you just read, so you both get to enjoy the story.
Now for HS Parents:
- Lower your standards! Don’t judge yourself. Don’t feel guilty about your slip ups, depression, or shouting. You are doing the best you can. Of course you are. Even if the best doesn’t seem very good, you are still doing all that you can under these strange circumstances. And if you feel you need help from someone with more expertise and years of experience than you have, get it. Two suggestions are on my website, Alice Shannon and Alane Freund.
- Reduce stimulating input. Too noisy? Get some earplugs. Work on everyone lowering their voices. Consider headsets for kids when they watch TV. Reduce or eliminate your intake of media and news.
- You must get downtime. If you are alone with kids, explain that to them. If nothing else, close your eyes for a few moments. You will still hear what you need to hear. Perhaps grandparents or someone else close to your kids can keep them occupied for a half hour via Zoom or Facetime, maybe at a regular time daily. You can suggest activities. And see Alice Shannon’s blog on HS parent self-care.
- Meditate if you can find the time. Even 5 minutes. Information about types of meditation is in this blog on my website.
- Mostly let your housekeeping go unless it makes you feel much better to have everything clean. Do put away enough stuff to reduce clutter. Just a few cleaned off surfaces or one room kept neat will reduce over-stimulation and help everyone.
- To get some peace, do not be afraid of being more liberal about TV and devices. There are high-quality shows designed for children that can even be good for them. Parent involvement–watching a show with them now and then or sitting beside them and watching while they play an okay video game–is considered good parenting and less stimulating for you than other things they may want from you. Once you get to know the characters or the game, you can do something else but ask now and then about what happened to a certain character or their level at a game.
- Consider having daily and weekly schedules if you don’t already. It does not have to be rigid, but it will help you as much as your child. Put it up so everyone can see, something like this: Get up, dress, breakfast, school work or learning games while parent does laundry or cleaning, lunch, time outdoors if allowed, afternoon rest time etc. Something fun before bedtime, like reading with the less available parent, but gradual slowing down. Some final going-to-sleep routine. On the weekly schedule, vary events that occur during the week (e.g. different things to be learned, different sports depending on the day), showing when they will happen. But of course it is all flexible.
- Have something fun planned ahead for each day and a big one each week—a craft project; a board game; a party for the pets, dolls, stuffed toys, or others in the house (maybe requiring a menu and making cookies or decorations the day before). Design a city that might exist in 300 years. If you have Legos, each person scoops up one cup at random, and from only these creates a modern-art sculpture. Then arrange them in a Lego sculpture garden. Create a new board game or game of trivia that fits your family. Take out new art supplies or projects now and then and put away some games to bring out later. Don’t have everything available all the time.
- It’s fine for kids to be bored. Explain to them that creativity and boredom are like the ups and downs of waves, as any creative person will tell you. “I can’t think of anything to paint!” Then comes the masterpiece.
- Boredom or fussiness or any emotion that seems oddly timed may be expressing deeper feelings of anger, sadness, or anxiety that your child is not aware of. Be sure to sit down and talk often with your kids about their feelings. Teenagers may balk, so with them you may have to slide under their radar. “How are your friends doing with all this?”
- Take into account your child’s temperament. If you are not sure of all of its aspects, go to Preventiveoz.org. Perhaps figure out everyone’s temperament and have a fun conversation about your similarities and differences.
- Especially for active children: Order exercise equipment like a balance board, exercise ball, or swings that hang from a doorway. Have them run around a course in the house, or outside if you can, with every lap earning some small fixed amount of money that will go to a favorite charity. Post at the end of the day the laps run.
- You might want to spend some time separately with each child if you have more than one. Everyone equal time. It’s less stimulating for an HS parent.
- Use your HS creativity. Older kids can learn yoga watching TV or Youtubes, or a new dance step, or a brainy, ambitious child might take advanced algebra and surprise everyone at school by testing out of it next year. Thank goodness for our endless online resources. But do monitor what they are looking at.
- Get in contact with other parents, get ideas, but do not compare yourself in a way that makes you feel “less then.” People are probably not exposing their worst moments.
- On that note, don’t be surprised by very negative feelings, even murderous feelings! Research shows they are very common in parents. Feelings and thoughts are not actions. Go to your room, lie on your bed, and cry, scream into a pillow, or just space out.
- Big picture: If your children know at some level that you love them, they will grow up fine. You all will look back on this as a special time in your lives that you survived together. Children may even be improved by a little hardship (“What, no orange juice, again?”) if they feel supported through it. Listen to their complaints, but do not let them get to you.
Hey, you’re doing great by just doing as well as you can at this time. Don’t judge.