by Opal Palmer Adisa
Jamaica is a soup-drinking culture that consumes hot, spicy soup daily despite the heat. Our soups are not pureed, but are heavy and thick with yams, cho-cho, dumpling, carrots, sweet potatoes, chicken, beef, spices and pepper.
Made in a large pot, often the lid has to be removed to keep it from boiling over onto the stove.
Given the stay-at-home rule that Covid-19 has ushered in, children are not going to school and parents are working from home, parents must manage both supervising their children while keeping up with their own work. These dual demands are a pot that could boil over and any and everything during this time can serve as a trigger. Covid-19 presents the two greatest reasons that promote stress: fear and uncertainty. It impacts our expectations, as well as our attitudes and perceptions. In our modern face-paced society we have come to accept stress as normal and shifting gears as normal, but these have physical, emotional as well as mental impact on how we are behaving depending on how quickly we can adapt to change.
Even in the best of situation juggling work and childcare is a challenge task. This is compounded for those persons living in tight quarters, no yard space to send children to run around and entertain themselves for a while, no veranda or patio to sit and enjoy the breeze, no extra room to send children to play or work, while you say shut away in your room and attend to your work. For us to survive these times intact, it is important that adults remain vigilant to stresses and triggers, and reflect on how to curb these before they get out of hand.
The first and most important rule is to be patient with yourself and others around you and keep reminding yourself that this too will pass. You have to remind yourself that everyone is stressed including your children and partner.
What are Stresses or Triggers?
When you are stressed, even the most loving child, asking you for the 5th time, for juice or a snack or help with homework can trigger a breakdown. It is important to sense when you are being triggered and what is triggering you so you learn how to control yourself.
If you are living in cramped space then walking outside, even just standing by the open door, might provide momentary relief. Something that we all can do and should practice diligently during this time is deep thoughtful breathing.
Studies have shown that slowing your breathing, and concentrating fully on breathing will allow you to calm yourself and shift the angry, out of control feeling. You feel the irritation rising, you feel the scream travelling up your throat, you feel there is nothing within your control; you are getting ready to open your mouth to shout and bite someone’s head off, but instead you put your palms on your diaphragm, just below your stomach; you stand straight with both feet firmly on the ground and you inhale slowly, filling up your tummy, push out your chest and push down your shoulders, and hold that breath for one or two, for three or five counts. Slowly let your breath out as you would a balloon, slowly releasing the air, pulling in your stomach as if trying to get your navel to touch your back.
You did it, but still feel angry; two children are still demanding your attention, your spouse/partner is blaming you for the children’s loud noise as if he is not equally responsible. You don’t want to be a shouting raving mother, who hits her children. You don’t want to be a nagging woman who is unable to stop repeating the same demands. Breathe. Keep breathing.
Children are the most selfish human beings in the whole world. They believe the world revolves around them. They are adept at calling you a million and one times making it seem like it is life and death, but most times it is just a cry for attention. You need to find ways to cope.
- It is okay to put your child in the room and say they have to stay there for 30 minutes because you need time out, or time to do your work. While there they can draw, write, paint, sing or make up stories.
- It is okay to tell your children that you are stressed and that they can help you by doing what they can for themselves.
- It is okay and encouraged for you to give your children age-appropriate chores so they understand that the care of the house is everyone’s responsibility.
- It is okay and I strongly encourage that if you have a yard to tell your children to go outside and run and jump and ride their bicycles for 30 minutes so you can get some work done, or have quiet time or have time out. Teach your children to understand that you are human and have needs and you need time and space to attend to your needs.
- It is okay to put your children in front of the television or give them a tablet to watch for 30 to 60 minutes so that you refresh and decompress.
When you cook your children a nice meal, ask them if they enjoyed it and if they say yes, tell them to say, ‘Mommy that was delicious. Thanks for preparing our meal’. You are modelling appreciation and showing them the importance of complimenting not just you but others. When your children have been cooperative and have done their chores congratulate them, and reward them by spending time playing, or talking, or laughing being silly with them.
Understand that it is important that you discipline your child. Spanking is not a form of discipline; it is a form of punishment, and punishment leads to shame and lessens feelings of self-worth, which can result in ignoring and rebellion. Point out what the child has done that is not in accordance with your rule. Suggest the correct approach. Affirmative correction allows the child to feel capable, even while practicing a different behaviour. Another form of abuse that some people are not aware of is shaming and belittling. “Shut your mouth, I don’t want to hear anything from you.” Stop for a minute and think about how it makes you feel if someone was to say any of the above to you. Instead, point out the specific action that you want to change.
It might be more difficult if you have one child. Whatever the family dynamics, your job is to love your children and model positive affirming behaviour. Know when you are on the brink of child abuse. Shut yourself in your room and call a friend or just take time out to breathe deeply, to count to ten or many tens, to think or what else you can do.
Anther good calming activity to practice is time out…Again if you have limited space and working from your bedroom that is now doubling as an office, go into the bathroom, go into the kitchen and stand in front of the sink, stand by a window and look out and imagine you are in your favourite place, wherever that is that your mind will take you where you are completely taken care of, where all your need are met, where everyone caters to you. Again research supports that an effective survival mechanism is being able to mentally transport yourself to your magical place. This allows you to withstand force isolation, as well as life and death situation.
Remember, you are in control of the pot, and if you allow it to boil over, you will have added work and added stress. Let it simmer and everyone will enjoy it. What a delicious soup!
Professor Opal Palmer Adisa, is the University Director of The Institute for Gender and Development Studies, RCO at The UWI, Mona.