The immense social, economic and other sacrifices we have made in order to protect our collective physical health have put great strain on our mental and emotional wellbeing, and on that of our children.
This article looks at some of the challenges that solicitors who are parenting school-age children and teenagers might be facing at this time. We focus on ways to recognise and use the resources you already have to support your children, and we provide a creative tool to assist you with this.
Solicitor parents have been dealing with particular stresses and demands that are worth thinking about and acknowledging. Perhaps you have a well-resourced home office and appreciate this opportunity to spend more time with your children.
Hanging on the telephone
On the other hand, you may be grappling with technology issues or lacking privacy to manage delicate client or internal calls.
Relationships and marriages may also be under strain as our roles and dynamics shift. Perhaps you have spent the last few months trying to complete work that requires intense concentration while trying to attend to – or home-school – your children, who are also facing huge emotional upheaval.
When children need us, they quite rightly do not care about our deadlines, our clients or our careers.
While facing the challenges of working in this new environment, you are also interacting with clients similarly affected by the pandemic.
Clients are possibly exerting considerable pressure on you to meet their demands, oblivious to or forgetting the fact that you are in a similar situation and working from home.
Solicitors occupy a position of influence in society, and also hold a symbolic authority. This may mean that not only are you acting as a parent to your actual children, you may be encountering (unconscious) demands from clients to perform a parental, calming role for them also. To be a source of certainty to others, when in fact you have as little certainty as anyone else, can take a toll.
On an emotional level, there is no right or wrong way to respond to a global pandemic, but it is useful to have a sense of how you and your children are coping.
While there will be enjoyable aspects of this less frantic life, you and your children may be experiencing other intense emotions or feeling quite shut down and numb.
Some children are possibly dealing with loss, uncertainty, boredom and fear, just like their parents. Some are doing really well at home, but may need help processing emotions around the return to school and activities.
Understanding how we feel is important. When we can express our feelings, we can understand them and take steps to make changes if needed. Ignoring our feelings, particularly ones we don’t like to admit to (for example, anger, fear, shame), can lead to reactive parenting and behaviour – for example, flying off the handle or engaging in power struggles with your children.
Toys in the attic
Although there are significant unknowns about how the world will look in the future, we do know what good mental health looks like.
Many psychological theories (for example, attachment theory, polyvagal nerve theory, and affect regulation) emphasise the importance of connection with others, and the role that being with others plays in our ability to regulate emotionally. It is also important to remember that children, in general, are astoundingly resilient and adaptable.
Our job as parents is to assist our children in understanding how they are feeling and to help them navigate their personal journey.
The most effective way to do this is from a place of connection, with ourselves and our children. For this very reason it is essential to be intentional and fully present (putting the phone away) in the time we spend with them.
It is impossible to be fully present all day long, but we can create pockets of space for this. Giving time to our children, whereby we are wholly mentally and physically available to them, is a gift that helps them to feel important, wanted, loved, safe and steady, even in their moments of unsteadiness.
International research has recently determined two significant factors central to combating the negative effects of the pandemic for children. The first is that spending time outdoors every day is fundamentally important for maintaining positive mental health.
So, go outside with your children as much as you can; collect some objects from nature to bring home, and use them to make art together. For those of you who are pressed for time, utilising the garden or your nearest green space can be highly beneficial.
The second finding of the research is that the attitude of parents to the pandemic has a direct correlation to the attitude of their children. Take time to think about where you are with all of this, mentally and emotionally.
What do you need in order to feel calmer and more resourced? Before we can truly attend to our children, we must attend to ourselves. If you can face the coming months with a sense of calm, your children will take their cues from you.
This does not mean you cannot have unsteady or anxious days. These experiences are universal and children need to know that it’s okay to struggle. It is the managing of the unsteadiness and anxiety that counts.
Consider a self-care practice of meditation, mindfulness, breathing or engaging in some counselling if you feel it would be helpful.
Children, through their play and their creativity, often have the answers to their problems, but they may not have learned to listen to or trust their own voices. Learning to really hear what they are telling us and to trust what they say can be uncomfortable, but extremely rewarding.
Sometimes, our children may not have the language to describe how they are feeling; this is where an exercise like the one in the panel can be extremely useful. What cannot be said in words can be expressed symbolically, and we can ‘hear’ what our children are telling us, using different ears. This enables them to identify their own resources to thrive.
There are, of course, times when we simply do not feel that we or our children have what is needed to address some difficulties. That is okay.
We are not all-knowing or all-powerful creatures. It is important to acknowledge this to ourselves and our children, and to be able to ask for help when it is needed.
If you have serious concerns about your own or your child’s mental health, contact your GP or their school, who can direct you to further resources.
You can also call LegalMind to speak to an independent mental-health professional who will talk through any issues you or your dependants may be facing. Find out more at www.lawsociety.ie/legalmind.
Also take a look at the Law Society’s Professional Wellbeing Hub at www.lawsociety.ie/wellbeinghub to investigate other ways of supporting you and your children during COVID-19.
THE EXERCISE: DREAM ON
The ‘Tree of Life’ exercise is simple and fun and allows us, through creativity, to explore our resources while being present with our children. Together, you can map out your strengths, the people who support you, and have fun looking to the future with hope.
It is a marvellous opportunity to listen to ourselves and our children and reinforce the importance of listening to oneself. It can be done as a once-off or at intervals in our children’s lives.
- What you will need: a sheet of paper/card and markers. Coloured pencils and pens are fine too.
- Optional extras: leaves and small twigs you’ve collected together on walks (and glue).
- Setting ground rules: have a think about what ground rules would work – for example, no such thing as wrong answers; no laughing at people’s artistic ability.
Draw a tree
Without any other information, everyone draws a tree with four distinct parts:
- Branches, and
- Foliage of any kind (fruit, flowers, leaves, etc).
Take as much time as you and your children need to draw this tree, using whatever colours and materials you and your child wish.
Write on the tree
When everyone has drawn the tree, it’s time to write some words. We have suggested writing three items, but allow yourself and your child to write as many as you wish (younger children may need you to write for them):
- In the roots of your tree, write three things about the world you were born into.
- In the trunk of your tree, write in three of the strengths you have or three things you like about yourself.
- In the branches of your tree, write in the people who hold you up/support you in life. It’s fine if those people are also from your past.
- In the foliage of your tree, write in your hopes and dreams.
If your child struggles to explore these items, you can ask them to describe the tree they’ve drawn, rather than themselves.
Each person takes a turn to describe their tree and what they wrote from the roots to the tips. The object of the exercise is to open up new conversations with ourselves, with our children, and even between siblings.
When listening to your children describing their tree, you can discover where they feel supported and strong, and become aware of the areas that need more exploration and attention.
For example, if a child struggles with naming their strengths or things they like about themselves, this is an incredible opportunity to explore those perceived deficits and ask how you can help.
Some children may struggle to complete the exercise, but don’t worry if this is the case. There is evidence that the stress-related hormone, cortisol, lowers significantly after just 45 minutes of art creation.
Whether we do a specific art exercise or something spontaneous, it has the effect of regulating us so that we can look at whatever is bothering us without the heightened panic, fear and anxiety attached to it.