A Lake Country Mom's 4 Survival Tips for Parenting While Sick

A Lake Country Mom’s 4 Survival Tips for Parenting While Sick

This is one article I never wanted to write. Like many of you, I walked around for the past several months hoping COVID-19 would miss its mark on me.  Despite my husband and I working in healthcare, I managed to make it until I woke up one day with a sore throat and could no longer smell anything.

This was my worst fear coming true.  Not because of a fear of COVID, getting sick, or worse.  I was terrified of having to be alone with my child.

Jenna Overbaugh is a licensed therapist in the state of Wisconsin and has been working with individuals, families, and children since 2008. She has contributed to several peer-reviewed articles on OCD/anxiety, been featured on children’s blogs and websites for her background in pediatric and adolescent OCD, presented at numerous national conferences, and helped create an intervention for the treatment of family members who hoard. 

She’s also a Lake Country toddler mom. She feels strongly about motherhood issues including postpartum anxiety, depression, rage, panic, and OCD. She’s going through the thick of motherhood {and fatherhood/parenthood} right here with you. ❤️

Let me back up a bit for you and get personal. Before starting therapy over one year ago, I could barely be alone with my child in my home for more than a few minutes.  When my husband would go to shower or even use the restroom, my heart would plunge into my stomach.  I was fearful of something horrible happening on my watch, I struggled with significant doubt and unwanted thoughts, and I dreaded the entire experience of parenting solo even though so many other parents do it every day. 

This anxiety was made worse anytime I was sick or didn’t feel like my best self.  I dreaded experiencing nausea, headaches, or generally being physically not on my “A game”, because my energy was already so drained by having to manage my anxiety.  I did whatever I could to not get sick or feel “off”, including giving up alcohol and coffee. 

Default parent as I am, once I realized I was sick, I tried to isolate from my husband and son.  There were tears, there was fighting, and there was a husband totally freaking out but trying to manage the best he could.  When push came to shove, however, we said enough was enough, and we decided to be together as a family unit.  We were back together, but this meant my worst fear would come true.

* “Default parent” is a phrase sometimes used to describe the parent who takes on the majority of the childcare responsibilities (e.g., feeding, bathtime, playtime, etc).  It may also be the parent who is simply preferred by the child, which may fluctuate between parent #1 and parent #2 depending on that child’s phase of life.  Often, the default parent is the one to initiate child related responsibilities and tasks and finds themselves engaging in these activities more than the other parent.  The default parent is usually the maternal figure, though this is not always the case. 

"I would be parenting solo for the next two weeks, while my husband worked virtually 40+ hours a week so that we didn’t lose additional income."

Jenna Overbaugh
A Lake Country Mom's 4 Survival Tips for Parenting While Sick

I immediately went online to try to mentally prepare myself for how I was going to manage the next, at least, two weeks in my own personal version of hell.  Here is the internet’s advice:

“Isolate from your family for two weeks”.  

“Have a loved one take care of your child”.  

“Rest as much as you can!”  

How can you legitimately do any of these with a toddler who may have COVID?  As the default parent, I tried to isolate but it seemed everyone’s world stopped spinning when I wasn’t present.  Isolating was not feasible for our family for more than a few hours let alone two weeks.  And how exactly am I supposed to rest and sleep when I have a nonstop toddler who also decided to make this the week he wanted to drop naps? 😬

The truth is that these recommendations simply did not apply to me and do not apply to many parents in my predicament.  If you’re a default parent, the notion of isolating from your family probably isn’t an easy one to wrap your brain around.  If you have at-risk family members or no family members nearby, it’s not possible for you to just ship your child off to them for two weeks while you hang out in the spare bedroom.  You can’t possibly rest when you’re handling a child or children who have endless, boundless energy and still require everything of you, every minute of the day.  As a result, we must continue to parent, sometimes solo, despite feeling physically awful and completely depleted.

But – here I am nearly two weeks out of my own hell.  I made it, despite not having any recommendations or resources to go off of.  There were no podcasts, no articles, no blogs I could find about the down and dirty of actively parenting while you have COVID. There was nothing about how to make it through, no online mom posts offering support, validation, or encouragement. 

With that said, I’m here to give you some *real* recommendations for how to parent with COVID – recommendations that actually matter, work, and are relevant to parents who have to continue to actively parent even while they’re sick.

4 Survival Tips for Parenting While Sick

1. It’s okay to bend on your regular expectations and standards.  
A good friend of mine repeatedly texted and reminded me that “screen time doesn’t matter this week”.  That little bit of permission made me feel incredibly supported.  Knowing that I didn’t need, and could not possibly expect myself, to maintain my normal standards was so relieving.  I didn’t have the energy to cook.  Frozen pizza for 3 days in a row, it was.  Netflix and Disney Plus were my saviors.  We let many days of sunshine come and go without ever leaving the house.  And it was all okay.  It had to be okay because that’s all I could manage.  Those two weeks were literally about survival for me, physically and mentally, so I had to be okay with my standards coming way down.  Remember that you are not expected to win “Parent of the Year” award while you’re quarantining with COVID. 

2. Fill up your own cup first – before anything else. 
Looking back, one thing that I wish I would have done more was intentionally setting aside time for myself.  Not just to shower – something more that would have made me feel like myself.  Listening to podcasts while I let my son play a game, meditating in the morning rather than mindlessly scrolling on my phone, reading while my son watched Toy Story for the 15th time.  Instead, it got really easy to let my own mental health and self-care slip because it felt exhausting to do the most basic things.  But as a result of not taking care of myself, everyone else in my family suffered.  My patience was lower.  I was incredibly irritable, resentful, touched out, and parented out.  Had I made it a point to fill up my own cup first, I’m sure I would have had more to give to my son.

3. This, too, shall pass. 
It helped to remind myself that the hours were passing, the days were passing, and that this would eventually be over.  Sometimes, it was a matter of breaking the days up into ridiculously small pieces like I used to have to do back when my son was a newborn. Remembering that this will not last forever, that you will eventually get a break, and that you (hopefully) at some point will start to feel physically better are all things that helped me keep my eye on the light at the end of the tunnel. 

4. Practice respiratory control. 
This was a breathing technique that not only helped me physically but mentally, too.  It’s a way of breathing that helps stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, such that your body will start to naturally calm itself down during times of stress and high anxiety.  Respiratory control is something that you can do anywhere, anytime, and will help immensely with your anxiety. 

To do respiratory control, get yourself into a comfortable position with one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.  Make sure that when you breathe in, your belly is coming out.  Make sure your chest stays relatively still.  Try to practice breathing in… 2…. 3 – pause – then out… 2… 3.  You may have to do this for several minutes before you start to feel some relief, but within 5-10 minutes, you should notice a change in your anxiety.  

For more information and for a minute of me guiding you through respiratory control with the timed prompts, check out my podcast episode #3, “Feel Better Anywhere, Anytime with Respiratory Control” You can find it through the link here or by searching on your favorite listening app for the podcast: “All The Hard Things”.

I wish I would have had encouragement, support, and validation like that while I was in the thick of it.  My hope is that COVID misses its mark on all of you and your families, but I also know that that’s not realistic.  The more realistic hope is that we can relax our expectations of ourselves a little, take the pressure off, and give ourselves some compassion during this time.  

For some more information and resources on managing your mental health, especially during the pandemic, check out my podcast by searching for “All The Hard Things” on your favorite podcast platform.  You can also find more mental health education and information on my Instagram @jenna.overbaugh.  On my website, www.jennaoverbaugh.com, you can sign up for my e-mail newsletter that comes out every Sunday and features a “hard thing” challenge for your mental health, updates, deals/discounts, and more.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and please remember that you are doing an incredible job.

Jenna

Here are some helpful items to have on hand during a respiratory illness to help with physical symptoms.
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1 thought on “A Lake Country Mom’s 4 Survival Tips for Parenting While Sick”

  1. Great article! Love what you said about respiratory control! I struggle with chronic health issues myself so these are tips are great!! Glad you’re okay now and thank you for being so real and vunerable!! It may help someone! There was another podcast I listened too on having covid and parenting and I just cannot imagine.

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