Building Gratitude When Everything Is Strange and Scary: A Love Letter to Families of Young Children During the Pandemic

Small people have sooooooo many feelings, and they need you to help manage them. Having all those feelings is hard for them, but they’re also hard for parents to face too. Can you imagine having a coworker who screamed, threw things, flung themselves onto the ground, or cried whenever they were frustrated? That’s unbearable! But that’s the reality of small people learning to manage big feelings.

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By Erin Bockstael

Are you home with young kids? Are you exhausted or overwhelmed some days? So am I! That’s exactly why I’ve made a list of helpful things I’d like to share with you:

1)    It’s okay to feel difficult emotions. 

We all have them. Some examples of difficult emotions are: anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, disappointment, loneliness, emptiness, grief or feeling overwhelmed. These are all a part of life for all humans. Difficult emotions aren’t a bad thing, but we might feel bad if we are overwhelmed by them, or if we are feeling ONLY difficult emotions.

Some of you might have seen the movie Inside Out. The basic message is that all emotions have a purpose and work together to build our lives.  Our family watched it again this week – we’ve been watching A LOT of movies!. My kids really enjoyed it, they found it especially hilarious when I cried. Having movie night every night is one of the things we’ve been doing while home together.

2)    Acknowledge that caregiving work is hard work. 

In my work with parents, I’ve noticed that we often point out the many ways that things could be more difficult for ourselves. We see the hard work of people who have more children than we do, or who are parenting multiples (twins or more!), people who have disabilities or illnesses, or are caring for those that do. We know that many families don’t have all the resources they need, especially those who are living in poverty, and with trauma or loss, or have other difficulties in their lives.

It’s clear that we that we have so much compassion for other parents and caregivers, and can recognize and affirm their hard work, but we need to look at ourselves with the same kindness, even as we recognize that sometimes our own situation could indeed be more difficult. Notice the things you get right: the deep breath, the well-timed meal, the spill you avoided, the times you managed to get the supplies your family needs. It can all be pretty hard some days, so it’s important to acknowledge all the small things we’re doing.

3)    Accept that parenting is so much harder right now.

There are no teachers, educational assistants, early childhood educators, child minders, or custodians to help you right now. There are far fewer people in your kids’ lives to help meet their every need. Every meal, snack, hug, high five, laugh now has to come from you. Meeting the basic needs for a small person is work that is meant to be shared. It takes a village to raise a child. It’s okay to miss the important people in your child’s community.

4)    You are their everything, but you don’t have to be everything.

Small people have sooooooo many feelings, and they need you to help manage them. Having all those feelings is hard for them, but they’re also hard for parents to face too. Can you imagine having a coworker who screamed, threw things, flung themselves onto the ground, or cried whenever they were frustrated? That’s unbearable! But that’s the reality of small people learning to manage big feelings. Keeping a sense of humour can help – but let’s be honest, sometimes it’s hard to laugh when someone throws food in your face, screaming and crying because “YOU CUT IT ALL WRONG!” Know that you’ll probably never feel like you are doing everything right. We are all just doing what we can.

5)    Remember that this will pass. 

This current situation will pass but there will be other weird, horrible, challenging – oh so challenging! – new changes coming ahead in your life and for the whole world. There’s a lot of small and large grief ahead for all of us: grief over missing happily anticipated events, grief over illness and death caused by this pandemic. But there will also be unexpected joys and triumphs too. Take note of all the good things, however small, whenever you can. Remember that you are doing your part to keep your family and community safe.

6)    THANK YOURSELF. 

Caregiving work is often called thankless. It certainly can be. Cleaning up after people and cutting up in their food might not always feel like love, in a rosy, let’s-sing-about-it way, but it’s important to recognize that doing domestic tasks to keep others as healthy as possible IS love in action. Thank yourself for the care you give to yourself and others.

It might seem a bit silly, but my morning self says “thank you” out loud to my evening self for taking the time to prep the coffee maker before I go to bed. I really appreciate just being able to press a button to make coffee when I’m not feeling energetic in the morning!

7)    Remember that you are connected to a larger community. 

Some of the connections might not be visible to you right now but they are growing, even in the midst of all the uncertainty that’s happening in the world. If you are reading this, we hope you can feel the strength of our connection to you.

If you need resources, or to hear a friendly voice, please connect with us. You can find us on Facebook at @whcmothersprogram. Call at 204-947-2422 ext 113  and leave a message – we’ll call you back! Or email us at mothersprogram@womenshealthclinic.org – we’d be happy to hear from you!

Please note: If you are in crisis or emotional distress, please contact Mobile Crisis Service at 204-940-1781


Erin Bockstael is the team leader of the Maternal Health and Wellness program at Women’s Health Clinic.

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