Parenting while isolated and working from home

April 24, 2020 | 21:44 minutes | Episode 1

This podcast is for educational purposes only – and is NOT a substitute for help from a licensed therapist or health professional.

Learn tactics for coping as a parent during the COVID-19 pandemic, while supporting children in a compassionate way.

This is an interview with Dr. Georgia Pomaki – leader of mental health specialists in Manulife Canada Group Benefits.

This podcast is for educational purposes only – and is NOT a substitute for help from a licensed therapist or health professional. 

Dr. Georgia Pomaki discusses: 

  • (1:45) No.1 thing for parents to keep in mind.
  • (3:20) Trying to be perfect parent isn't helpful or realistic.
  • (4:51) How to talk to your kids about COVID-19.
  • (6:40) Coping with your stress around your kids.
  • (9:26) What about managing screen time?
  • (12:42) Education at home and realistic expectations.
  • (14:52) Responding to signs of stress in your kids.
  • (18:05) Career goals and parenting priorities.

Read also our related article: Helping kids cope during coronavirus.

Meet our guest

Portrait of Dr. Georgia Pomaki

Dr. Georgia Pomaki is the leader of our mental health specialists at Manulife and an Instructor at Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences. She’s a clinical psychologist by training and has a PhD in occupational mental health. She is a Certified Disability Management Professional (CDMP) and at Manulife she leads the development, testing and implementation of best practices for the management of mental health disability claims. Georgia also focuses on mental health prevention and helping employees and organizations become stronger.

Prior to Manulife, she worked at the Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare in BC and the University of British Columbia as a researcher in workplace mental health. She’s a lead author of the Best Practices for Return-to-Work/Stay-at-Work Interventions for Workers with Mental Health Conditions.

Transcript

GREG: 

Hello everyone and welcome to Sharing Humanity – a podcast produced by Manulife to help Canadians stay mentally, physically and financially healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

My name is Greg Bisch from Manulife – and today we’re focused on mental health and parenting while isolated and working at home.

This podcast is intended for educational purposes only – and is NOT a substitute for help from a licensed therapist or health professional. Talk to one if you’re struggling with a mental health or family issue. Joining me today is Dr. Georgia Pomakia leader of mental health specialists in Manulife Group Benefits and an Instructor at Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences. She’s a clinical psychologist by training and has a PhD in occupational mental health.

Welcome Georgia. 

DR. POMAKI: 

Hi.

GREG:

How are you?

DR. POMAKI: 

OK under the circumstances.

GREG:

It’s been several weeks since many of us have started working from home. And that has brought with it many challenges for everybody – and for many parents especially. 

As you know, Georgia, in preparation for this podcast I reached out to several parents who are working from home – to ask them what they would like to ask you. 

And I showed you some of their very passionate responses – and they’re struggling. 

Now you are a mother of a 13-year-old girl. I have a 12-year-old boy, and a 7-year-old little girl – so we can identify with that. 

Maybe a great place to start – what’s the No. 1 thing from a mental health point of view that parents should keep in mind while they’re simultaneously parenting and working from home during this pandemic. 

DR. POMAKI:

I think, what we're dealing with right now is we have really lost a lot of the structure that really guides our day and life - on an ongoing basis. Losing the structure of our day, that includes a number of activities, connections. We know typically where we need to be and what we need to do, and we just don't have that anymore. 

So, it is a time that is confusing for the adults, parents, and it's just as confusing for the kids. They are going through the same thing. If I were to have, one piece of recommendation is - be accepting of what we're going through be accepting that the children are going through this at the same time, and it's the time to be a little bit kinder to our ourselves and help the kids also be kinder to themselves to get through this period until we're able to go back to our normal lives in our normal activities. 

GREG:

That’s excellent. As you know, some of the input we're getting is parents are really struggling right now to be the best parents that they can be - and being kind to themselves is perhaps one of the most important things to remember because no one can be perfect. 

DR. POMAKI:

In the best of times as parents, we can't really be perfect. We feel we feel mostly in perfect as parents, so this is really definitely not the time to put this upon ourselves on top of everything else. 

We have to deal with and we have to remember that every household feels and deals with a lot of different situations, whether that's financial stressors or relationship strain or issues - regarding the work place and how to structure work, how do how to survive through these weeks? 

It's really not a time to have too many demands on ourselves. Besides doing what we can to actually make it through this period of time. 

GREG:

Right, so I want to talk a little bit about. How to talk to our kids during this time and you said everyone situation is a little bit different. 

So, you also have parents that have 3-year-olds at home or even younger, 12 or 18 months, still in diapers, still require a lot of attention so you have that wide range of children that parents are dealing with. 

How do you approach talking to kids in different age groups about what's going on? 

DR. POMAKI:

I think it's it. It really varies. Of course, some uh, depending on what the child can really understand. 

I think it's very important to be transparent to be honest. Just like we deal with every other situation that is difficult – bad news that we sometimes have to share with children. And it's being honest. 

But at the same time, it's also about giving them a sense that yes, this is a difficult situation. We have a virus that can be transmitted, that people can get sick, but we also have ways to prevent it, so we have ways to prevent the transmission.

We have ways to protect each other, and that's where you can give examples of oh and that is why we're not visiting Grandpa and Grandma right now because we are protecting them from getting sick. And that is why we're not going out, visiting friends and playing is because we're protecting each other and protecting them from getting sick. 

So, and I think another way is also to say, “We you know we have really good doctors and nurses in Canada, where there working really hard and they know what they're doing. So, they're actually helping most people recover from this condition. And you know, when everything goes back to normal, people will be healthy again. Of course, you know this is difficult. 

Then we're going to have to be patient, but you know, we have a lot of people who know what they're doing and can protect each other.” 

So, it's very important to show confidence as well. We're not saying anything that is not true. 

GREG:

Right, so it sounds like honesty is the best policy in this situation because I guess you can't. You can't hide the truth really. 

DR. POMAKI:

Right.

GREG:

Of course, we're all under at least some level of stress. How much of that is OK to show your kids? 

DR. POMAKI:

I think that's a very, very important point is to really understand how much stress we are experiencing first of all, to identify it to really recognize - OK. This is the day where I wake up and I'm feeling like I can handle this. And then maybe the next day I wake up and I feel like. I really don't have it in me to get through this day. 

Just be aware of that and so that 'cause that will really be your compass for what you need to do that day. So, on the day where you feel that you can really handle the day, maybe that's the day where you can maybe rally the family a bit more in terms of activities or, in terms of things that you can do together at home, or perhaps in a safe way outside the home. 

On the days where you feel more stress when you feel like you know it's just a little bit more difficult that day. Or maybe it's extremely difficult that day - we also need to recognize it that you have to get through the day in a different way, and perhaps scale down some of the things that you were planning to do, or you're hoping to do. 

Maybe spend a little bit more time looking after yourself that day, and you know, ask the children to collaborate with that and it's about being accepting. I think this stress becomes worse when we try to avoid it, try to put a blanket on it.

GREG:

Or kind of power through it kind of thing? 

DR. POMAKI:

Exactly. Push through it and say – “I should be doing this, and it should be doing that. And I have to do this and I have to do that. And I'm not good if I don't if I don't stick to the routine that I've put together. It's going to fail.” All those things only make the stress that we experience worse, so it's about accepting it and really kind of adjusting your day to it. And knowing that yes, it's not going to be maybe as great of a day as the day before. But, that’s OK.

GREG:

I think you’ve reached a really great point there. The feedback that I’m getting from a lot of parents, and I know both of us have faced it as well. Is we’re trying to balance all of these things – now that kids are back to school “virtually” and we are now playing the role of teacher as well and trying to keep them engaged and trying to manage their screen time.

If you're struggling to manage that, how risky is that for the kids? 

DR. POMAKI:

So, for the screen time I think as long as they have a variety of activities outside of the screen time that we that they also devote to is, I think that's the important thing is to have a variety of activities. 

So, whether that's playing games in the evening or having some sibling time if they have siblings or having some connection with friends or family members through online – virtually. As long as they have some kind of variety, I think that's the important thing – is that they don't spend the whole day in their room, with a screen time all day long.

And with really very little monitoring of the content as well. I think that's the worrisome part. I think that's where it becomes. It could become a little bit risky.

I think as long as we can do a lot of other things in the day with the kids – one way or another – I know it's not always easy. Kids might not always want to do that. Especially we're talking about teenagers, and they might resist to that, but it is about slowly finding a way through.

So, you might not be successful the first day. It doesn't mean you give up, you just kind of, you know, talk about a little bit more, and I think it's more about approaching it from a place of compassion rather than a place of criticism. 

It's not about, “You did this, or you're in your room and you're doing this all day.”

It's more about, “I would like to help you out. I would like to have a better time together. I would like to see you smile more.”

It's really approaching it from a place of compassion of empathy and rather than from a place of criticism and negativity. Because, I think it's very easy to fall into that right now because we’re surrounded by risk and threat – and we're in a kind of defense mode. 

So, when we feel threatened we get to be a little bit more reactive and a little bit more aggressive and negative. It’s just how it is. So, it is about taking a step back and thinking, “OK, So what is happening here? We're all trying to cope with this. Trying to help each other and really finding that compassion for each other – and really asking your child to do the same to find to find their compassion for you for themselves, for their sibling, for the grandparents and really talk about it from that perspective.

GREG:

And we need to be forgiving of them when they do get stressed out or get it wrong. 

DR. POMAKI:

Oh absolutely, I mean we’ll get it wrong too. We just hope we get it right sometimes – you know, and that's great. 

GREG:

So, I would like to talk a little bit about the education piece – because that came up several times as I was talking to people. It seems like there are different expectations depending on what school you're going to and what teacher you have. Some workloads are very light, some are very heavy. And particularly where it's very heavy – the parents are really struggling to fit that in a while working full time. 

What do you recommend for parents who are in this situation and trying to cope? 

DR. POMAKI:

Education obviously is always important, but the way we approach it now is quite different, so I think the important thing here is to be able to look back at this period and feel that we have gone through it in a way that allowed us to feel a bit more confident and the kids have feel more confident in themselves. 

So, it is about scaling it to what the child can really take in terms of education and accomplishment. You want them to at the end of this period, to feel that they feel accomplished. And that will really vary depending on the child and the parent.

So, you really have to be honest with yourself and figure out: OK. What can my child with their characteristics and what can I do with my characteristics realistically do in the context of education. And set a realistic goal and say, “this is really this is what we're going to try to do and be very honest, transparent about this with the child.”

“So, this is what we're going to try to do” – and really feel that we've accomplished that. If it's an unrealistic goal that you can never really achieve, you're only going to feel like you failed it and you’ve just never done enough.

So, I think it's about being realistic about what it's going to be very different for every child and every parent – because there's households with six kids, there's households with single children, there's kids that have learning difficulties. There's parents that have learning difficulties. 

So, it is about you know what is realistic to achieve. So, I think most teachers will be understanding of this. You know, if you're able to articulate to the teacher. You know, and really be transparent. You can say, “This is my situation. This is what I'm able to accomplish.”

And maybe a teacher can have some advice and some tips about you know how to go about it in a clever way with your child. So, really reaching out to the teacher saying, “This is what we're going to actually accomplish, given our circumstances.” And just be realistic about it.

GREG:

Yeah, that's very sound advice. 

Some parents [are seeing] – and to be honest, I've seen this as well – kids reacting to the stress of the situation or the boredom. You know, stress eating or boredom eating or anxiety headaches, constipation, difficulty sleeping, stuff like that.

If you're noticing things like that in your children – what are some of the things that you can do? Obviously, you would, wherever you can reach out virtually to a medical professional to help you with that. But what are some of the things right off the bat that parents might want to keep in mind? 

DR. POMAKI:

I think being vigilant to recognize those issues is number one. So, being able to identify that the child might be struggling with the situation and perhaps not making the right choices in terms of how to deal with their stress.

So, I know many parents will have strategies that they've been able to apply in the past that have been helpful. So really, drawn those strategies in those successes that you've had in the past and think, “OK, that was really helpful in the past? How can apply this to this situation because maybe you are not able to exercise as much as you used too, with your child, which used to be a strategy. 

But maybe you can exercise little bit more then what you had been planning because you’re feeling that might be a strategy. Or maybe it is a matter of kids attention seeking right now because they're feeling stressed, and their trying to get your attention in ways that are perhaps not as helpful. 

GREG:

Well, they don't have anyone else sometimes, right? 

DR. POMAKI:

Well, that's it. So, and then, maybe they are acting up. Maybe they're being contrary. Maybe depending on the age, right? So, I think what is still really take a step back and think it. Why is my child acting up? Why are they being contradictive? Why are they are isolating themselves? 

So, it's really to go at it from a curiosity perspective to say, “OK. I’m really trying to understand what is going on here.” 

And you know, that's something that conversation you can have. Maybe with a teenager. If it's a younger child, you could explore it in different ways. You can spot it through play, or you can explore it through drawing. Or you can try to understand kind of what is going on – engage in role play with them. If they have particular games they want to play – these kinds of things. 

And you know, really good drawing your experiences from the past. 

Now if that's not gonna work 'cause you feel like, OK, there's nothing really that applies here – it is about reaching out to maybe if you have an employee and family assistance provider to reach out and call.

Sometimes I get asked the question, when do you know it's time to call and you don't have to know. You actually don't have to know. There's no particular time that there's time to call. If you are struggling to find a solution to something you just have to call and get some help. Get some advice somebody else’s perspective.

GREG:

One of the key issues that came up was around career. And essentially, what people were saying is that I'm concerned about my career because there's a number of people stepping up to do additional work right now, and I'm prioritizing spending time with my kids helping my kids throughout the day.

Other than trying to deal the best that they can with their employer – is there anything from a mental health point of view when you're kind of having that discussion, that internal debate with yourself about what you should keep in mind, particularly as a parent and you have kids watching you? 

DR. POMAKI:

Yeah it is. This is a tough reality we're living through and we are going to make some sacrifices. There's just no doubt about it. It’s about making choices and feeling comfortable with the choices were making. 

It's not an easy process and we're not going to be able to wrap it up with a nice bow at the end of this. We're going come out with a few scars here and there. I think we're all – to different extents, of course – but it's going to be a difficult time so. For some people, it would be difficult to overcome. 

So, we do expect that it's going to be a challenge for people to make to make these choices. If it's possible, it is about knowing that you know what you're doing is the right thing to do for yourself, for your values – really reaching out to your values and looking at yourself in case this is really consciously what I'm choosing to do, because this is what I value the most. 

And when I look back at this time I want to feel proud for the choices that I've made and those choices will be different for different people 'cause we have different values and we're also have as individuals are in different stages in life and we have different priorities, so I think it's important to know that when you look back, you feel that you were true to your values and that you were able to follow that. It's not going to be perfect. I think we're all going to make, we're going to bend the rules a little bit. Because this is a reality. We haven't really had to deal with before. If you feel like, “OK, I wasn't completely true to my values and I really should have done things a little bit differently, that's OK too. You didn't know what you were doing. You were trying to do your best in that situation. But if you can, if you can be, honest, about what really matters to you, and that's what you're trying to do. 

And sometimes there is a price to pay for that. So, but you're willing to accept it - because that's where your priorities are. 

GREG:

Well, Dr. Pomaki, I've thrown a lot of very difficult questions your way. I really appreciate your thoughtful and expert advice. As a parent myself, I've certainly learned a lot in this conversation, and I think and hope that people who get the opportunity to listen to this episode. Feel the same. 

So, thank you very much for your time. 

DR. POMAKI:

My pleasure. 

GREG:

Thank you for listening to the Sharing Humanity podcast. Remember, if you’re struggling with a mental health or family issue, please seek help from a licensed therapist or health professional

Also, for more important and useful information during this time, check out our coronavirus page.