Rising to take care of our children’s emotions during Covid is no easy task. According to Dr. Deborah MacNamara, showing up to take care of them has got to be one of the most daunting and yet rewarding parts of being a parent – especially at a time when we have so many extra emotions ourselves and feelings of uncertainty. I also think this is where the fulfillment happens. When we can get this piece, I think it’s such a big part of fulfilling the dance as a parent. It’s going to test every ounce of emotional maturity that we have and show us where we fall short of what we want from ourselves.-Dr. Deborah MacNamara
Interviewed by Lorrie Holmes
“There is this kind of secret to parenting that I don’t think people realize. That is, when you attach to your child, it should evoke incredible emotions of caring and responsibility. When you truly and vulnerably feel that, you will find yourself shift out of your own emotions and into your stance of taking care of your child.” Dr. Deborah MacNamara assures that there is a secret to all of this and we are so thrilled that she has taken the time to break this down for us today in this interview.
Q & A WITH DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: We are going to jump right in and ask you what is the secret to all of this!
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: The secret is that we are not always going to be able to understand our emotions when we are overwhelmed and where they come from and for this reason, we are going to face some emotional challenges in the middle of a pandemic! The good news is that you can still be a child’s answer if you assume responsibility for a child and you have a deep caring for that child. It is this caring that allows us to park our emotions for a bit and show up to take care of them.
“Our children have tons of emotion, and we have tons of emotion right now too. Then you put us together and we are responsible for taking care of them and all their emotions while managing our own.-Dr. Deborah NacNamara
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: So how do we manage our own feelings then while taking care of our kids – especially right now, while we are worried about the second wave hitting us any day and not knowing what this is going to look like?
DEBORAH: I think that Covid has challenged parents and their confidence about their biggest responsibility, which is to take care of their children. What Covid does is it puts the parent face to face with the existential realities that we can’t always keep our kids safe. As a parent, this is very alarming. The sense that I can work really hard; I can do all these things to try to give my children safety and security, and yet there are still these things that lurk out there, that just put the futility of everything in your face – that’s alarming. The answer to this is still the same though. We have always faced uncertainty. There has always been ambiguity. We don’t have all the answers, but that has never been a requirement to take care of a child. The answer that just keeps coming back to me over and over again in this pandemic is just LEAD. You have to LEAD YOUR KIDS. Lead with confidence. Be resolute that you can make the decisions that your kids need. Don’t be afraid if it doesn’t look like what everyone else is doing. Just be resolute that you are going to show up and lead your kids – and have the confidence that that’s enough.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: So what if a parent wants to lead their child but they are not able to show up the way they would want to in a particular moment because of their own stress level. Do you recommend to check in with yourself before proceeding if you can feel your stress level is higher than usual, because as a parent, this is a hard thing to give yourself permission to do. Do you feel it’s necessary at times in order to be able to lead with confidence?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: I do think it’s a good thing to check in with yourself first if that means you are looking within yourself to see if you have any caring in there. That caring is tempering your response. That caring is part of your response. It shows that you still have a desire and a will to connect with your child. If you can’t feel that, then it is best not to proceed because it will likely result in some unfiltered emotion that will come out on them. If I don’t have my caring in me, then there’s nothing to temper my frustration or my alarm, or my upset, and then I might pour out all my hurts onto my child. That is not what I want to do. So if I don’t have caring in me and I’m not checked that way by that emotion, then I must pass on this. I must find a way out. I must find a way back to it. I must find my caring first. So if your caring goes missing, to me, that’s like the red flag.
We have to proceed with caretaking with care.-Dr. Deborah MacNamara
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: That makes a lot of sense. So after checking in with yourself, if you know you are not feeling as caring as usual, how do you quickly make sense of your feelings in order to get your caring back and assume responsibility for your kids?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: Sometimes we are done. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed. The good news though is to come to a child’s side, we don’t have to make sense of all of this stuff inside of us in order to be able to do that. That’s love. That’s caretaking, and that’s deep, deep feelings of responsibility. I know often better what my children are feeling than I do about myself. That’s okay though because knowing my own feelings isn’t necessarily what’s important to taking care of them – their feelings are what matters in order to do this. My feelings I can revisit later. This doesn’t mean that we forget about our feelings. It just means that we revisit them at a more appropriate time. We can do this with other people who we hope can come alongside our feelings. That’s where friends and family members are important, the kind that will not judge or ridicule you for the way you feel. That’s where counsellors are important. Music comes alongside our feelings. Other people’s writing comes alongside our feelings, but all of this is done in the land of maturity.
We have to be thoughtful about who can walk alongside our emotions and help us be preserved emotionally, so that we can turn around and so the same thing for our kids.-Dr. Deborah MacNamara
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: What would you say to a child if something is pressing that you just cannot answer at that moment to the best of your ability because you are not properly checked in with your emotions and you know you’ll do a much better job after a short break?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: Sometimes we just say, “You know what, we’ll can get back to this and for now, I’ll just take care of you, but we’re going to move on for now.” Or you could signal that you need time to think about what they are asking, or that sometimes we can’t always give an immediate answer and they will need to wait. There are many things you can say, what is important here is that you try to use your caring to lead through the situation.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: In your book, REST PLAY GROW, I really connected with the part about the emotional playground. I can see how this would really help in decompressing. If I’m enjoying an experience myself and not just watching my child from the sideline, then I’m going to relax in a different way, I mean, I can’t just tell myself to relax. I have to do the work too – I mean the play! What are your thought on this?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: It’s about giving yourself over to the things that help take care of you emotionally and play is what does that. We don’t even think consciously about our feelings when we are in play – it just takes you. Like when you give yourself over to laughter and the ridiculous, it discharges incredible emotional energy. Also, watching provocative movies and shows that help you find your tears – that’s also a release. Throughout this time, I have been more thoughtful than ever about the need to deliver myself to some sort of play. It’s not a luxury – it’s an absolute necessity in order to keep emotionally well. I don’t think this has to be at the expense of problem solving. We are better problem solvers when we have moments of rest. This can be as simple as just taking five minutes to go to the garden, or for a ten minute walk. It could be just listening to a piece of music or picking up a guitar. Or reading a story and imagining something – whatever it is that gets you out of your head for a few moments. It doesn’t have to be these long stretched out play extravaganzas. It’s really just about allowing yourself to shift out of the work mode and into something that doesn’t require an outcome – that’s the secret.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: Some of the most viewed shows on Netflix right now are related to natural disasters and pandemics! Why are so many of us drawn to these genres right now – shouldn’t we be wanting to avoid them?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: If we knew six to eight months ago that these little invisible particles that you can’t see with the human eye were going to come and overturn every facet of our society, you would think you were living in some science fiction show – but this is kind of our reality right now. So it’s a bit of a distortion. What happens when there is a sense of uncertainty like this is our alarm system, our emotional system, it gets busy. It gets busy in order to help us stay alive; to succeed; to pay attention. When you are alarmed because you are stirred up, you are always looking for some sort of discharge for that alarm. So watching the news, or paying attention to alarming things like horror shows or whatever it is for you, will act as a release. For awhile I was watching every movie I could find about natural disasters and epic shows because I found them incredibly soothing. They were one step removed from my life. It was just a story. It wasn’t real. It was a way for my alarm system to be discharged because I was watching something in a play mode that was alarming.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: How do we stay balanced when we are trying to sooth ourselves or find that release and not overdo it for ourselves or our kids?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: I think that what can happen to us with the news and the idea that we can’t turn it off is it’s activating and providing some sort of calibration for our alarm system that is already stirred up but the reality is that it’s just soothing it. It doesn’t answer it. It doesn’t bring it to rest. It provides a discharge. When you go and listen to music instead and it brings you to tears, this provides rest in the emotional system. It might just be for a short time period but the difference is that you are actually discharging and profoundly shaping and adapting to your reality. The news and scary shows on the other hand are just distracting you with your emotions. This might provide some discharge but it doesn’t actually change fundamentally who you are and how you’re adapting to the situation. It doesn’t exercise your flexibility or your capacity to think through a problem. So one example is soothing and one is changing you. Your tears and play and that pathway to rest will change you and the other, the distraction, will help you – but the second option is a bandaid, and bandaids can fall off.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: Should we look to both distract ourselves and find rest at this time or are we always striving to find rest?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: We should long for rest. Think of it this way, if you’ve got any long journey ahead of you, there’s always the rest place. You are always planning out these rest stops along the way.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: So what can you say to parents because they need their rest spot too. What can they do to get their rest during this time?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: They come back to play. We come back to our stories. We come back to our music. We come back to our dance. We come back to the things that are not outcome based. And also, I would say relationships. Relationships where you can talk; where you can share and feel connected; where it’s consistent and predictable. Relationships where there’s not a sense that you have to work for anything – that relationship should be nourishing that way. And, your tears – anything you can cry about and find your words for – these things will change you.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: One silver lining in all of this is more family time seems to be taking place in many homes. Do you have some tips on how we can play with our kids and to support them to play as well?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: Play serves us in so many ways. Sometimes we are doing it together and it is often about attachment. Sometimes we’re doing it on our own and it’s serving our own personal development as well as our own emotional recalibration. The only reason that we have to talk about play so much today is because we just don’t value it. We used to do all these things naturally before we knew what it did for us. Think about the academics and think about the whole business of online schooling and how it’s difficult to connect with the kids online. Play is the perfect way to do this! Play is engaging. If you are just working, it doesn’t always engage someone – especially if you’ve got some distance between you or a digital device, that in some way separates you. But play is engaging. Play can grab you both near and far. That’s because it builds relationships – this would be the most essential tool, not learning or academics – but play. It facilitates relationships which in turn, facilitates learning and connection.
I think that if we truly understood it, we would elevate play, and see it as a way through.-Dr. Deborah MacNamara
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: How do we play with our kids online?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: It can be as simple as focusing on what you like to play. Even just talking about things you find engaging – maybe you like to read the same kinds of books. Sharing information could be considered play for a child.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: I would also like to ask you about staying informed and educated as a family. I guess this is necessary but not to the point where we are terrifying ourselves and our kids. How much do you recommend that we share with them?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: I think that every parent will intuitively get a sense of what their child should or could manage this way. Understanding that the important needs are not information but again, a parent leading and saying, “This is what we do, and if this changes, we’re going to have to change this too.” I don’t get into the science of mask wearing with my kids. It’s more leading with something like, “This is what we have to do. This is the deal. Do you guys feel comfortable with that?” That’s as far as I take it with them. It’s about being a leader and relaying that, I accept responsibility for taking care of you, and this is what comes with it and I care how they feel and will take care of them this way too. And I am not going to be afraid to lead with my own decisions. I know parents who have made different decisions than me, and I respect that. They’ve had to take care of their family in their own way. There’s a caring parent who’s in charge there, which to me, is the critical thing here.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: Thank you so much Dr. Deborah MacNamara, for spending the time to answer all of these questions. This has given us a lot of think about and play with. I understand now the importance of checking in with ourselves to see if we have our caring before proceeding to problem solve and sometimes even communicate with our kids. How about when we are lacking confidence then and not just feeling frustrated. What can we turn to in those times to regain our confidence?
DR. DEBORAH MACNAMARA: Whatever it is that helps you get back on your feet. This can be as simple as having someone to talk to. If it’s just having a hand from someone in a way where they say, “Keep going. I believe in you.” I just think if you look at your child as being needy and relying on you, that you’ll find what you need inside of you. It’s in everybody. It’s not like it isn’t there. Sometimes it just gets buried under a lot of our own emotions. So go and find a way to release those emotions and I am confident that you’ll uncover this for yourself.