A lovely bunch of parents who have children and adolescents with Autism joined a workshop I presented, hosted by the family and disability charity Moira, on adjusting to life after lockdown. The primarily Melbourne-based parents in attendance experienced the worst lockdowns in Australia and among the strictest lockdowns in the world. Although I hope this is the last time discussing the pandemic, the aftermath of psychological effects is far from being history yet. And as many extroverts have been desperate and quick to boomerang back out into the social world while introverts are slowly adjusting to find their happy balance, young people with developmental disabilities require a lot more support to transition. And their parents too.
Those on the Autism spectrum may have found a sense of homeostasis in lockdown. After all, many of the triggers and challenges of daily life were suddenly removed. With no need to get up and ready to a time-pressured schedule, rush to beat the traffic, uncomfortable socks, and school clothing, in addition to the removal of social stressors, the unpredictability of changing school routines, worries around recess and lunchtime, after school activities and a whole lot of sensory stimulation that is naturally in life – cars passing by, loud school yards, wind, sun, and so on – some parents found that their child was more settled and less anxious.
In other words, they were relatively in control of their environment. At home, in their own routines, and let’s be honest, allowed on technology a whole lot more than usual. It became a necessity for remote learning, a reliance for social interaction, an escape from boredom, and a necessary evil for entertainment. While many mature sore eyes turned to reading books and new hobbies, for many young people technology reliance became a coping mechanism and further fuel for their literal addiction to the screen.
Being a mother of a young baby, I can relate to the elements of relief that come with having a sense of control over your home environment without the demands of everything else that comes with living a busy modern life. It can be a relief to have youngsters in a predictable and orderly routine. Yet for many parents, it also meant complete removal of their village, no healthy breaks from one another, limited change in environments, access to hobbies, resources and outlets that help us cope. Not to mention the additional pressure of re-integration, graded exposure to the social and sensory world, re-teaching previously mastered social skills, and undoing the unsustainable aspects of lockdown (…isolation).
I mean, there is nothing quite like having a facial (or just a coffee with oneself) in between the mundane tasks of running a household. With many of our ways to circuit break out of question and no perceived or real barrier between home, chores, work, parenting, novelty, play, and pleasure, many parents found themselves completely depleted. Depleted from doing nothing and depleted from doing everything.
Depleted nervous systems – in a stress-response sympathetic-dominant state – create an environment for reactive parenting and disempowerment. A common sign of this trap includes being stuck focussing on compliance, behaviour, rewards, bribes and punishment as a primary parenting and behaviour modification tool when there are much more respectful, emotionally attuned, and effective strategies at our fingertips.
My quiz breaks down the nuances of different reactive parenting patterns, which is designed to support your self-reflection process. And of course, my whole book Parenting Freedom takes a deep dive into these more effective processes, with practical strategies particularly outlined in Part Three. Don’t be tempted to skip the first two prerequisite parts to get to them as knowledge + strategies = actual change. We all know that parenting human children does not involve following textbook strategies so it’s a good idea to have psychoeducation and knowledge to draw on to respond to our real-life cherubs.
As I could go on forever on this topic, I will wrap this up as know you have limited time (before your baby wakes up, or is that just me?) and a million snacks to make, washing to fold etc. Amongst everything else, do take some time for reflection and intention setting to support your adjustment to life after lockdown (prompts below) or to get one step ahead of the challenges and triggers that the holiday season can bring – for our children and for ourselves. If you noticed elevation of your heart rate just thinking about the silly season in full swing, it’s probably a good time to reflect on your boundaries as an act of self-trust and self-respect.
Brene Brown often references a quote on boundaries as “the place I can love you and myself at the same time” that involve clarity around how we interact with others, what we choose to allow into our lives, and how our time is spent. Amid calendars full of obligation, know that you are allowed to say no to protect your wellbeing. Being the relentless giver or pleaser is a fast-track to worsen depletion. Getting clear on our boundaries helps us to be more effective communicators, more considerate of others as they know what to expect from us, and it creates a sense of predictability and security for our children too.
What situations may be triggering for you these holidays?
Is there something you are already feeling anxious about?
What limits and boundaries do you lack sacrificing your wellbeing?
Who do you struggle to set them with? And why?
What difficult emotions do you need to make space for?
Set 1-2 intentions of limits/boundaries you intend to implement for self-care.
Parenting Strategy of the Month:
Create a morning rhythm or flexible routine that involves wellbeing-nourishing activities (breakfast, getting outside, walking the dog etc.) before noon, and postpone technology to be available later in the day as a naturally strategic way to reduce negotiations and screen time without conflict.
Ideas I’m Exploring:
I’m currently reading Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World after it was recently recommended by a friend over a chai latte discussing how the land speaks to us in different ways at different times with acknowledgement of just how much we have to learn from Indigenous wisdom.
To this end, I acknowledge the traditional custodians and guardians of the land upon which I write this Letter: The Arakwal people of the Bundjalung nation, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture. I pay respects to their Elders past, present and emerging and extend this respect to First Nations peoples all over Australia, and the world.