Seven days after the storm, there still isn't a hint of power in my neighborhood, there isn't a worker in site and power lines are down all around. It's official -- I have lost it completely. I'm yelling at the kids, snarling at my husband and practically biting the dog. Any advice for those of us who aren't anywhere near back to normal?
It's easy for the rest of us to forget that for many of our friends, the fallout from the storm isn't over. Whether we're in a nearby neighborhood where life has resumed some semblance of normalcy or we're on the other side of the country where we weren't affected at all, it may be hard to understand that for many, the impact of the Hurricane Sandy is still serious and severe.
My heart goes out to you. I can't imagine how you're coping after days of chaos, kids -- and now cold. Add to that the frustration of knowing that people nearby have had their services restored while you're still literally in the dark and you may feel like you're getting by on one remaining, frayed nerve. It's hard enough to come up with the patience needed get through a regular day with children; when you feel utterly out of control, it can be impossible to keep it together. Naturally, you're going to unleash your upset on your nearest and dearest; it's normal and understandable.
• Ask for help. You've done that by writing here, which is good, but make sure you ask for practical support, even if it's something you don't ordinarily like to do. If friends are offering to watch your kids or bring by a hot casserole, just say yes. This isn't the time for pride or pioneer spirit. Allow others to prop you up.
• Do one thing each day that nourishes your spirit. Whether it's going for a run, meditating or chatting with a friend, make time for those things that help you stay sane. While it may seem strange to do something "frivolous" when your life has been turned upside down, it may be just what the doctor ordered.
• Give yourself a day of power. You may not want to stay with your in-laws or that distant cousin with the three terriers, but being in a different environment -- with hot water and electricity -- may offer you the psychological pause you need to gather your internal resources to deal with the chaos back at home.
• Look for ways to lighten the mood. What do you enjoy doing with your children? Whether it's telling take-turn stories (each member of the family adds a sentence to a story you create together) or having a pillow fight (a great way to get out pent up frustrations), look for ways to have fun with your kids. Play is a great way to reduce stress, and your children will be more cooperative if they don't feel that every interaction is about getting something checked off your list.
• Be flexible. There is simply no way that you can maintain a pre-Sandy lifestyle if you're without electricity and heat. While it's true that kids do best with rituals, they develop resilience and adaptability by stepping outside of their comfort zone. If homework is nearly impossible, ask the teacher for a lighter load. If you don't have hot water, make peace with having cereal for dinner. Don't set impossible standards for yourself right now. Just do your best to get by without falling apart.
• Stay focused on getting through today -- or the next hour. Avoid catastrophic thinking and imagining what will happen if you don't have power by the weekend. Your situation will be much more tolerable if you stay in this particular moment. We can nearly always get through whatever we're facing right now; it gets far more difficult when we project today's difficulties on the future. Stay present, breathe and set a goal of simply getting through the next hour without losing your cool.
• Get out of the house. Visit a neighbor. Spend time in the library. Take in a movie. You may feel too exhausted to venture out, but if you can, it will probably do you all some good to engage with others or do things you normally would do to recharge.
• Be kind to yourself. You've been through one of the most devastating storms in our history, and you're still standing. Acknowledge your successes -- smile at your kids or offer a comforting cuddle. It's often the little things that make the biggest difference.
• If you genuinely can't keep it together, ask for help. Some parents lash out at their children when they feel out of control or when life stretches them past their breaking point. If you cannot cope with what you've been given and your kids are in any way at risk, ask a friend or relative to lend a hand.
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Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and credentialed teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.