The heavy mental burden of decision-making when it comes to children and COVID

There is a new variant of Monday-itis (or, Sunday-night-itis) affecting households with young children in New South Wales.

Symptoms can include the endless roundabout of decision making about whether to send toddlers to daycare and whether playgrounds should be avoided in favor of lonely, but safer kicks. , in the middle of a deserted oval.

Health advice in Victoria has been clearer, with playgrounds closed until recently, and all families have been ordered to keep their children at home unless parents are licensed workers or the child is in danger.

The NSW government is ‘strongly encouraging’ families to keep children at home unless they ‘need to be of service’, and the child care industry is desperate for clarification on this issue.

Every family’s situation is different, and in many ways my family is lucky: to have access to daycare in the first place, and other short-term family child care arrangements as a buffer. . My husband and I have also had early access to vaccines in our workplaces, and our son has no chronic health problems.

I recognize that essential workers do not have the luxury of seeing child care as a choice. Nonetheless, I will illustrate our thinking in those anguished Sunday night conversations.

As a family, we have taken a close look at the scientific literature available on children and COVID-19, which I will roughly summarize as follows: Although children do contract COVID, it is unlikely to result in hospitalization and is even less likely to result in death. Our son’s passionate and worried grandparents send us links to press articles that reach the same conclusions.

Our personal philosophy on parenting recognizes that we cannot protect our son from everything. If we want him to lead a full and rich life, we accept the possibility of broken bones, disappointments and grief. We don’t like it, but we accept it.

A father sits on the floor with his young son and draws on a sheet of paper.
As a parent, it’s hard to disagree with the claim that you want to protect your child from COVID at all costs.(

Pexels: Gustavo Fring


Delta has changed the game

But, as we are told so often, the Delta variant is a “game changer”. We also know that 211 child care centers across the country are currently closed, including more than 150 in NSW, and the vast majority due to transmission of COVID.

It seems like no well-informed decision-making can provide us with what we really need right now – a guarantee that sending our child to daycare is safe. And so the lingering sense of unease persists.

The conversations I have had with friends over the past few months, the conversations I have heard, and the conversations in my own head, look like this:

Surely the most important thing here is to protect our precious children?

But we’re so exhausted, and they love daycare! What happened to the idea that we need a village?

Wait, what is this long COVID story that may be affecting children?

I am an essential worker. I would like to keep my child at home, but I have no choice.

I want to follow the health advice, but am worried about my ability to work at home with a toddler.

Will my children regret their friends and the stimulation provided by daycare? DIY is not very good at home …

But surely we could “make it work” and keep them at home, if that meant protecting her health. Isn’t that our parental responsibility?

And we go around. The cycle is exhausting.

I was trained as a clinical psychologist, so I am well positioned to help people make complex decisions in accordance with their personal values ​​and circumstances. I can see that decision making is becoming more and more difficult, complex and burdensome for families in confinement. For parents who are essential workers, the lack of choice can be very distressing.

My knowledge of clinical psychology in no way makes me a better parent, or less anxious, when it comes to my own decision-making. I can deeply understand the seemingly impossible challenges families face.

So what ideas could serve as a useful compass for making difficult decisions in these unusual and stressful times?

Idea 1: Uncertainty leads to “What if? “And you can’t fight” What if? »With facts

It’s no surprise to anyone that humans generally don’t like uncertainty. Most of us have felt it keenly over the past 18 months.

Uncertainty worries us, in an effort to control the uncontrollable. When the “what if? Concern the health and safety of our loved ones, our brain goes into a particular type of anxious overwork. No amount of information gathering, solace-seeking, or thoughtful thought can bring relief.

With that in mind, maybe it’s time to give yourself some breathing space and press pause on the worry, even for a little while.

Worry is associated with this feeling of paralysis and is often intrusive; that is, it hits you when you are awake at 2 a.m. trying to sleep. Problem solving and decision making are more intentional and usually result in an action or a result.

Even in a global pandemic, there are things you can control – it might be worth taking a moment to think about what these things are for your family.

Idea 2: Decisions are complex and personal

As a parent, it’s hard to disagree with the claim that you want to protect your child from COVID at all costs.

At the same time, life is messy, and there are likely other factors that will come into play in your COVID-related decision making, including your mental health, job security, and putting food on. Table.

Admitting that these very real issues also factor into your decision making doesn’t make you a bad parent. There is no “right answer”. We are all going through the same storm, albeit in different boats.

Idea 3: Kindness is the key

We don’t live in normal times. The stress of difficult decisions and a pervasive sense of grief over what has been lost have worn families down. It’s not a pretty picture: it’s chaotic, messy, relentless, and we’re tired. If there’s a time to break free and be kind to others, it’s now.

It can also be powerful to recognize what you’ve done well as a family – there’s definitely something to be proud of.

As restrictions in New South Wales ease and messages from the Australian government move away from ‘zero COVID’, parents across Australia to have conversations on Sunday evening to determine what ‘live’ with COVID ”for their young family.

There are no right answers and no way to predict with certainty what the eventual outcomes of our decisions might be. We need to remember that we are all doing our best with the information and resources we have.

Brittany McGill is a clinical psychologist.

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