October 20, 2020

I Will Get By: Advice From a Mom Who Hasn’t Been Alone Since March. PART 1

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Cindy Lopez:

Being a working mom is hard. Being a working mom and a pandemic with distance learning and sheltering in place…what!? So, welcome to today’s episode titled, “I Will Get By: Advice From a Mom Who Hasn’t Been Alone Since March.” I’m sure a lot of moms out there are feeling the same. For working moms, today’s podcast is just what you need: a little inspiration, a little hope and even a little laughter.

I’m Cindy Lopez and I’m happy to host CHC’s Voices of Compassion Podcast. And today I’m more than happy to introduce our guest speaker, Liza Bennigson, who is the mother of two elementary school children and the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications here at CHC. In her personal and professional roles alike, Liza is an avid reader, writer and researcher on all things parenting, self-care and mental health. Her “mom blogs” have been picked up by publications such as HuffPost, POPSUGAR and of course our own CHC online Resource Library. In her spare time, Liza is on a perpetual quest for work life balance and enjoys the great outdoors, discount shopping, as do we all and spontaneous dance parties with her kids.

So, Liza, is there anything that you’d like to share with our listeners before we get started?

Liza Bennigson: 

I’m just really happy to be here.


So Liza, and all the world, like we’ve been sheltering in place since March with this whole COVID thing. Let’s start off on a positive note. What do you think is the best thing about sheltering in place?


I would say the best thing about sheltering in place is just the time that we get to spend together with our families. I think that’s also one of the hardest things about sheltering in place: the togetherness. We have created a lot of memories and routines and things that we were not doing pre-pandemic because we just didn’t have the time, but now we go on bike rides as a family, we do puzzles, we’ve been eating a lot more family dinners together. Spontaneous dance parties, those are becoming almost nightly. We play games. I mean, we don’t really resemble what we looked like before, which has been really nice to kind of get to know each other and know our kids as they are and not who we want them to be. You know, they don’t have any activities right now outside the home, so they’re not caught up in karate and lacrosse and dance and all the activities some of which we probably planned for them, so we’re really seeing them in their element.

We can sort of build some responsibility for them in the house; we all kind of need to contribute. We’re sort of in survival mode, so we’ve been having them do a lot more chores, and they’re actually a lot more capable of responsibility than we thought they would be! They’re seven and ten now. So, we have them doing everything from, you know, not just putting their dishes in the dishwasher, but emptying the dishwasher and putting everything away and putting their own laundry away and setting the table and just things that I think we did before because maybe we didn’t know they were capable of it, or maybe it was just quicker to do it ourselves, but now we have nothing but time. So we’re really trying to create those good habits that I hope will last far beyond the pandemic and model the good behavior and good habits that we hope they acquire through osmosis.


So Liza, it sounds like you’re doing lots of fun, really fun things with your family, bike rides and puzzles and family dinners and dance parties. Hey, do you have favorite music for your dance parties?


It depends who’s DJing that night. [laughs] It’s basically whoever Alexa listens to first, but we’ll do a lot of Taylor Swift. My husband’s more of a Grateful Dead kind of guy [laughs]. My son prefers just obnoxious, kind of weird Al Yankovic type, [laughs] funny music, that drives us crazy. So, it really depends who’s in charge, but it’s just a fun way to even just move your body and get some exercise and just bring a little joy into the days that can feel never ending.


So you also talked about more responsibility. Like you’re giving your kids more responsibility, not just loading the dishwasher, but unloading it. So, how have your kids responded to that more responsibility?


They sigh audibly every time they’re asked to do something and it hasn’t become as automatic as I was hoping it would, but I feel like they’re really starting to see themselves as a contributing member of the household. And if they don’t, then they won’t get the privileges that come along with being a kid. They also see how stressed I can get and my husband can get, if we aren’t getting any help from them. And so, my daughter especially really wants to avoid that – Monster Mom as they call me. And there are certain chores that are less desirable than others. We haven’t really divided up who’s doing what. It’s basically whoever’s in the room at the time. Whoever’s on compost duty is really the least it of all. But we’ve figured out kind of an algorithm to earn screen time by doing certain chores, so that’s been a really helpful way to get them on board.


Ah, I see. So maybe some of the chores earn you more screen time…


That’s true.


…because of the nature of it.


Exactly! I also just want to create the expectation that they need to pull their weight and they are very fortunate to have a roof over their heads, and to be safe, and healthy and loved. So I don’t want them to be rewarded for everything that they do. It just depends on how generous I’m feeling that day.


[laughs] Okay, so we started by talking about what’s the best thing about sheltering in place, what’s the hardest thing?


I feel like they’re really missing out on a lot of what school is about, which is peer to peer relationships and fun and spontaneity and just social time. The school is doing an awesome job academically, but I’m more concerned about some of the social-emotional effects of sheltering in place. So that’s really hard. Watching your kids be sad is one of the hardest things that a mom go through, but it’s normal. And it’s actually, I think in the long run, it’s kind of good.


I’m sure there’s lots of parents out there listening and tuning into this, who are nodding their head and agreeing with you. Like this is hard, and going back to the school thing, the missing the social emotional piece – do you have any advice for parents around that?


So the school is doing things more around the curriculum of social-emotional learning, which I’m really happy about. Our school puts a lot of priority on that. But things like, finding ways for them to socialize, whether it be on a FaceTime or a Zoom call, having friends over outside, if you’re comfortable with that. My son finds a real bond with his friends over Minecraft. They create worlds together and they’re in the same worlds. And as much as I’m not thrilled about the idea of a bunch of video games, it really has been a way for him to stay connected with his friends during this time. And I feel like Minecraft’s a kind of creative outlet. So trying to figure out ways for them to stay connected with their friends, and their grandparents or family members. They definitely will try to call or play games with their grandparents over the computer because we can’t see them right now. So, figuring out ways to stay connected, I would say is the social piece.

The emotional piece, we really talk about the hard things. I think because I’m in the mental health space, I feel just very open about talking about that kind of thing, but it’s been amazing to see at seven and ten kind of the emotional maturity that they have and they’re able to process difficult subjects and come up with really impressive coping strategies and we kind of figure it out together. The learning piece – with the distance learning, I try to remind myself that learning happens everywhere. And if they come out of this behind on math, but they learned how to unload the dishwasher, I’m going to consider that a win. So, really the littlest things like that social-emotional piece.

If I have a solid conversation with one of my kids about racial injustice or about something difficult in the world that’s happening like climate change and the fire – and that’s the type of thing where I think that kind of learning is way more important than some of the learning in a classroom. I just try to remind myself that yes, maybe they academically might be falling behind because of all this, as is probably every kid, but at the same time there are other opportunities for them to learn. Maybe about a bug in the backyard or something growing out front.

So, and then I guess just setting boundaries: try and have a please don’t disturb sign on my door right now. I really tried to create some sort of just respect for mom’s work, and they need to know that they can’t just bust in here anytime because they have a question or they need something. I want to be there for them, but I also want them to know that they need to figure out things for themselves sometimes because I’m busy, so that’s been important. It’s hard. It’s definitely hard and I feel guilty a lot. Again, I think it’s really good for them and sometimes I’ll explain mom’s doing a podcast right now. Sorry, you know, you can’t come in, but now they think I’m famous. So like the benefits sometimes outweigh you know, the cons. Setting some boundaries and then I would say the last thing that’s been really helpful is realizing that sometimes the less I do, the more they do for themselves. Like, I’ll just forget that it’s lunchtime and I’ll walk out and my daughter’s making a cheese burrito in the microwave. And I’m just so proud of her. And I can’t promise it’s the most nutritious lunch, but they will make their own food.

I got them each an Alexa Dot, the little Alexa. I swear, I sound like I’m a salesperson for Amazon right now. But, that way they can set their own alarms. So they set alarms for three minutes before every class and then they know that it’s time. Cause I think time management is definitely one of the biggest challenges with this distance learning thing. So, that has been a critical way for us to kind of stay on track and keep a schedule going that doesn’t require me to be involved every step of the way cause I just can’t.


That’s a great point Liza, talking about setting up an external reminder by having an alarm. As we teach our kids to do things for themselves, we’re also enhancing their executive functioning skills at the same time. You talked about the challenges of COVID and how kids are impacted, finding different ways of staying connected, prioritizing our kids social emotional wellness and the importance of honest and open conversations with our kids about mental health.

Coming up on part two of “I Will Get By,” Liza talks about what she’s learned about self-care, how to start difficult conversations with your kids and tips she’s learned from CHC clinicians for hanging on during hopeless moments.


Talking about how you’re having a hard time or something that’s on your mind is a great way to let them know that it’s a safe space and it’s okay to, to open up. And then it’s also always okay to just ask, “How are you doing? Are you okay? This is so hard.” Like just acknowledging and validating: this is so hard.


Thank you Liza for all your wisdom. And everyone make sure to listen to part two of this episode with Liza, as she shares more about what it’s like to be a working mom in a pandemic.

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