Desperately Seeking Sanity

The last several months have been unusual, to say the least!  For those of that are working, its very likely our work environments are very different from earlier in the year.  Working moms who relied on the public and private school systems to provide not on an education to their children but also childcare have been thrust into remote work situations on top of overseeing their children’s schooling.  This unexpected homeschooling is affecting how, and when, working moms are able to work.

I made a conscious choice to home school when my youngest two children were in grade school.  I rearranged my work schedule so I could work (from home, at that time) in the evening or my husband, an artist who worked from home on a schedule of his design, took them on field trips if I had daytime meetings to attend.  We planned this for months in advance, created special spaces for schoolwork, relied on the help of extended family members…and it was still a challenge.  Not only did I feel like I was working 24/7 as either an accountant or a teacher, my emotional well-being suffered dramatically.  I have great empathy for what millions of working moms are going through right now having this dramatically difficult circumstance thrust upon them.  The pressure to perform – to be a good mother, a good substitute teacher, and a responsible worker, in very difficult circumstances in incredible.  Among all the obvious challenges, working moms need to keep up their physical strength as well as maintain a positive attitude.

Even though my children are grown and I now live alone, maintaining a positive attitude while isolated has been a challenge for me, too.  I have looked to my training in positive psychology for clues as to how I can maintain a positive attitude while being true to my ‘realist’ nature.  The one discipline that jumps out at me as being super-easy, and super-effective, is a gratitude practice.  Some years ago I wrote a simple gratitude practice for a disadvantaged girl’s music organization as a way to teach these children how to recognize the good things in life, even in difficult circumstances, and through that practice maintain a sense of well-being and optimism for life’s opportunities.

This exercise is called What Went Well.  For working moms, it is something they can do on their own or with their spouses, with their children, or both.  Gratitude has been identified as a “strength of the heart” that contributes to positive emotions and is a feeling that results from acknowledging another person as the source of positive occurrences.  When teaching this skill to children, they can acknowledge what a sibling or other family member did that was nice, helpful, considerate, etc., lifting up both the child showing gratitude as well as the family member who is the subject of the gratitude.  When doing this on their own, moms can acknowledge small mercies or moments of joy during the day.  This is most effective when the acknowledgement is written down, such as in a journal or notebook.  This journal also provides a source of comfort and encouragement on those days when nothing seems to go right.

A gratitude practice, using exercises such as What Went Well, increases awareness of the positive aspects of life, especially important when routines are disrupted, social bonds are disconnected, and those around us are focusing on the negative.  It’s a small step but one that can have dramatically beneficial consequences.  Even in the craziness of what is happening around us today, maintaining a positive outlook will help us rebound from the current crisis strong and ready to jump headfirst into the opportunities that will be available as we emerge from this most unusual of circumstances.


References for the quotes in this article are as follows:

Frederickson (2009)

Sin & Lyubomirsky (2009)

Park, Peterson, & Seligman (2004)

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