Written by Jana Ratz, Certified P.E.T. Instructor
The African proverb of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ hit home the week ‘my village’ was ordered to stay indoors for the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa.
'My village'; my support system, my routine, the things I all too often took for granted, changed overnight. It was a terrifying moment of disbelief. I could not fathom how I was going to navigate this uncertain terrain with my husband, two dogs, and my two-year-old son!
I am a first-time mom. And to be completely honest this lockdown has not been easy for me. Before this period, I relied heavily on the guidance and assistance of my support system. With tears trickling down my cheeks, I confided in my husband my fear of not being able to visit my mother for a reassuring hug, or for her to stop by to take care of Jamie (my son), while I pop out for errands or to treat myself with a trip to the nail salon or a coffee with a friend.
Losing my alone time - a time to refresh, rebalance, and rediscover myself (my mind) was by far the scariest reality I had to face. This might sound selfish as a parent, but I am a firm believer that you have to create a space for yourself. Through meeting my needs, I can connect and better my interactions with others. It helps me be a mother to a 24-month-old ball of energy, an equal partner, and a caring owner of two pups at home.
Despite the trickling tears, I felt fortunate for having acquired Dr Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training's (P.E.T.) skills. These are the parenting skills that have helped me during this time. As scared as I was, I was able to regain control by knowing that I had Dr Gordon on my side.
An extraordinary situation calls for exceptional skills and the lockdown opened my eyes to how remarkable the P.E.T. skillset is. These skills can be applied, not simply insofar as the parent-child relationship is concerned (which is where people often limit P.E.T. to), but rather in my engagements with my husband and discussions with myself; when I am trying to make sense of my thoughts, ideas, or feelings.
Below are a few examples of how I've applied the P.E.T. method to survive the lockdown.
1. Stepping into my child's shoes
Lockdown alone is tough, but being on lockdown with a two-year-old can be exhausting. Honestly, on some mornings I wake up and pull the duvet over my head, conning myself into believing that if I lie very still, Jamie might not find me for just a little while longer.
One morning in bed, while sipping the cup of tea made by my loving husband, I took a deep breath and made the concerted decision to look at things differently. They say ‘change is as good as a holiday’, but let me be the first to tell you – changing a mindset is no freaking holiday, it is an arduous exercise. When expanding your comfort zone, you can feel stuck in an awkward space, but if you persevere you’ll come to discover a whole new world.
Well, I decided to take on the challenge!
I decided to put on hold the 'to-do lists'. My son can't get enough of the outdoors, so I made the effort of joining him in his world. While the dishes, laundry, and toys were left as is, I came to discover a universe where plants are bigger than him, where dogs are the size of dinosaurs, where a birdbath seems like a lake and a sandpit is Durban’s beach.
Venturing into his world helped me understand his way of being; seeing the adventures he was having. It helped me to connect during a no-problem area when we were both in balance. I finally understood that he needs me to be present with him more than the house needs cleaning.
2. Communication, communication, communication
The potential for conflict is always possible, but during a lockdown, it is almost guaranteed.
I love spending time with my husband but we both also enjoy spending time apart. Not having our usual daily routine and the excitement of telling each other about our day was an adjustment. Gone were our social lives - dinner with friends for me and a drink at the pub for him. No more afternoon morning/afternoon walks, gym, or any of the things we did prior lockdown. It would be 24/7 just the two of us.
Things were going to arise and I found myself scratching through my P.E.T. toolbox to find suitable skills to deal with these situations. I am so grateful for I-messages (something my husband and I have used with great success before lockdown). By using I-messages we could communicate our needs without judgement or making the other person feel like it is their fault. Communicating my needs has been so empowering and has been of great assistance during this time.
3. Listen… I mean REALLY listen
Listening to give a reply is easy, but listening to understand what the other person is really saying, that is tough.
My two-year-old is not fully verbal yet. He is emotionally expressive, very expressive, and I like to believe he is blessed with abnormally large lungs.
Ha! Even our neighbour once called me during this lockdown to make sure Jamie is alright. Usually, I can handle a few tantrums on a normal day, however, on the days when two tantrums become ten, I find my tank has reached its end.
I am human.
I am a human mom.
I get tired.
As much as I want to shout at him, thinking it will at least make me feel better, my P.E.T. background stops me. It gives me the confidence to compose myself and take the following steps:
Firstly, I acknowledge that Jamie's outburst is not about me. Don't take it personally and don't step in and solve his frustration for him!
Secondly, he is emotionally flooded and needs me to validate his moment of intense feeling. I put myself into his shoes (which I've been practicing in the no-problem area) and I try and understand what he must be experiencing. P.E.T. taught me to see my child as his own being and to understand that he will have big emotions he is not capable of regulating. It's my role to be there and support him through the flood. I can't swim for him.
Thirdly, I tell myself to just be there as he sails through the emotions. When things have settled, when the flooding has drained, we can revisit the problem if needed or accept it as a moment of vulnerability and move on. Both of us feel better - Jamie got it all out, and I managed not to make it my problem. And nothing tastes more satisfying than that first sip of wine knowing you were able to share your calm and not join your child's chaos.
4. Me, myself and my time
Losing some of my alone time has been very tough. This is my time to recharge my batteries; to put the rest of the world on pause and mute. So, I made it my priority to find my time; a semblance of normality during this abnormal time.
My husband came downstairs one morning and found me glued to a whiteboard. I was attempting to make a schedule for the lockdown period. He immediately jumped in and was so happy to help brainstorm ideas on how both our needs can be met during this time.
We finally found a way that would make all three of us happy (given that Jamie is non-verbal, we assumed he would be happy with the schedule, or that he would convey his disagreement in his own way). The schedule saved my sanity. Every morning I wake up knowing that somewhere in the day, the time has been set aside for me, there is something to look forward to for example reading a few pages of a book, listening to a podcast, or just closing the door and lying on the bed to feel some afternoon sun on my legs.
5. Accept the discomfort
We are living in an abnormal time. We are feeling emotions we have never felt before or emotions we cannot place our finger on. What helped me is feeling the discomfort and allowing it to flow; not seeing the discomfort as something bad, but rather to accept it and see it as growth. To quote Spiderman, "with great power comes great responsibility", well I like to believe that with great discomfort comes great growth opportunity but only if you choose to see it that way. Be kind to yourself during this time.
6. Don’t take social media too seriously
We are bombarded with homemade yoga videos performed by model moms, photos of perfect banana bread, and tons of toddler stimulation activities showing the perfect kids painting the perfect pictures, and afterward cleaning everything up themselves! Without being asked!
I admit, I have rolled out the yoga mat and I have tried to bake banana bread (each one better than the previous one I might add), but social media places unrealistic expectations on individuals and how one should be acting and living through this lockdown.
Everyone is unique, every relationship is unique, and every child is unique. Under my roof, we have no scheduled play activities, there are no perfect yoga poses, and there is no fluffy banana bread (mine is firm and flattish).
We are three human beings trying to make the best of a very unique situation. Sometimes it is playing in the car, sometimes it is picking up the leaves, sometimes it is blowing bubbles in the garden, sometimes it is packing the oven full of every imaginable item in the kitchen that Jamie can lay his hands on.
Let go of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘hows’ of the keyboard motivators. Do whatever works for you, for your child and your family.
While I long for 'my village', boy do I miss them, I realise that through this lockdown our little family has become a very self-sufficient little village on its own; growing, coping, laughing, crying, playing and just being together.
I love my little village.
And I know that one day when this lockdown is lifted (I certainly hope it doesn’t get extended again), I can look back at it and in the words of Frank Sinatra be able to say:
I did it my way.
Contact Jana Ratz
082 887 4595
www.janaratz.co.za After university, I moved into the school educational environment, teaching learners from Grade 4 up to Grade 10. The fields of psychology and teaching have always fascinated me. In 2017, I discovered Parent Effectiveness Training. Little did I know at the time that only a year later, I would become a mother for the first time. I can honestly say that I've experienced the value of this course as both an instructor and a new mother and it is honestly one of the better programmes out there. I would recommend this course to every parent out, whether you have a newborn, toddler, or teenager. I would love to share P.E.T. with you.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this communication is not to be construed as medical advice. Consult a professional on any medical or psychological concerns. The articles and blogs are posted only as opinion or ideas, and are general in nature. The administrator takes no responsibility for any action or outcome a reader may make as a result of reading a post.