‘More comfortable with uncertainty’: Psychologist offers perspective for working parents stressed about school year

MADISON, Wis. – During a time of increased unease and stress as parents look ahead to a new sort of school year, an area mental health expert said there are ways to ease the burden — including acknowledging there’s only so much an individual can do.

“So many pieces of the puzzle, we’re still trying to figure out,” SSM Health psychologist Dr. Lisa Baker said. “I think we’re in uncharted territory.”

As schools move to virtual learning, figuring out how to juggle work with helping students learn at home is a new challenge for many parents.

“The question is, ‘Where is the time going to come from, to be more involved with schools and supporting kids, and at the same time, work pressure being increased?’” Baker said. “None of these answers are easy.”

While it isn’t easy, Baker said there are steps parents can take to reduce stress.

“Not being able to predict what’s happening or how our lives will look has been very stressful and anxiety-provoking, understandably … It is very natural for our minds and bodies when we experience uncertainties to be in fear response,” Baker said. “I think working with the ability to get more comfortable with uncertainty is something we can do to minimize our stress reactions to it.”

According to Baker, minimizing stress means managing realistic expectations for yourself and your children, along with reaching out to support systems and community resources even if it’s not something parents are accustomed to doing.

“As much as we’re able, we really need to minimize all the pressures on ourselves and start to prioritize what we’re able to do and let go of what we’re not,” she said, adding that it’s important for parents to talk openly about their issues and “not suffer in silence like so many have been doing.”

Baker encouraged opening up communication with teachers and employers as well, saying that while individual choices are an important piece, it’s critical to look at the big picture, too.

“I think it’s problematic to be taking an individualized approach and really talking only to the employee, the parent, about what they can do. I think it’s important to give them some sense of agency over what they have control over, but this is a much bigger systemic problem, and it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect individuals to take on the burden,” Baker said.  “We really need to look to leaders and people who have power to make these changes.”