Grace instead of Guilt

Parent guilt can creep into your life most days starting with birth (e.g. “I should have gone natural; I should have not taken that call; I should have not sent her back to nursery; I should have taken off more time from work”). It can continue through life (e.g. “I should have attended that event; I should have done this or not done that; I should have helped him with that down payment; I shouldn’t have helped him with that down payment.”). The Coronavirus Pandemic has introduced us to a whole new level of guilt - “I should be spending more time helping her with her math lesson; I should not have let him play that long; I am not a good teacher; I am not giving what I should to my job ; I am not being a good parent or a good employee; I should not have yelled at her; I am not as good as my friend at doing this; I hate this!”
What I am talking about here is not a healthy guilt that helps us learn and align our behaviors with our values; I am talking about an unhealthy, shameful guilt that gets in the way of our learning and life, that ruminates in our mind, that robs us, and that keeps us from being our best selves. 
I would like to offer two things today: 1) a reality check to refocus and 2) a bit of encouragement to choose grace over guilt.
First, the reality check to refocus - Linda Stade in her Education Writer blog, sent this poster to help us get a bit of a reality check:
Grace instead of Guilt
Whew! Take a breath, no, a deep breath, hold it and let it out slowly. Repeat that. Now, one more time.
Now read those words and focus on them again. Since the week of March 16th, you have been adapting, trying, growing, persevering, adjusting, learning, managing, and taking multitasking to a whole new level. Bravo for you! Prior to this, who knew you could manage all this? 
I love this line, “There’s no ‘right way’ to respond to this because it’s never, ever happened before.” That’s what can help you release your guilt. There is no “right way” and your way is what your family needs. You know the schedules that have to be managed, the amount of outside play that is needed, and when enough is enough. As you are adding managing daily school work and teaching to your list of many skills you possess, you can be certain that YOU know best how to do this in a way that works for your family. You have always been your child’s first and most important teacher, and that has not changed. What has changed is the amount of new information that you are teaching and how you are doing that. Remember, this pandemic has never, ever happened to you, your child, your family, your community, your commonwealth, and your world before now. Give yourself a pat on your back and permission to fumble your way through this. Hold your head high and your heart even higher. Your reality is embedded in these words - “There’s no one in this whole world who has this figured out yet. So it’s absolutely okay if you don’t either.” You do not have to have this all figured out. Can I give you some encouragement? Our teachers who are professional teachers and have their own children at home to teach too are working just like you are to figure out how to manage all of this. We all are adjusting to and working on our new reality. Let’s refocus and accept this reality. You really are adapting, trying, growing, persevering, adjusting, learning, managing, and doing major multitasking, and you are enough. 
Now, let’s look at choosing grace over guilt. How do you stop the guilt, turn off the “You should have (or shouldn’t have)” and “You aren’t a good parent, worker, teacher, spouse, partner, etc.”? How can you give yourself grace and put that guilt out of your mind and out of your heart? Here are six suggestions:
1. Rewire your “self-talk” over and over again. That’s a three step process: first, listen to yourself and be aware of your negative messages. Whose voice do you hear in your head anyway? If you’re “beating up yourself” in your own head and have that awareness, then you are ready for the next step: you’ll need to stop that negative messaging you are telling yourself. Then you can move to the third step: begin to stand up for yourself - right there in your own mind. Guilt doesn’t belong there, so tell that guilt and those guilty messages, “You are not welcome here!” “You are wrong about me.” “I will not give you control over my mind and my emotions.” “I was not created for guilt; I was created for grace.” You will work to replace the guilt with positive messages. I hope your own voice will say, “Look at you! You are doing this! You are good enough! You will get through this! Your way is the best way for your family today!” Change your “I can’ts” to “I can” or “I don’t yet” and your “I am pathetic at this” to “I can prioritize my time.” Being aware, stopping the negative, and using the positive self-talk will rewire your self-talk. Keep doing this over and over until your old negative self-talk has been replaced with the new. Here are two articles to help you:
2. Practice self-care. I know this may have been challenging before COVID-19 and now may seem impossible. It will not be your typical self-care practices for sure, but it is especially important now. You will be able to extend grace to yourself (and your children) if you are rested, are taking care of yourself, and are being kind to yourself. You are NOT being selfish; you are filling your own emotional tank so you can empty it onto others. Is there a time of day that can be truly yours? Can you get up 30 minutes before your children and enjoy your coffee and quiet time, work out, or take an uninterrupted shower? Can you read YOUR book when your children go to bed? Can you and your spouse or partner give each other an hour off or a night off (you will probably need to get in the car and drive away or sit in your car in a favorite spot and listen to your favorite music or podcast)? When you are tired, overwhelmed, hungry, and anxious, you will not be able to give yourself or anyone else grace; you will be more critical, less patient, and “snappy”. With self-care comes self-respect and self-regulation and those will help you receive grace for yourself and extend it to others. 
3. Meditate and pray. This is both a spiritual recognition and a self recognition. Want to be healthier, happier, and have more peace? Prayer and meditation can help you achieve this. Even a few minutes a day (can you find 5, 10 or 15 minutes?) will make a difference. Praying and meditating can help you control your thoughts, reduce your stress, and feel a sense of peace. If your personal faith entails time of prayer and meditation then your spiritual life can provide this foundation to all the other parts of your life. Talk to your pastor, minister, Rabbi, iman, yogi, or priest. If you practice yoga and meditation, you can help your health, body and mind. Guilt subsides and grace abounds in prayer and meditation. Thank you to VCS parents, Raj Shah, Registered Yoga Teacher and Holistic Nutritionist, and Robert Bozeman, Certified Spiritual Director, for these resources: 
4. Do the next right thing now. Sometimes we don’t know what to do; sometimes we have trouble staying in the moment because we are so worried or planning for what comes next or what is looming out there. A graceful way to live is to stay in the moment, be present, stay in the now, and give of yourself to the person you are with at that moment. When you are feeling overwhelmed or guilty or unsure, just do the next right thing. Grace comes to your own heart and mind when you do just one right thing. You don’t have to do it all; you don’t have to solve the problem; and you don’t have to fix everything. Just do what is loving, kind, and emotionally connecting at that moment. And then celebrate that! Just take one step to get unstuck. Doing that one good right thing when you don’t know what to do or what is coming is enough. 
5. Start fresh every day - rinse and repeat. Everyday is a new day, a new chance, with new mercies and grace extended to you! It can help you to remember to live one day at a time. You cannot change what happened yesterday (that is in the past); you cannot live your tomorrow (that is the future); you can only live today and make the most of this day (that is living in the present). When you blow it or have a bad moment or interaction (it really isn’t a bad DAY), you can regroup, recognize your mistake and humanity, apologize, make a repair, forgive yourself, and start again. Instead of feeling guilt, you might also feel can recognize when you fall short (and be grateful for your self-awareness), you can make a new choice (and be grateful for your self-control), you can learn from your mistakes and consequences (and be grateful for your self-discipline), and you can breathe in grace (take a deep breath) and exhale the guilt and start again. 
6. Love yourself. You are valuable and worthy of love. There is only one you in all the world. There has never been nor will there ever be another YOU. You are loved by others and you can be loved by you. I am not talking about arrogance, boasting, or puffing out your chest. I am talking about appreciating your uniqueness, being true to yourself, and loving who you are. It means respecting yourself enough to not allow others to disrespect you. It is setting healthy boundaries. It means looking to who you are and who you were created to be instead of depending on others to define you and give you value. It is intrinsic motivation at its best. It means accepting yourself. It is being kind and loving to yourself as you would to your best friend. When you love yourself, you treat yourself well and you treat others well too. When you love yourself, it is easier to give yourself grace instead of heaping guilt and “not good enoughs” on yourself. After all, you are worthy of grace and love just because you exist! I love you too and value who you are (what you are doing is amazing too, but if you don’t do any of that, I still love you). 
Finally, whatever you do or don’t do with At Home Learning and Teaching, we trust you. We are not judging you. We recognize this is different and difficult and daring. Remember no one has this all figured out yet. You can give yourself grace; I sure am giving it to you and so are your child’s teachers! 
To help you be successful, please make sure that you have joined 2 Google Classrooms: Your child’s teachers sent you an invitation to join your child’s Google Classroom, and the Specialists sent you an invitation to join the Specialists Google Classroom. These 2 Google Classrooms are the central, most important places for you to go to find taped lessons, notices, live lessons, assignments, pictures, activities, encouragement, and everything you need for teaching and where you will also receive many important communications.
As you begin this Phase 2 of our At Home Learning and Teaching, I hope you do so with a reality check and that you give yourself lots of grace instead of guilt! You deserve that! 
Grace and love to you,
Debbie Houston
Retired Head of School
Written in Spring 2020