NEWS

How to Get Used to Being Busy Again Post-Pandemic...Except Now With Kids

Photo composite showing busy parent carrying many bags and a child, a calendar, homework, and children

Verywell / Photo Illustration by Michela Buttignol / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • As we adjust to life's "new normal," many parents find themselves busier than ever. But some parents weren't even parents before the pandemic.
  • Keeping a tight schedule and running from place to place with your children may seem overwhelming for many.
  • Knowing how to say "no," creating boundaries and taking time for yourself may be the keys to managing a busy parent schedule.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, before lockdowns and masks and social distancing, I was busy. But since we've returned to more of a sense of normalcy, I've learned that I didn't quite know what busy felt like. Of course, during the pandemic, I also became a parent. Now I'm learning how to be busy all over again, except this time with a small human depending on me, along with work, and you know, life.

Pre-pandemic I worked nearly eight hours every day, time spent at my desk bookended by long walks with my dog, and workouts completed in my living room. I taught Zumba classes and traveled to interview fitness instructors. Every minute was scheduled, governed by deadlines and appointments. It was busy, but it was a busyness over which I had total control.

Once the pandemic began and cities shut down, I was incredibly fortunate. Apart from the loss of my fitness-related jobs, my writing workload did not decrease. I stayed busy, the only difference being that now my apartment was filled with the keyboard clicks of two people instead of one as my husband began working from home as well. Still, with no need or desire to leave the house, the need for totally scheduled days lessened.

Then, in the spring of 2021, my son arrived, and suddenly, things became the opposite of busy. My days became a cycle of feeding the baby, holding the baby, sleeping, and repeating. While many people had already been vaccinated for COVID-19 at this point, there were still concerns that kept us in the house, which was fine with me. I was perfectly happy nesting with my newborn, husband, and dog. Feed, hold, sleep, repeat.

Right around his first birthday, we moved closer to grandparents, aunts, and uncles who were used to being out and about with little kids. At first, the mere act of packing the diaper bag for a few hours spent out of the house was a stress-inducing experience for me. Spending the day at home meant I had everything I could possibly need within arm’s reach, or a staircase away at most. What if we arrived at the appointed activity or outing and he was unhappy or hungry for a snack I hadn’t thought to bring?

Author Alyssa Sybertz with her son

Jess Rosenthal

Before the pandemic and before my son was born, I thrived on having a schedule. I got antsy if a day went by when I didn’t leave the house. But now, I dreaded those days when we had to pile into the car. Over time and with help from my parents, that dread turned to mild anxiety and then to a relatively manageable element of my new busy lifestyle. I’ve even built out my son’s calendar a bit, adding a weekly gym class for toddlers and trips to the public library for story time and music.

On top of the work I am still doing mostly while he’s asleep, struggles linger. There are days I’m tired from the moment I open my eyes and never fully wake up. There are days I look at my work to-do list and wonder how I’ll get everything done. There are days I stand to the side during gym class, watching the other parents chatting and wondering if I should be making friends. There are days I leave the library early, despite protests from my son, because the one cup of coffee I’d had on the way just wasn’t enough.

Before, I knew how to be busy. In fact, I thrived on it. Now, as a parent, the busyness feels more. Some days, it feels like too much. Here, mental health experts share the practices that will help new and experienced parents alike tackle their own levels of busyness as we all adjust to a post-pandemic world.

Take Care of Yourself

When you are a parent, it’s easy to lose yourself in your child’s needs and forget about your own. But doing so will only hinder your ability to navigate the stress and busyness of parenting—especially if you’re actively trying to get back into a groove.

“Parenting is a 24/7/365 job and does not come with instructions or training, and many parents also work or have other demands that require attention,” says Michelle Crawford-Morrison, LMFT, LPCC, NCC, program manager for the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Phoenix.

“With all these responsibilities it can become a challenge to find the balance between childcare and self-care," she says. "When we are stressed or overwhelmed, we are not functioning at our ideal level and our mental and physical health can suffer.”

You’ve likely heard it before, but carving out time for the things that make you feel better physically and mentally truly is worth it. “Taking time to do things that reduce stress and increase a sense of life satisfaction improve the quality of parent-child interactions and overall relationships,” adds Crawford-Morrison.

Taking time to do things that reduce stress and increase a sense of life satisfaction improve the quality of parent-child interactions and overall relationships.

MICHELLE CRAWFORD-MORRISON, LMFT, LPCC, NCC

For me, this is exercise—at least 30 minutes, every other day. But even spending five minutes sitting at the kitchen table and letting yourself enjoy your coffee in the morning might be enough.

Other ideas: Take an after-dinner walk, schedule a weekly phone call with a friend or make an appointment with your favorite podcast. You can also utilize the time spent while at your child’s activities, says licensed psychologist Erika McElroy, PhD, the manager of clinical education at Sondermind, a behavioral healthcare company. “Walk laps around the baseball field during practice, do some journaling while sitting in the car, or practice a few minutes of mindfulness,” she suggests.

Focus on Small Connections

One of the side effects of shuttling your children to activities, whether for the first time ever with toddlers or the first time in a while for parents of older children, is finding yourself in rooms with other parents you may or may not know. As a first-time parent and someone who has never been particularly outgoing in social situations, constantly wondering whether I’m doing enough to connect to the other parents is a source of anxiety in my newly busy life.

“Especially after COVID, being thrust into social situations can be challenging,” affirms psychiatrist Douglas Newton, MD, MPH, chief medical officer at SonderMind. “Add in a need to not only be friendly but potentially coordinate play dates, school activities, carpools, etc., and it can be daunting.” While it is important to create a community for you and your child, over-committing can lead to unnecessary stress on top of any you are already feeling.

“Instead of focusing on making friends with 'everyone' aim to make one connection with one parent at each event,” says Dr. McElroy. This way, each time you go to this event there is a friendly face you can drift towards without the pressure of connecting with someone new.

Build Your Routine

As life shifts closer to what things were like before the pandemic, it can be tempting for parents of older children to thrust their children back into all the activities they used to do. Meanwhile, first-time parents may be more cautious and take things extra slow—and there are undoubtedly those who fall somewhere in the middle. When determining the right approach for you and your kids, Dr. McElroy says you need to feel things out.

“Some children are able to maintain a healthy routine of playing, eating, and sleeping while being involved in multiple activities and returning to school,” she says. “Others may need few activities and be slower to adjust to what is likely to be a more hectic schedule than the past few years.”

Dr. McElroy recommends monitoring your child’s responses as they adapt to their schedule (as well as how sustainable it is for you). If they are struggling with the most important activities—playing, resting, eating, and sleeping—then they may be doing too much. For my part, we have spent two months getting used to the gym once a week and library activities twice a week. Next up, when we’re all ready, are swimming lessons.

Say No Sans Guilt

As parents, we all want what is best for our children. But if adding one more activity or volunteer event is going to send us from teetering on the edge of sanity to tumbling over, it’s not worth it for anyone involved.

“Parents who feel overwhelmed may experience stress and anxiety, sleeplessness, poor eating habits, or increased illness, which can lead to emotional outbursts or depression,” says Crawford-Morrison. “It can also create feelings of guilt, resentment, inadequacy or a sense of imposter syndrome, all of which negatively impact the quality of the parent-child bond."

Choosing to say yes and then doing your best to stick it out with a fake smile is not always the best idea either. “Children are tuned into their parent’s emotional state and respond accordingly,” Crawford-Morrison notes. “Stress, anxiety, and depression are contagious and can inadvertently be
transmitted to another person, including a child or partner.”

That’s right: If you are doing something begrudgingly or out of guilt, your child will likely sense that you don’t actually want to be there. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to say no.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

If you ever doubt that you’re doing enough as a parent, chances are your worries are misplaced. “As parents, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be ‘the best' and meet all our child’s needs when in fact they often need less than we give them and are quite capable humans,” Dr. Newton says. “Providing physical, emotional, and social support to our child is important, and remember we also need those supports.” Be kind to yourself. Your personal best at navigating the craziness that is parenting a busy child, when delivered lovingly, is more than enough.  

What This Means For You

As we return to a sense of normalcy, parents are finding themselves busier than ever, especially those who didn't have children before the pandemic. But even though this can be stressful and overwhelming, taking steps like carving out time for yourself, gradually building up a routine and saying no when needed can help ease this adjustment and make the transition simple and smooth.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Coyne LW, Gould ER, Grimaldi M, Wilson KG, Baffuto G, Biglan A. First things first: parent psychological flexibility and self-compassion during covid-19Behav Analysis Practice. 2021;14(4):1092-1098. doi:10.1007/s40617-020-00435-w

  2. Raudino A, Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ. The quality of parent/child relationships in adolescence is associated with poor adult psychosocial adjustmentJournal of Adolescence. 2013;36(2):331-340. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.12.002