Tips, Strategies, and Common Sense from a Mother Diplomat in COVID-19 Rome
As a mother and diplomat living in COVID-19 Rome, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for COVID-19 preparation and tips for those a few weeks behind us. I’ll give some specifics below, and before I get there, I’d like to introduce one small and incredibly helpful phrase:
Could it be both?
This is one of the greatest leadership lessons I have ever encountered and is, in times of crisis, one of my favorite guides. As we are all currently faced with choices, decision-making, and a myriad of opinions, this idea of “both” helps me to illuminate my own personal path. And so, I offer you the “both” from the mother outsider and diplomat insider.
In my experience, times of stress are also times of intense decision-making; choices need to be made, quickly and decisively, in order to get to the next day. Mothers know this well (especially mothers of toddlers…), and so do the leaders of nations.
Perhaps it’s time for both.
Government leaders around the world know the short-term implications of the current situation. They know that social distancing actually does have an impact on the spread of disease. They know the capabilities of our infrastructure, and the damage that will be done to our social fabric if we all just go the individualistic route (it doesn’t work all that well, it’s been tried). They understand the international socio-political implications of one country not supporting another. I know this, because I am a diplomat and leadership developer in Rome, Italy. This wide knowledge base is one of the huge benefits of large institutions; they give us a broad overview of how to deal with the immediate problems in front of us.
Mothers around the world know the long-term implications of being isolated in our houses all day – as well as the effects of drawn-out emotional strain. This is something that we live every day and frankly, out of sheer desperation, we’ve all adopted strategies to get through these times. We could all learn wonderful COVID-19 preparation lessons from these mother experts right now; lessons of balance, of intentionally creating breaks from each other, of eating well and getting enough sleep, of finding constructive ways to get out of the house (this is mandatory in the long term. It’s just science). I know this, because I was a stay-at-home mother full-time for seven years, and still organize my life to work from home as much as possible.
So, let’s talk about a few effective strategies for finding that both in our COVID-19 Preparation.
First: Immediate Action for COVID-19 Preparation
1. Choose Love and Faith
One of the most effective leadership and motherhood lessons out there is “choose love.” It is possible that right now you are feeling scared, lonely, worried, anxious. You know what? This is completely normal – and you’re ahead of the game for being able to articulate that. Now, how to choose love and faith? Here is what I wrote for COVID-19 Rome on an effective way to do so.
2. Gather Loved Ones
If you have a loved one that is alone, either gather them to you so you can all shelter in place together (this will help relieve the strain on medical services) or set up daily check-in calls. If we each choose at least one other person that we check in with every day, we will a) be more emotionally balanced at the end, and b) help support others in their long-term health, instead of just leaving it all to the medical people in our lives. This is especially true for the older people in our lives – so reach out and phone a friend (daily).
3. Find Your Perspective on Where YOU Stand in COVID-19 Preparation
You know that leader that you despise? Think of him like your favorite grandfather. Yes, I know this will be a brain-twister, and bear with me for a minute.
I have worked with and for leaders all over the world. In my experience, 0% of them have been evil. Seriously. In fact, they have all tried to be the servant leader. Flawed? Absolutely. Imperfect? Aren’t we all. However, the ones that I know truly try their best to figure things out for all of us. So while I might not agree with them (I spoke about that here), I do always try to at least listen to them with that grandpappy perspective. Why?
Because the beautiful gift of large institutions, of course, is that they have the ability to gather large amounts of information in short amounts of time, to see quickly many of the different perspectives and concerns (in leadership that’s called managing the screens), and to have assistance in making the decisions that must be made. It will be an imperfect decision, absolutely. And that means, of course, that the only thing we individually can do is listen and discern how we will respond to the situation.
My choice right now in this COVID-19 Rome situation? I have chosen as my “line in the sand” the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of myself and my children. As long as that is taken care of, I have decided to be a fantastic leader behind. And as a leader behind, I am inhabiting that somewhat rare leadership area that can voice disagreements and then honor and support the decision made. As long as I feel I can keep myself and my children healthy within the guidelines given, I will obey them like the best leader behind there is. And that means that the really important question out there is…what’s your position? And how will you live that out? Making that conscious, intentional choice is an empowering place to be, indeed.
4. Set Expectations Now
I know this is not what people want to hear, and we are in this for the long run – speaking from 2 weeks into your future – i.e. COVID-19 Rome – we are looking at 1-2 months of full lockdown quarantine. Effective COVID-19 Preparation means to get your head ready for that now. Expectation management, as every leader knows, is at least half the battle. Set your expectations for a LONG lockdown, and you will deal with it emotionally much better.
If you have medications or things from the pharmacy that you need, get them. Food has not been an issue – no stocking up needed, and actually the hoarding has probably had a net negative impact. For even more effective COVID-19 Preparation, make sure your car is in good repair, with gas. Have all of your important files in one place, so you can access them easily if needed (like medical and school records). And…get some wine. Or beer. Or fanta. 😉
Second: Set Up the Long-Term Now
5. Set a Schedule
Every mother knows that schedules make the world work. Effective COVID-19 Preparation means setting a schedule that is varied, with some fun in it (get a sample schedule here). Build in reward systems for all (stickers, or perhaps a glass of wine for 3 days in a row sticking to the schedule). Below is a fabulous (and…fun. Fun is important) example of rewards and schedule.
Be sure to chop up your day into different activities, focusing on mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual areas. Give yourself 2-3 hours. max, of mental exertion (like telework). Then get off the computer and go do something else. Why? Because moms and science know it’s bad for our brains when we simply nug it out for hours. Go for a run, play a game with your family, call a loved one. By doing this we end each day with a much better perspective on the world and our place in it (instead of curled up in a ball with wine and chocolate…).
6. Set Growth Intentions.
We are all being given one of the greatest gifts – the gift of time. Want to be the best prepared? Include growth intentions in your COVID-19 Preparation. Figuring out how we’re going to deal with this time is a fantastic exercise. We are in the endgame here, my loves; Rome is looking at about 2 months (at least) of full lockdown. That means only going out for groceries, pharmacy, sport, and dog walking. It’s intense, and it’s where we’re all most likely headed.
Being caught by surprise tends to engender the fear response in our brain (here’s the neuroscience). So take some time now to look at the reality of the situation and set some intentions. How will you grow during this time? What do you want to get out of it in the end? And how are you going to handle the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical strain that’s happening? Think of it like Boot Camp for your soul; you’ll always be able to look back on this time and draw strength from your resiliency.
7. Create ways to Get Out of the House Safely
Get out of the house. Does this mean I advocate going out to bars and flouting authority? No. No I do not. See #1 above. What it does mean is that we will all need, in the long run, to find ways to get out of the house. Be intentional about it now and we’ll be the most well-adjusted community ever at the end of this (which will be needed). This was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a mother, which is probably why I advocate for it so strongly. Remember: Isolation is used as a form of torture, and isolation in the young causes irreversible damage.
We are relational beings. And yet…social distancing is what we understand now is needed to address today’s situation. So how do we deal with life when we can’t touch others physically? Well, that’s up to you to find the best way. I personally go for runs every morning and smile and wave from afar at everyone I meet. I make eye contact. I do a victory Rocky-like fist raise when I can. Another option? I send my oldest to the store, and tell him to give love to the workers there. For my youngest, we go on dog walks and talk about our emotions during this time (emotional processing is one of the key benefits of time outdoors). And my daughter prefers to go out on the balcony and sing with the neighbors every evening. Think about it now, and set an intention to do it every day.
8. Make Intentional Time Alone
We as people take up much more space than just our physical bodies – isn’t that weird? Every mom knows this (it’s funny that science now knows it, too); sometimes we just need to be away. I was known as the “Nap Nazi” in my mom circles as I made my children have a daily two-hour quiet time. We have re-instituted that habit now. There are so many emotions running around – not just in our selves, also in our neighborhood, community, world. Taking quiet time with our eyes closed gives us the opportunity to move those emotions out and, as we say in leadership, Emotions=Energy in MOTION. In order to keep up the energy for the long haul, get those emotions moving around.
9. Love on yourself.
Want to really know what’s needed for COVID-19 Preparation? This might be the best advice there is. Become your biggest fan. Treat yourself with love, respect, and compassion. And do the same for at least one other person in your life. This has been a rule of living throughout the ages from all of the greatest leaders, and one that we have forgotten a bit in our never-ending quest to be more perfect (perhaps we should just toss that quest out the window). Pretend like your Mom calls you up once a day and harangues you to take better care of yourself (or, actually, maybe we could just all call our moms a bit more). Listen to the love that she’s pouring out on you, and go take some time to celebrate you. Why? Because we are wonderful, all of us. And now is a fantastic time to start remembering.
Please stay safe, wonderful people. And what are your best strategies for coping? I’d love to hear your voice here. Always.
Carmen Westbrook is an author and the CEO of Aina Giving, a socially responsible servant leadership development company. Carmen spends much of her time with her children and fluffy dog, as well as developing content for workshops and occasionally writing books. You can find her latest book, "Becoming Superwoman 1.0: Searching for a Cape and Boots" on any Amazon worldwide.