I really like to be prepared for the “what ifs” of everything. I always have first aid kits in every car and medicine cabinet. When my husband and I consider a family vacation we spend hours gathering information about hotels, restaurants, and activities that other families have found enjoyable. When I go to the pediatrician’s office my list of questions is VERY detailed (and sometimes with bullet points). I can make a pros/cons list a mile long about even the smallest of decisions. I feel fulfilled in my role as my children’s protector if I have prepared for all of the “worst case scenarios.” So, of course, I wanted to be the most prepared parent in a pandemic, as well.
I know I am not alone in this, and I only need to look at any media source since COVID-19 has become a part of our vernacular, to know that the entire world is doing the same thing. The television news is bombarding parents with information. You can’t go to an internet site without finding overwhelming amounts of advice on what you should be doing right now. There is the straight forward and clear, “Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay 6 feet apart” but there is also endless amounts of advice and opinions about what to do inside our homes: “create your new normal”, “find a schedule and stick to it”, “10 ways to be a great teacher at home”, “A million ideas to keep your child from being bored,” “Make your home an anxiety free zone.”
There is just too much, and it often contradicts each other. I don’t know about you, but nothing about this feels normal yet, so please don’t tell me it should. I am NOT a teacher and don’t want to be one, although I can probably direct my child to the day’s lessons. My kids have been bored at some point in every single day (as have I for that matter), and every time I think we have some sort of a schedule I inevitably make changes to it, almost as quickly as the government guidelines change. Most of all, I can’t possibly imagine creating a space where anxiety doesn’t show up, at least a little bit right now. It’s an anxious time, it just is. Being human means experiencing a bit of anxiety. It is a naturally occurring emotion, a helpful one if understood and managed correctly.
No doubt, though, anxiety can be a pretty intolerable feeling, especially when it gets really big. That is why we all seek (more like desperately crave) information, direction, and expert opinions when anxiety creeps in. We look for certainty, especially when we feel immense uncertainty. So, it is only natural that we would do the same thing right now, when risks feel like they are around every corner. Our attempts to gather as much information as quickly as possible, to become informed and prepared, to feel competent and confident, are all with the goal of protecting our family. Yet, competency and confidence come more from our own experiences than from gathered information from outside sources. The antidote to anxiety and fear is not only preparedness. We can find peace in what we have found comfort from in the past.
We need to stick with the things that have always felt good to us.
If cooking great meals is your jam, keep doing it. If telling bad jokes has brought eye rolling giggles, keep ‘em coming. If warm, wordless hugs and snuggles have felt incredible before, they will feel good right now. If sitting in front of the TV together for hours is your family’s regular routine, by golly, it should continue. And if your tween/teen needs some time alone to listen their tunes, or connect with their friends through social media and video games, remind yourself that it is probably what they would have been doing if the quarantine wasn’t in place, because creating their own world is important to them.
Tell me, how would you answer these questions:
- What are the strengths my family has used to get through difficult times in the past?
- How do I usually soothe my children when they are anxious, sad, or angry?
- Can I recall a time my family laughed together? What were the circumstances, and could I recreate any of them now?
- What parts of my parenting am I most proud of?
- After this is all over how do I want my children to describe their parents and what they did for them?
The answers to these are what will help now.
Listen, the bottom line is, this is brand new to all of us! None of us are experts at parenting in a pandemic, and right now it is difficult for our best selves to show up. We are all going to be trying our best, no doubt, but there are just too many uncertainties, too many stressors, too many changes, too much anxiety for us to be grading any of our actions. It doesn't matter what arsenal of information we gather, we will fail at meeting high expectations, or winning an A+ Parent award right now...sorry if you were really hoping to earn that logo on a mug.
So, quit trying!
Instead, be A PARENT. Be present, show up. If that means you nailed it in developing a home school schedule and your kids appreciate that, great, but if it means you simply made it through a day without murdering a family member, that is just as great. If you and your family are finding strength through joint activities, kudos. If no one can seem to be in the same room without conflict, saving space for separateness is necessary and essential for your family. Figure out what works for your family and go with it.
Personally, even when I look at the times I have prepared expertly for our vacations, or scoured my pros/cons list before making a decision, none of that is what my family remembers, or finds most useful, after it’s all over. Honestly, the memories and stories we savor the most are when things went wrong and we just “winged it”. The time we got lost in a city, all disagreeing and screaming at each other about which direction would take us to safety, we still laugh about it until we cry. More frequently than I would like to admit, I have to throw my pros/cons list away and just “go with my gut.” Almost every time I present my questions to a physician they retort with, “That is up to you, you have to decide what it best for your family”. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I often find myself saying to parents and families in my own office.
Finding what works for our specific family is our “special sauce” and its unique ingredients make it delicious! We need to trust that we have just the right ingredients to make this uncertain time as safe and secure as possible in our home.
Since our family began quarantine, we have gone through several different phases. There have been times that everyone feels connected, positive, playful and hopeful. There have been times where at least two of us cannot tolerate being in the same room together. There have been periods where at least one or two of us have been overwhelmed by sadness or anxiety, for a myriad of reasons. There are times some feel productive and some feel much the opposite. I have found, that like other times in our lives when we have struggled, we all need to save space for whatever anyone is experiencing. It won’t help me to try to force anyone out of any mood. For our family, rolling with the punches, understanding everyone’s response will be different, and capitalizing on the windows of opportunity when we all feel like being together is the right thing. When I do that, when I am patient and wait for the opportunity to arise, those together times feel like magic. So, I guess patience, permission for everyone to pause for “space and grace”, is what works best for us. It's our special sauce.
There will always be uncertainties in the world. We will always fear that we don’t know everything, aren’t doing a great job, aren’t the best parent. What I do know for certain, though, is what our children will remember most about these times; the scary times, the hard times, the sad times. They will remember how their parents showed up for them, how their parents soothed them, how their parents showed them love.
Many of our children’s schools have gone to a different grading system in order to adjust to all of the changes right now. They have switched to pass/fail, or as my son’s school calls it: credit or no credit. What if we set these same standards for ourselves, as parents? At the end of the day, do you think you earned credit for your parenting? Did you show up? Did you participate? Did you try your best with what you had, even though you may not have produced your best? During this time when not much feels safe, are you making every effort to insure your child feels safest with you?
Well then, you earn credit, and you can claim your prized mug with A PARENT printed in bold. Because being A PARENT, any parent, right now takes extraordinary effort. Feel proud, raise your mug high…and fill it with your special sauce!