For families with children, the end of August in the Northern Hemisphere is usually a time of excitement, anticipation, and new beginnings. But this year we're in an odd time warp, where we're being thrust headlong into a future we're not ready for (can school really be starting?) while we're still mired in the uncertainty and limitations of a pandemic.
If you're a parent in U.S. this has been a hard month, no matter what decision you've made about your child's education. The stakes are high, and we don't
have enough information about what's going to happen to make confident decisions. And, in fact, there are no good answers to this dilemma.
- If you're sending your child into a school building, you're probably biting your nails even as you put on a brave face for your child.
- If you're helping your child with remote learning, you're remembering that learning from screens (at least as most schools are managing it) isn't age appropriate for children and requires nearly constant supervision from parents.
- If you're hiring someone else to teach your child with a few other kids in an academic pod you're probably dipping into funds you need for something else, feeling guilty that you can do that when others may not be able to, and still worried about how effective this arrangement will turn out to be for learning and covid-mitigation.
- If you're a seasoned home-schooler or un-schooler, you're most likely finding that your usual schedule of activities and meet-ups is still curtailed, so you're schooling in isolation.
- If you've decided to try home-schooling or un-schooling for the first time, you might be encountering daily challenges that make you wonder if you're really cut out for this. (Don't give up! It gets easier.)
Regardless of your situation, this pandemic is probably highlighting for you that teaching is very hard work, and that our educational system needs some serious re-thinking and overhaul. Anyone who's paying attention is being reminded that our society needs to do a better job of supporting parents in general, and especially now, when we're all in the impossible situation of trying to keep money coming in at the same time that we're supervising and teaching children.
Luckily, our children are resilient, and if the decision you've made about school doesn't end up working for you, you can change it and do something else. This isn't the year to obsess about academics. A child who is curious and loves to learn will easily catch up in school, with a little support.
It's also true that tough times force us to dig deep and develop our inner resources. So we're all enrolled right now in a crash course in resilience that's imparting lessons we'll use for the rest of our lives. But there's no way to sugar-coat this. It's a tough time for parents and children, and we're in for more uncertainty in the months ahead. So I want to take this moment to remind you of what's most important for your child to thrive, even during hard times: A warm connection with you.
YOU are at the center of your family. You create the weather in your home. When the pandemic is over, what your child will remember is how sunny your home felt, or how stormy. When they had a hard time, did their parent understand and help? Was the mood positive and fun? Were tears accepted and comfort offered? When mistakes were made, was grace extended? Was there room for each person in the family to express their full self with all their growing edges, and be loved unconditionally?
This may sound like a tall order in these stressful times. And yes, there will be days when you blow it big time, like every other parent sometimes does. But remember, your child is also enrolled in this crash course in resilience. He or she is learning lessons they'll build on for a long time. Your calm, patient, nurturing is the foundation they need for this learning.
And that means that your priority has to be taking care of YOU, to maintain your own sense of well-being. When you're running on empty, you can't be the emotionally generous parent your child needs and deserves.
That means giving yourself the support you need to be your best as often as you can be, and compassion and grace when you mess up (as we all do). So make a short checklist of research-proven self-care strategies, and every day, check it off.
- Did you get enough sleep?
- Move your body to re-energize yourself?
- Eat healthy food to support your immune system?
- Get outside to breathe some fresh air and connect with nature?
- Spend a few minutes with a guided meditation or prayer?
- Connect with someone who cares about you who isn't your child?
- Talk to yourself like someone you love and give yourself constant encouragement?
It's hard to show up as the parent you want to be when you're under this much stress. But like your child, you can do hard things -- if you give yourself enough support. If we've learned anything from this time of isolation, it's that nobody can do the hard work of trying to be a good human, or the harder work of trying to be a good parent, alone. We all need support and love.
What support do you need to manage the stress you're juggling? How can you give yourself that support? What one thing could you do today to move in that direction? What next step could you take tomorrow?
Giving yourself support takes work and discipline, but over time it builds your inner resources, and makes life much easier. Remember, you don't have to
be perfect. Two steps forward, one step back still takes you in the right direction. Within a few months, you'll find yourself in a whole new landscape.
And you might find that life looks a whole lot better from there, even in a pandemic.