The response to COVID 19 as an international crisis has, for the most part, been impressive. As a lover of humans and a believer in resilience I think this has been a big beautiful example of a lot of the strength and creativity that exists within us all. I say this, with an edge of concern that has been creeping up more and more each day. Honestly, I think many people are doing “too good”. Let me try to explain what I mean.
In every day life, pre COVID 19 there was a fairly high level of stress, over commitment and generally high expectations placed on the majority. These pressures came from every direction. Ourselves, our work places, the media, social media. The pervasive message was DO more, GO faster, BE better! It was SICK. Then came COVID 19 and for a few weeks there was a collective exhale. Everyone (theoretically) was suddenly on the same page. Nowhere to be, no ‘have to’ no ‘supposed to’. Just shelter in place and try not to freak out. It was good. Many of us felt it was a healthy reminder and maybe a chance to reset priorities, change some habits. Then it started…the adapting, the marching on.
YES!! Adapting is good, we need to. We also need a chance to grieve, to take note of the powerful sense of loss, discombobulation, and separation. Where did that go? It’s not something we can just SKIP! It worries me deeply to hear parents stressing over how to home school and work from home, and get the meals done, fulfill their child’s social needs etc. making life run smoothly while managing these vastly different and conflicting tasks. It seems to me we are placing too much emphasis on doing this WELL and not enough emphasis on the fact that we are having to do this suddenly, without choice, training or preparation. During a time in which we need to go gently we are instead allowing old habits to make it another round of stress, poured with a heavy hand. It worries me for us all, but it worries me most for our kids. Because it’s NOT NORMAL. EVERYTHING IS NOT THE SAME.
Our kids need a chance to grieve. (As do we) They don’t necessarily have the vocabulary or emotional awareness to identify what is going on within. It probably comes out in the form of grumpiness, extreme energy or fatigue, defiance, anger, clinging neediness or some other shift. Some of our children become demanding – some reclusive. Some of our children seek structure, some defy all requests to follow routine. Some become very different, some just exaggerated version of their same selves. We need to be PRESENT to recognize and witness the signs of their distress so that we can respond and support them. We can’t do that when we are wrapped up in getting our 8 hour days in, managing our case loads the same as before and keeping the laundry pile in check. SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE. A lot actually, a lot has to give.
Our children may have been excited for the first few weeks. Some children may surely be enjoying this time at home, but it is NOT a vacation and they know it. They have suddenly lost their sense of connection to friends, family, teachers. They are going through a disorientating experience. Looking to adults for information and cues about how to handle this. We don’t have a lot of information to give – so our cues are vital. Unfortunately, our kids don’t have the option to just go on like nothing happened. AND WHY SHOULD THEY? Something HUGE has happened. It’s still happening. They went from having daily structured routines, out door play times 3 times a day, stimulation and laughter. To ‘safe at home’. They went from play dates and trips to the corner store to ‘safe at home’. Our kids can’t go to chuck a ball at the park, or fly a kite, or run off some energy at the track – because parks and school grounds are closed. These little humans have shown heroic levels of patience and flexibility – but they are hurting.
Emotions aren’t something to chase away, not something to ignore. If we do not allow emotions they will take over in new and creative ways until we pay attention. For our own sake, as well as our children – we need to make room for some grief. We need to take some time to cry, talk about what sucks, talk about what we miss and what we look forward to being able to do. We need to hug our children and acknowledge that this is HARD. We need to hold them and listen to them and NOT try to force them to adapt until they have had a chance to acknowledge how much this situation blows chunks.
Emotions don’t come once. They don’t take turns and leave. They arrive in unpredictable waves. We can vacillate between extremes and it can happen fast or slow. Everyone is different, every day can be different. Our children need us to get that through our own heads – so we can respond to their needs with validation and support. DO NOT SAY “it’s okay – it’s not so bad, don’t cry”. Say “It’s hard isn’t it, I know, it’s hard for me too. Would you like a snuggle?” Do not yell and scream and berate them for being grumpy. Let them know it’s understandable to have grumpy days when so much change has happened. Let them know you have grumpy days too and offer some suggestions about how they can let it out appropriately – join them!
Sometimes we simply can not put words to our emotions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any. That doesn’t mean they aren’t real, or valid. Ask your child (or self or loved one) “how does it feel in your body?”. Often when we observe our emotions even without labels, we begin to understand and find ways to support ourselves. Or we become able to compare and remember similar experiences – making it easier to talk, we feel less alone.
Coping and creativity in response to COVID 19 have already been quite amazing. I believe the next phase will be the emergence of new modes of social engagement. If our children are allowed to grieve, their creative little souls will begin finding and seeking (pun intended) ways to be with their friends from a safe social distance. They will find their way through. We have to free them from trying to live like normal – so they can find a new normal, and thrive.