I cannot believe my kids are heading back to the classroom in a week. This summer went by too quickly, and now here I am labeling school supplies, washing backpacks, and attending orientations. Every morning, I find my inbox flooded with emails about bus schedules, updated policies, and reminders. Our summer bliss is quickly fading into another year of pandemic education.
Unlike years past, where I purposefully worked to keep up with my kids’ grades and check in with their teachers, this year there will very little of that. As many of us have been reminded over the past year and a half, very few things matter as much as our kids’ mental health and overall wellbeing. During this school year, I’m planning to lay off or scale back everything academic that doesn’t really matter and instead make sure that my children are really, truly, doing okay.
We, and our kids, have been through so much. Between remote and in-person learning, or sometimes a mix of both, mask and vaccine debates and confusion, losing extracurricular activities, and constant guideline changes, all of us about lost our damn minds. Teachers, many of whom are parents themselves, became some of the superheroes of the pandemic—yet they never asked for the role. Instead, like all of us, they were thrust into a hurricane of confusion and expectations.
If remote learning taught parents something, it’s that being a teacher isn’t all that easy. They are overworked and underpaid. We got just a taste of what it means to be a teacher, and whoa, most of us about quit the job we were never hired for.
Knowing what we know now, with some pandemic experience under our belts, I need to share this. Parents, we have a duty to perform this year. It’s simple: Lay off.
The most important part of our children isn’t their book knowledge, nor is it their test scores. Our kids have not fallen behind and need to be pushed to get caught up. Think about it. Behind who? We need to extend a lot of grace to our children have endured a traumatic and ongoing situation. Furthermore, our kids’ teachers need that same level of empathy, recognition, and support.
I really hope the pandemic has taught us that what matters most is that our kids are mentally, emotionally, and physically well. They need to know it’s better to prioritize rest over equations and movement over report cards. Healthy peer engagement is so much more important than writing the perfect research paper. We need to model this for them, encouraging them to do their best, while providing plenty of support and encouragement. Doing their best and going above and beyond—to their detriment—aren’t the same thing.
Before you angry-DM me that what I’m saying is fine for little ones, but you’ve got a high school junior, I already know. Yes, prepping older kids for life after high school matters. I’m a former college teacher. I had plenty of students who couldn’t function well without their parents (and teachers) catering to their every whim. I also had students who did really well, because they were prepared. Life after high school absolutely matters, but if the only thing these almost-young-adults are being prepared for is academics, parents are failing. I had students crumble due to unmet mental health needs.
Kids of all ages need to know that their whole self matters. Our kids overall health isn’t just how measurably smart they are. I had some brilliant students who had mental breakdowns after being pressured by their parents and themselves to succeed at all costs. Though I didn’t teach through a pandemic, I have grown to understand that without all around wellness, kids don’t succeed, no matter how admirable their GPAs are.
By chilling out and drastically scaling back, we are teaching our kids to do the same. It’s not healthy or helpful to charge through our emotions and experiences, avoiding the realities of pandemic schooling, and forge ahead as if nothing has happened. Lots of things have happened and are still happening. Every day we receive a slew of new information regarding masks, vaccinations, and what each school district is doing about it.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had days where the pandemic just hits me. I’m frustrated, I’m confused, I’m angry, and I’m heartbroken. If I feel these emotions, why shouldn’t my children, who wear a mask for six hours a day while being expected to learn, be allowed to feel them, too? None of us could have ever imagined, nor have we ever wished, for this pandemic. At minimum, we need to hold space for the highs and lows that come with trying to learn during this time.
Yes, the pandemic has challenged us to be more flexible than ever before. That’s not a bad thing. But pushing ourselves to the edge of a total breakdown, always demanding our kids do and be more, as well as making the same demands of the teachers, is simply not sustainable. What if we all just signed a unified permission slip that it’s okay to do the bare minimum, to leave room for creativity and rest, and to let go of the rest? What if we extended grace at every turn instead of criticism and demands?
I hope that despite all of the obstacles, this school year is one that is both memorable and joyful for my children—and yours, too. I hope our kids learn to honor their whole selves, listen to their bodies, and recognize that their grades do not matter nearly as much as their wellbeing. I think it can happen, if parents lead the way.