In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in America, many high schools and colleges across the country have cancelled graduations, sporting events, proms and award ceremonies. Others have postponed these events indefinitely.
My own son is a college senior, a pre-med student and a talented lacrosse player. These days he is studying for finals in his childhood bedroom. Those of us who have admired his hard work these past four years are sorely disappointed that we cannot watch him graduate with honors and play his senior season. He, of course, is the most disappointed of all — no final lacrosse games, no fun-filled senior week, no walking across the stage to accept his diploma. But (and I choose my words carefully here), while it is extremely disappointing, it is not devastating.
I recently read a local high school parent’s online petition asking that spring sports be allowed to continue into the summer. In her letter, she described her student’s inability to play spring sports as a “devastating loss.” Similarly, I read parents’ angry online posts directed at my son’s university. These parents seemed more outraged than the students. They criticized the college president. How dare he take commencement away after these kids have worked so hard?
I’m trying (really hard) to see these parents’ perspectives. But what I want to say is “Life is not fair.” Is this fact any more obvious than during a global pandemic? As of today, my home state of New York has lost more than 27,000 lives. While I sit in my comfortable home office upstate, only four hours from me in New York City, nurses are crying in hospital corridors from overwork and exhaustion. While I order groceries on Instacart, paramedics in the Bronx sleep in their cars at night to avoid infecting their families with coronavirus.
Like most moms, I don’t want to see my kids in pain – physical or emotional. I wish I could do something to make life go back to “normal.” But this is a slippery slope, and there are names for parents who protect their kids from the real world. The most recent I have heard is “snowplow parenting.” You may be familiar with “helicopter parents,” those who hover constantly over their children, watching every activity to keep them safe from harm. Snowplowing is the next iteration of excessive caretaking. Snowplow parents clear every obstacle in their child’s path to success, preventing them from experiencing disappointment, failure, or lost opportunity.
As COVID-19 changes the way that we work, play, and interact, I suggest that as parents, we try to change our points of view and help our young people do the same. All the canceled proms, track events and baseball games are a bummer, to be sure, but they could also provide an unprecedented opportunity for our children to grow as people.
Heartbreak sharpens our survival skills in ways that happy times do not. When we deny our children these hard times, we deny them the chance to develop coping skills. Wouldn’t it be better for our kids if we helped them learn how to get through difficulty rather than around it? Won’t they be stronger adults for it?
Rather than complaining about the ways that we cannot celebrate their achievements this spring, let’s work with our young people to find solutions. How can we celebrate graduation in a way that won’t put compromised family members at risk? Can we look forward to smaller post-quarantine gatherings for sports teams and graduating seniors?
Resilience, or making the best of things, is a quality that must be practiced. I smiled at the recent news story about a thoughtful family in Texas who helped their daughter throw a “prom on the porch” after her high school prom was canceled. And I have read of colleges trying to schedule virtual ceremonies or find ways postpone in-person ceremonies until it’s safe to convene.
In my family, I will ask my son to decide. Maybe he will want a small, family-only gathering with a video chat for his quarantined grandparents. It will be disappointing, but his time in college and on the lacrosse field remains meaningful regardless of how we celebrate.
At a time when so many people are suffering, and disappointments abound, perhaps learning resilience could offer our young adults a silver lining.