We’re going into yet another week of shelter at home. It’s not getting any easier, but it’s getting more predictable. Of course, none of that matters to my six-year-old son. Week two was difficult. As the reality of our new normal begins to settle in, it’s hitting him really hard. This isn’t going to be as temporary as we thought. And as we begin to figure out what life looks like, giving grace to our kids is important. They’re going through this madness too, and they have even less of an understanding than we do.
One night my son was giving me a really hard time about going to bed. That’s not totally abnormal, but this felt different. As he fought me about brushing his teeth, I asked him to sit in my lap for a minute so we could talk.
“This is hard, huh?” I asked him. He nodded.
“You miss your friends and your teacher, right? And being able to go to the playground and spend our Friday nights at the McDonald’s PlayPlace?” He nodded again, sadly.
“I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me too. And I don’t know when it’s going to end. But I do know that it will be a lot easier if we can work together, okay?” I wrapped my arms around him tightly and kissed his head.
While I’ve been aware of how this is impacting him, that moment hit home for me. Nothing about what’s happening right now is normal, and it’s okay for us to treat our kids with an extra dose of grace right now, especially when they present their most challenging behaviors. Their lives are in just as much upheaval as ours. We can spend our days consuming endless news stories about what’s happening. But for our young kids, there’s no way to intellectualize these big changes in their lives. All they know is that something scary is happening, and their lives are changing fast. Giving grace to them as we all figure it out is the actual least we can do.
Living this new normal is so fucking hard. No one had any time to prepare for these monumental changes that happened. One day everything was business as usual, and the next it was utter chaos. Yes, children are more resilient than we give them credit for. But if this is incredibly overwhelming for us adults, how do we expect our kids to handle it?
There’s an endless stream of content out there encouraging adults to give themselves grace, so why wouldn’t we extend that to our children? Most of them may not be able to properly articulate just how hard this is for them. We’re coping by watching shit on Netflix, eating junk food, and drinking. Our kids’ coping mechanisms may look like tantrums, being extra stubborn, or just not acting like they normally do. Talking to them about the changes they’re going through really does help get to the root of the problem, or at least give us a clue as to how we can help them.
When we received notice that my son’s school was closing, the first thing the school did was inform us that there would be work available to pick up for the kids. It’s not a lot, maybe 15 pages of simple reading and kindergarten worksheets my son can color. His teacher also sent us a larger packet to print out, but we don’t have a printer at home, so I didn’t print it. And honestly, now I’m glad I didn’t. Giving grace to him is realizing that right now, doing worksheets isn’t necessarily what he needs.
These next few weeks aren’t the time to pretend that it’s business as usual. It’s a time for us to sit with our kids and talk to them. Help them to understand that no matter what, we’re here for them. Yes, kids thrive on routine. But routine is kind of bullshit when you’re sitting around waiting for the bottom to fall out. Kids need to know that it’s okay to not be okay. Sure, some kids may thrive on keeping things as “normal” as possible. For the ones that don’t, for the kids that need to chill out and decompress or spend more time playing with their favorite toys, we need to allow them that. Giving grace to our kids is recognizing what is going to make them feel the most secure right now.
Right now I’m saying fuck the color-coded schedules. We’re literally just taking this day by day. If my son (and myself) are in the mood for formal instruction, then I’ll sit him down to do some homework. But if all we do in a particular day is change out of our pajamas, that’s okay too. To me, the most important thing is that my son is feeling safe and supported during such uncertain times. He won’t forget how to read or write or do math — it’s just that those aren’t top priority while I’m trying to figure out our lives now. Our kids are not going to compromise the entirety of their educational career by having a few extra weeks off, and we all need to relax about that.
Talking to my son that night, I let myself be vulnerable too. I told him that I miss the way our life was a few weeks ago. And right now I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make him feel happiness. Some days that looks like him doing a half hour of schoolwork and coloring. Other days that looks like letting him watch Power Rangers all day. We’re just taking it one day at a time. No one knows what the hell they’re doing right now, and that’s fine. We don’t need to keep pretending that this is easy. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s stressful, boring, and hard. Our kids just need to know that we’re there for them, because right now, we’re their only constant in a world that has otherwise been turned upside down.