For the past few weeks, my kids have been asking when they can hang out with their friends. But so-and-so wants to know if I can go for a bike ride???? Everyone else is hanging out! This sucks! I’m the only one left out!
My response every time: I know it sucks. I’m sorry.
But I’m not changing my mind. At least not yet.
That’s not to say it’s been easy. It hasn’t. That’s not to say I haven’t second-guessed. I have. But for now, the answer is and will be, “no, you can’t hang with your friends.”
Of course, every family will need to make decisions that differ based on their own circumstances. It will involve a detailed cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment of about a million factors. And it will also involve a healthy dose of reliance on our gut instinct.
For me, my gut is telling me – no, screaming at me – to go slow. There’s no rush.
For other parents, the decision-making process is different. They may have different circumstances, priorities, and opinions about how seriously we need to take COVID-19. (For the record, I think we need to take it really fucking seriously.)
I’ve tried to prepare my kids for this. I’ve been telling them for weeks – since other states started “reopening” and our own state of Illinois began to talk about what the next phase would look like – that other families are going to make other decisions. I’ve been telling them that just because we technically can do something doesn’t mean we should. I’ve been telling them that we’re making decisions that make sense for our family and our unique circumstances.
But, for a teen (or I suppose anyone for that matter), no amount of preparation is enough for those times when your friends are hanging without you. It doesn’t make it easier when you see kids your age riding bikes, sans masks, past your house several times a day. It doesn’t make it easier when you feel left out.
“BUT I’M THE ONLY ONE!” I hear my kids cry this over and over and again.
First, no. You are not the only one not hanging out. You are not “the only one” whose parents are strictly sticking to the safety recommendations for a while longer. You also are not “the only one” who can’t stay up until 4 a.m. and you won’t be “the only one” who isn’t allowed go to that party where you know there will be alcohol and you won’t be the “the only one” who doesn’t get a new cell phone every year.
But also, kids, I get it. I truly get it. I also suffered from some serious FOMO and was certain I was “the only one” doing or not doing something when I was a teen. Truthfully, I still feel that way sometimes. Which makes it easier to empathize with my kids’ angst that they aren’t allowed to ignore the quarantine rules just yet. I try to explain to them that this feeling never really goes away, but you can manage. You can practice feeling more comfortable saying “no” and doing your own thing, trusting that your friends – the real ones anyway – will still be your friends.
But kids demand more of an explanation than “not true” and “I get it.” So it’s also important to explain the why of your reasons, whether it’s your reasons for saying no to a cell phone or no to a pandemic hangout. I’ve tried our best to explain what we know about COVID-19 so far, and what we don’t know. I’ve explained certain risk factors and how we’re trying to minimize those, and what it might take for my husband and I to feel a little more comfortable with them hanging out with their friends. I’ve talked about my own anxiety and how we have family members who are more at risk than others and how we want to protect them. I’ve told them soon, but not quite yet.
Bottom line: Sorry, kids, but you can’t hang out with your friends just yet, even if it feels like everyone else is doing it.
Am I being too strict with my pandemic rules? I’m sure some people think so. Am I not being strict enough? I’m sure others think that as well. That’s the tricky part about this post-lockdown, pre-vaccine stage. There’s a shit ton of grey area, and different people will make different decisions based on their own circumstances. Then again that isn’t unique to the pandemic; that is true of parenting in general.
Ultimately, I think my kids understand. They’re pissed, sure. But I do think that they understand that we aren’t making these decisions to make them miserable but to keep them – and maybe even more importantly, others – safe. As the saying goes, this too shall pass. Eventually they will hang out with their friends. Eventually they will go back to school and play sports and have sleepovers. And I hope that whenever we get to that point, in the process, my kids will be a little stronger in their FOMO battle against feeling like “the only one.” I hope they will have learned a bit about what it means to take care of others by inconveniencing yourself. I hope they will have learned the importance of trusting your gut and making hard decisions. Because the pandemic will eventually end, but god willing, those lessons will be here to stay.