We Don't Have To Pretend Everything Is Fine In Front Of Our Kids

by Amber Leventry
skynesher/Getty Images

“Everything is weird,” I said while I unloaded the dishwasher. My three young kids—nine, and seven-year-old twins—were on the other side of the counter eating their 57th snack of the day. I was thinking about the upcoming school year, the uncertainty of what our days will look like and what my work schedule will become. All of our decisions since March have been based on COVID-19 and other people’s level of responsibility in their decision making. And as summer ends, we need to make more decisions that don’t seem to come with right answers.

The unpredictable, constantly changing short term plans I have been making for a long term stretch of time are wearing me down. Depending on the day, hour, or minute I feel sad, angry, hopeless, anxious, and/or exhausted. And some moments are just so surreal that “weird” is the only word that seems to sum up pandemic life. My ex-partner was there too, and was sure to add that everything was fine. I suspect this was an attempt to reassure the kids. Yes, things are fine, I suppose — but they’re also fucking weird. It was okay for me to express both truths; I want my kids to know that I am their safe space, and they can hold two things at once too.

My kids are safe, loved, and have plenty of advantages, but they feel the stress of these uncertain times. They aren’t carrying the weight of the big adult stuff, but this lack of normalcy and the small, yet constant disappointments are hard on them. In some ways they are spoiled and should be better about practicing gratitude. However, they are still kids with big, big feelings and I hope I can show them how to balance shitty circumstances with grace while still acknowledging the fact that the shit stinks.

They miss their friends and seasonal experiences that have been cancelled or significantly altered. Recently, I signed us up to use a mini golf park inside of a COVID-friendly “fun zone.” When I showed the kids the photo of the place, they also saw the bouncy houses that are not currently open for use. Because COVID-19.

My youngest daughter lost it. Yes, she was tired and logic left an hour prior to this discussion, but she was justified in being pissed. She declared that bouncy houses are her favorite thing in the world and that she will never get to jump in one again. She was also mad that the website had the audacity to show such fun, pre-pandemic pictures of joy. Her tantrum was a mix of brattiness (sorry mini-golf isn’t enough, Princess) and genuine frustration and fear (dear lord, give me the strength to not buy a bouncy castle to soothe my poor girl’s heart). I don’t know when we will be able to resume some of their favorite activities and that feels unsafe to my kids. Because the lack of knowing, and not having answers, indicates something is wrong.

And something is wrong — plenty of things — and I won’t sugarcoat that to my kids. I provide age appropriate information, reminders of what we can control, and the reassurance that we can keep moving forward even when it seems like everything is out of order. To keep showing up, we need to be flexible and resilient, and I’m trying to model that for my children every day. They see and feel the frustrations of this pandemic. My oldest has been able to see the toll on her parents. She knows we are working odd hours and spending less time doing what we love, including spending more time with them. But she also knows we are doing the best we can in the current circumstances, and I think that helps her do her best.

My twins are having a harder time learning this lesson as evidenced by the bouncy house outburst, but the rawness of my daughter’s reaction meant she had no hesitation in showing her emotions. Her twin brother has had meltdowns over not getting to have playdates with people outside of the one or two friends he has been allowed to see. He has stomped and yelled and literally thrown his body into me and his sorrow because he just wants to play with his buds. My oldest has had her moments too; I would be worried if she hadn’t. I don’t always have the patience and insight to handle each tantrum as lovingly as I would like. However, I take pride in the fact that their feelings are not being stifled. The world may feel unfair and unsafe, but there is safety wherever I am, and my kids know that. They know that it’s okay to not be okay right now, but we can make the best of the opportunities we do have, and keep moving toward a time when things feel a little more normal.

My kids trust my motives so they follow my lead. We make adjustments by wearing masks, finding ways to see friends at a distance, and making our version of fun within the confines of not fun times. I want my kids to know that being resilient isn’t about believing everything is fine; it’s about overcoming challenges so that we can create a situation that is fine. None of this is perfect, and we all feel stretched beyond our limits of elasticity. We keep going, though. We grumble and hike up our failed expectations and find ways to still laugh, relax, and get shit done. We do this together because if my kids don’t see me do it, then they won’t either. I am my children’s guide, and I am doing my best to navigate this sinking ship to shore.

My kids are learning lessons in ways the parenting books did not predict, but those books didn’t warn me about toddlers shitting in the tub either. In both cases, you just gotta do your best to clean up the mess.