Parenting When Things Still Don't Feel Normal

January 04, 2022

Parenting When Things Still Don't Feel Normal

By Cari Newman, Parent Coach

We entered 2021 hopeful for a return to “normal” and ended the year realizing that there is no such thing. While it may feel like this new viral wave has forced us right back to the starting point, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are not back to March 2020 or even January 2021.

I fully acknowledge the Déjà vu feeling. While I sit in our family office typing these words, I have a child in a Zoom class in the basement, and another is doing asynchronous work at the kitchen table. I know that I’m lucky we have some space to spread out, but this isn’t great.

For our sanity and the emotional well-being of our children, we need to get clear about what is going on. There’s some important information to communicate to kids right now and some life lessons that we can teach using this moment in time as an example.

Life Lesson 1: When things feel out of control, lean into each other.

We can’t tell our kids exactly what day they’ll go back to school in person or how long school will stay open. We can’t tell them that someone they love won’t get sick. We can’t tell them when this will be “over.” But we CAN tell them that whatever happens, we will figure things out together. That we are problem-solvers and that no matter what twists and turns we face, we will find our way through it. These ideas might seem obvious to you. But when your kid is feeling out of control because they don’t know what tomorrow or next week will look like—especially then—regular reminders that you’re an unbreakable team can go a long way toward calming their system down.

Life Lesson 2: It’s ok to have lots of complex and conflicting feelings.

Of course, we want this pandemic to be over. We are sick of being isolated and wearing masks, we are tired of having plans change at the last minute, and we’re exhausted by the constant recalibration to figure out what’s “safe.” But I have to be honest. I also like some aspects of this moment—like fewer after-school activities, more time together at home in soft clothes, fewer social obligations. All of these conflicting feelings can be true at the same time, and we can use this as an example of how most things are not black and white. We can acknowledge the good and the bad of a situation and model living in the grey of life. We can even try to avoid judging things as good and bad in the first place, and simply face things as they are.

Life Lesson 3: Sometimes, things don’t work out how we expect. We don’t give up; we get creative.

Or: We can’t control an outcome; we can only manage our response.

There are a million small and large ways we’ve had to adjust our lives these last few years. We have had to cancel outdoor hang-outs at the last minute because of weather, reschedule a family wedding, and set up four study/work areas around our open-floorplan home multiple times. We had our younger kid’s b-mitzvah planned in Israel before the pandemic hit. The reservations were confirmed, the deposits were deposited. We held onto hope a little longer than we probably should have, but eventually, we had to pivot and make new plans closer to home. I’m sure you have dozens of examples of your own.

We might be angry, sad, disappointed, or exhausted when these things happen, and while we can share these feelings with our kids, we can also use these moments to model how adversity breeds creativity. If you make your creative problem-solving visible to your children and offer them a chance to participate in the regrouping process, they will come to see themselves as competent and capable of flexing and adapting. The only thing I know for sure is that things will keep changing, and we will need to stay limber. Let’s practice.

Life Lesson 4: We can change our minds as we learn new information.

This one flows naturally from Lesson 3 because pretty much nothing is working out as we expect. We have learned so much, and each new nugget of new information should impact how we think and act. For example, after totally isolating for months, we learned that we’re much less likely to contract the virus outdoors, so we shrunk our social circles, and moved our lives outside. When we all got vaccinated, we could remove our masks in certain situations and feel like we weren’t taking our lives into our own hands. When the Omicron variant spiked, we learned that we needed to mask up again, but this time with even stricter guidelines because it’s incredibly contagious.

As we learn new information, our minds change. We can apply this lesson to anything and everything. Just because you used to feel a certain way doesn’t mean you will always feel that way. Friends can show true colors; school or work environments might no longer feel right; something you once loved doing might start feeling like a chore. That’s ok. Things change, and we have to change too. That doesn’t make you a hypocrite. It makes you human.

Life Lesson 5: When we’re exhausted and overwhelmed, we need to take a break.

Seriously, people. We have to model this for our kids. If we push ourselves past the breaking point, we are showing our children that we must subvert our own needs to meet the needs of others. While that might be true occasionally (this is part of adulting in general and parenthood in particular), if we let ignoring or pushing down our own needs become the rule, we’re showing our children not to listen to their bodies, not to trust their feelings, and not to give themselves time or space to recharge.

Remember that family wedding I mentioned? Well, it’s happening in three weeks, just after Omicron is supposed to peak. My family is practicing these five life lessons constantly right now because things feel out of control, we have lots of complex and conflicting feelings, things aren’t turning out how we expect, we can’t control the outcome, we’re constantly learning new information, and we are seriously exhausted and overwhelmed. So, we will continue to lean into each other, get creative, manage our responses, change our minds, and take lots of breaks. I invite you to do the same.

Need a Parenting Coach? Contact Cari Newman to learn how she can help your family.

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