A Love Infusion for Parents as School Starts in the World of 2020
Hello, Fellow Humans of 2020
How many of you can relate to this?
It’s Friday night at the end of summer 2020. It is HOT. I live in Southern California. There is currently a heat wave and a huge swath of wildfires that are so strong that my lungs have been burning off and on all day even though we live hours away from the closest large fires. We have things closed up due to the smoke which makes it hotter. My thirteen year old started eighth grade online on Tuesday. My eight year old starts a version of homeschooling for third grade on Monday. I’ve never home schooled before. I’m a single mom. My kids are in the other room bickering, and I need SPACE and QUIET — both of which have been scarce for five months and counting. I find myself taking a LOT of deep breaths and listing my gratitudes subconsciously even more than usual. I have a funny habit of watching movies about the Holocaust to remind myself of what really matters and to bring myself back to how incredibly lucky and privileged I am and so many of us are. And we are.
And at the same time, I am watching many of my friends, many of my sweet, hard working, wonderful fellow parents struggling SO hard right now, especially as we all gear up to do this online schooling or homeschooling (or both!) or any other number of educational possibilities. Some of us are working full time also, some of us have partners helping, some of us don’t. Some parents are struggling with navigating co-parenting with partners or ex-partners who either do or don’t agree with our approaches to parenting or educating our children. Some parents have lost their jobs and are struggling with not knowing how they will eat. Some families have sick family members. Others are healthy, but maybe worried about vulnerable people in their families or even themselves. And the list goes on. Right?
In the middle of all of this, I am noticing a lot of parents getting stressed and worried about their ability to keep their kids on track academically this year, to be adequate substitutes for the usual in-person educators that their children have had, and so forth. And my heart hurts watching my fellow parents struggling with this.
Here is where my love and reminders come in. Most of us know all of this already, but having worked as a clinical social worker and therapist for most of my adult life, and most often with highly traumatized children and adults, I realized that maybe I could articulate these reminders in a way that might be soothing or helpful for some of you (and me!).
- WE ARE LIVING IN A WORLDWIDE TIME OF TRAUMA AND CRISIS. Regardless of whether you have had COVID, whether anyone you know has had it, regardless of whether you are economically affected by the quarantine, regardless of how you feel about any aspect of this time, regardless of your political views, and almost regardless of where on this planet you live, this is a time of collective trauma. We, as adults, certainly know this. And yet, we have a relatively strong ability to compartmentalize, rationalize, ground ourselves, give ourselves context and soothe and calm ourselves if and when anxieties arise regarding the epidemic and/or the economic or other affects of this time. Children are at least as sensitive, if not more so, to this collective trauma. We all know this. Our kids are sponges. I have worked with thousands of children and I have yet to meet one who I would not consider “highly sensitive” or aware of what is going on around them. In fact, the younger a child is, we know that the more “impressionable” they are by traumatic events, even if we think they are “too young to understand it.” The kids know. The kids feel it. And we know and we feel it too, even if we are focused on other things and managing to enjoy life in the meantime.
- LEARNING IS VERY DIFFICULT IN A TRAUMA STATE. As we know, when a person (or any other animal) is in a traumatic or crisis situation, the brain and body switches into a hyper alert, survival focused state of being. When we are in this survival state of being, some of the main things that diminish are our ability to relax, open up to new information that is not related to the immediate crisis, think ahead, think in the bigger picture, and LEARN. As our kids go back into school and as we attempt to be their teachers (or their on call IT help or both), this is key to remember. I am noticing parents having incredibly high expectations of themselves to “do this right” or make sure their children stay on track academically, and so forth. I am fairly certain that if a child falls “behind” or starts to struggle academically, a lot of parents are going to blame themselves or worry that something is “wrong” with their child or with the educational system that is in place. And sometimes, it may be true that certain tweaks are needed. At the same time, I would highly encourage us to remember that this year, academic learning for a LOT of children, including our own, might naturally and physiologically be put on the back burner. I am not advocating that we or that educators do not try to keep kids learning or academically at grade level. I am saying that their bodies and their brains and their hearts and their spirits will likely inevitably be pulled in directions that they probably have not been before. They will be at least partially in crisis survival mode and we will feel so much better (I think) if we give ourselves and our children space for this reality. This is a very unusual time. And, in fact, I am noticing my kids learning all kinds of things they would not have learned in “normal” times. Some of this is “academic” and some of it is regarding life. The “successes” of this year might look very different than what we have been used to up until now.
- THE NUMBER ONE NEED IN A TRAUMATIC STATE IS SAFETY AND LOVE. If I could have one goal for ourselves and our children in this year, it would simply be that we feel as safe and as loved as possible. That’s really it. As I said above, I am going to be essentially home schooling my eight year old starting on Monday. She and I were taking a walk on the bluffs near our house the other day and we started feeling the smoke that had just started to come down the coast from the fires in Northern California. Our lungs started burning and my daughter said, half joking, “Oh! Maybe huge fires AND COVID will be the huge calamity of third grade! She reminded me (as she has many times over the past few months) that in her Kindergarten year, we had the record breaking Thomas Fire here in our town, then deadly mudslides a month later. In the following year, her beloved first grade teacher died suddenly and unexpectedly on the last day Spring Break. Then this past year, in second grade, of course COVID and this quarantine hit. So she jokes, but not entirely joking, that she wonders what the “huge calamity” of third grade could be. This is true for so many of our kids. My children have had relatively easy, personally happy, thriving childhoods, and yet, these collective traumas are huge. For those of us, or our children, who have had other traumatic events in our lives prior to this pandemic, the reverberations of trauma are magnified. But regardless, the one thing anyone experiencing a crisis or a traumatic situation needs is simple — to feel safe and to feel loved. So if I could make a “lesson plan” for any child this year, it would simply be this — to feel loved and safe — whatever that means for that child, that parent, that family, in each and every moment.
- CO-REGULATION IS KEY; PUT THE OXYGEN MASK ON FIRST. Along the lines of our collective need for feeling safe and loved, I want to remind us of something we probably learned when our children were babies. Co-regulation is key. As a parent, I think it’s key for everything. Co-regulation is the idea that when we relax, our children relax. When we are stressed, our children are likely to be much more stressed. I name this fact not to give us even more reason to stress and to be hard on ourselves (I’ve been there done that countless times). I am reminding us of this because it hopefully gives us permission to take care of ourselves first — find a quiet moment to ourselves (if possible??), do our yoga (maybe in the living room with the cats and kids and mess surrounding us….??), go for a walk (when there is not smoke blanketing the air), attempt a call with a friend (a major feat at this point, but still…haha!). Even taking a deep breath and closing our eyes for a moment can make a huge difference. Truly, our kids take their cues from us. We know this. And so if our kids need to feel safe and to feel loved, obviously the same goes for us. And so along those lines, I’m sending you love. I’m sending you so much love and compassion. I can not believe how hard this moment is for parents. I hear story after story from friends and friends of friends and my reaction every time is, “This is basically impossible.” We are doing the impossible. And yet we are doing it. And guaranteed, we are doing our best. So I send you so much love. I hope you turn around and send yourself lots of love too. You need it. You deserve it. And any and all love you send yourself, your kids will get as a result. This is the best version of selfishness. Fill your bucket. It will spill out onto your kids. It will. You’re doing amazing. Believe me.
- KIDS ARE INCREDIBLY RESILIENT — FOR REAL. I worked with highly traumatized children and families for the majority of two decades — I mean highly highly highly traumatized kids. And I have yet to meet a child who is not resilient. I know that is cliche, but it’s true. Our kids really will be ok. If we suspended all academic learning this year and simply surrounded ourselves and our children with love and a sense of safety (as much as possible in this crazy time), they really would bounce back in every way, including academically. And yet, most of us are not suspending academic learning. And we love our kids more than anything in the world. And we are doing our best. And our kids are SO lucky to have us. So they are going to be ok. We are going to be ok.
I send you, myself, our children, our planet, and our entire collective so much love and blessings in this crazy time.
Happy end of summer. Happy start of the 2020 school year.
You’re doing great.
Wishing you much safety, well being, thriving, hugs and love, inside and out, throughout this year and beyond.
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(In addition to my many years of experience in social work, as a psychotherapist, as a body worker, and as a parent, my soul calling is in connecting us with the love of the spirit world and our own souls. If this interests you, feel free to connect with me, my books, and many free videos at: www.livingtheonelight.com)