My great, great, great, great grandfather lived through several deadly bouts of influenza in his small farming town in the mid-1800’s. He turned a corner of his farm into a family cemetery after influenza claimed the lives of three of his children and two of his grandchildren. Since March, when Covid-19 made Washington one of the epicenters of the pandemic, I have felt I was swimming in unchartered waters. Nothing in my lifetime compared to this. So, knowing my grandfather lived through his own crisis has brought me some level of comfort. If he found a way through, maybe I can as well.
This month Mother Mentors had their first craft pick up of the year for families in our community. We wanted to offer something tangible to make things easier for caregivers and fun for kids. We had tables filled with craft activities, playdough, necklace kits, butcher paper rolls, small containers of washable paint and glue and thick chalk sticks. We also had an assortment of new books for kids to take home.
It was wonderful to see familiar faces, well at least familiar eyes, since our faces, except the youngest in our community, were hidden under masks. Even during the brief pick-up, there were, “hellos,” and “how have you been?” Small snippets of connection which before had been so available to us.
We shared how much we have missed meeting in person. Being able to talk while our children play safely and happily nearby. We shared abbreviated life changes like pregnancies, births, moves and job changes. Some babies who were just crawling in March, I barely recognized as they walked in sure and steady on their feet. A lot of growth can happen in six months.
Some kids happily helped gather supplies and books to take home. Others said, “I don’t want playdough or paints. I want to play!” Even though parents explained, “today we are not going to play at Playscape,” the sad feelings of understanding why their lives and routines had been changed emerged in grief and tears.
Some feelings were so strong, even a parent’s attempts to soothe did not seem to help. As Kristen Coggins, a Certified Positive Discipline Educator has said, “Tears are communication. They mean I’m sad and I need a moment to feel my feelings.” For children, like adults, want their feelings to be heard, not fixed.
Since I have never lived during a global pandemic; I don’t know if I am doing it right. I don’t know if I am being too cautious or not cautious enough. Some stress reducing strategies which have worked in the past like walking, journaling, pulling weeds, talking with friends, and dog snuggles have helped. But still thoughts like, “When will this end?” and “Will my life return to normal?” are ever present.
As a parent, I have up until now, felt I could offer my daughters guidance and hope from my suitcase filled with life experiences. But now my children and I are in unfamiliar territory together. Instead of being able to offer them gems of wisdom, I am left with only my presence, my willingness to listen and my continued trust in their ability to navigate their lives. I hope it is enough.
I found Kristen Coggins words reassuring. She says, “Our children never need us to be perfect. It’s okay not to know what to say; or to say the wrong thing and then correct yourself. We want to raise children that are resourceful, critical thinkers who take what they learn and apply it to real life. What better way to learn that then from us modeling it? If we are always perfect and have all the right answers then how do we model making mistakes and learning from them?” It sounds like it is healthy for us at times to say, “I don’t know.”
We are parenting while also being asked to distance ourselves from communities which make parenting easier. A time where playgrounds have been closed with caution tape and our children are looking at masked faces. A time where screens are the conduit for learning and social opportunities for them.
I wonder where we, as adults can draw our strength from, so we in turn have strength to offer our children? I draw strength from remembering other hard situations I have been through and from seeing those around me do the same. I draw strength from seeing creativity emerge and the willingness to be flexible and try new things.
Kristen Coggins said this related to our children, “Slow down mama. Give them time. They are learning. They are becoming more capable. Developing skills. Trust their ability.”
I hope she wouldn’t mind if I add a second quote for those of us raising children. “Slow down. Give YOURSELF time. YOU are learning. YOU are becoming more capable. YOU are developing skills. Trust YOUR ability.”
So here is my list of, “How to Parent Through Difficult Times.”
- Do the best you can. Some days you may be outstanding, other days mediocre. That is okay.
- Put measuring devices away. Especially those on social media. For usually what we post and likewise what we see is not an accurate picture of the real ups and downs we all face.
- Be gentle on yourself and those around you. Let yourself feel your feelings and allow your child to do the same.
- Reach out if you need help and check in on those in your circles and if possible, beyond. Sometimes just knowing someone else is thinking of us, makes a difference.
For more parenting thoughts from Kristen Coggins, you can find her here: