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Challenge: Reflecting on a Year of Pandemic Parenting

Hope Floats

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"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I read this quote last April—eight long months ago. At the time, it was inconceivable that the world would remain stalled into the holidays. I focused on the word “finite” and the reassurance of it as I readied myself for a quick return to routine. However, the ensuing days and months bled into one another creating a time-warp of monotony that tested our reserves in unimaginable ways.

Like many, our family lost traditions, milestones and normalcy. The disappointment was tangible, souring the air of our once bustling house. Our two young adults, one whom sacrificed a university graduation and the other a full college freshman year, were forced to pack up not only belongings but expectations as well and return home. Here they joined their high school brother adjusting to online learning and a lack of multiple sports seasons. As the emotional caretaker for our family, I was tasked with managing an abundance of frustration.

I saw that amid the shifting medical guidelines and protocols, the need to alter our view became equally important. We needed a positive force to combat the gravitational pull of the black hole. Finding the light that dances above the horizon is a chore in the midst of the darkness, but it is always there.

Hope is a choice, both in a pandemic and in parenting overall.

I am an optimist by nature, successfully using instinct as a guide for over 50 years. I wasn’t much for consulting parenting books or doing a lot of research, preferring instead to listen to my gut and the signals from my kids as we muddled through child rearing. And in tumultuous times, you go back to the comfortable, natural and basic. I returned to positivity and hope with a solid plan to put my family on my back and carry them into the light.

Our lives, like most in this stage of parenting, had fragmented the five of us. Jobs, sports, school and social commitments created a physical distance if not an emotional one. Slowing down did not appear to be an option or a need, we were chugging along just fine.

The pandemic showed us the folly of our ways. We hadn’t been consciously awaiting tomorrow or “soon” to slow our pace, we simply viewed it as an eventuality we would bump up against some day. That day caught us by surprise in March of 2020.

As shock morphed into resignation, I honed in on each of my people. The trickiest part was coaxing them into identifying their feelings and working through them. Not unusual for teens. Naturally, three distinct personalities were processing events in individual ways. My college graduate suffered from a lack of accomplishment and the tabling of his goals and dreams simmered under the surface daily. My college freshman wore every emotion on his sleeve and got teary-eyed as we returned to campus and moved him out under strict protocols. My youngest slept too much, studied too little and was caught in a hamster wheel of routine without purpose.

There was no one-size-fits-all approach to 2020. All I could do was crack myself open wide for my kids reinforcing that:

--I love you no matter how you feel.

--I will listen to you regardless of the words laced with anger, longing and blame.

--I respect your right to disappointment and confusion.

--I will lead you to a better place with time and patience.

This was a rescue mission, plain and simple. My family remained tethered together inching our way to a safe place with stumbles and pitfalls along the path. Soon my charges were offering suggestions to make the journey memorable instead of morose. We instituted Sunday night dinners in the dining room, setting the table and the mood for the upcoming week. We walked miles together letting the fresh air and nature chip away at the boredom. We talked more than we ever had about current events, sports and dreams.

Most importantly, we rediscovered each other and our strength.

As a result, we are heading into 2021 different people than we were a year ago. I like to think we are an improved version of ourselves, but time will render the final verdict.

We were fortunate not to lose a loved one to Covid-19, but we sadly knew several that succumbed. In this respect, the pandemic is permanent and scarring. However, when we rewind the tape on our decades-long life experience, this period will indeed be finite.

I expect my children will look back on this pandemic as a personal turning point; affording them a broader view of the world and a deeper connection to whom and what is assigned importance in life. After all, black holes are a permanent part of the universe, all we have is hope that the collateral explosions will create something beautiful and lasting in their wake.


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