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Challenge: Pandemic Parenting

How the pandemic changed my perspective on parenting teenage boys

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A few weeks ago, I found myself attending a College 101 information session at my 14-year-old (high school freshman) son’s school. Which is odd, because just two days ago, he was six and in kindergarten! I literally don’t know how so much time elapsed in such little time. The old “the days are long, but the years are short” adage has never rung so true.

But here we are, in the final four years of having my oldest dude at home. The final six with my youngest.

My husband and I have become keenly aware of the amount of time we have left with both of them living under our roof full-time. Four more Christmases. Four more spring breaks. Four more summers.

We want to parent with intention and purpose, while also fostering memories that will last their entire lives. Our ultimate goal is for our boys to want to come home when they have the choice—not because they have to, not because they feel obligated to, but because they genuinely enjoy spending time with us and love being together.

And though we certainly had our challenges, I truly feel that the five months we spent quarantined together during lockdown with our then 11- and 13-year-old sons tightened our bonds as a family and strengthened our parenting game.

Sure, there were days that I wanted to pull my hair out as we all worked and learned and lived in the same space 24/7, but we do have the pandemic to thank for several parenting revelations—or silver linings, if you will—that have only enhanced our relationships with our boys and hopefully strengthened our chances of having them choose to spend time with us once they flee our nest:

Noticing beauty, together. Early on in the pandemic, we started to take family walks just to get out of the house and to keep from going stir crazy. We decided to end each walk with a photo contest—everyone took a picture of something that they deemed beautiful along the way, and then we compared photos at the end of each walk and reflected on why that particular image brought beauty into the experience. It was so special and eye opening to hear the boys’ perspectives and to share our own, and it’s become a favorite memory from that season.

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Inspired by our friends, we decided to have a #FamilyPhotoChallenge on our walk - everyone took photos all along the walk of anything that inspired them or that they found beautiful. This was the winner!

The family meeting. I know so many parents start holding family meetings earlier on, but we didn’t stick our toes in the water until quarantine sort of forced our hand. I was a little nervous walking into these—what would the boys say? With some pointers from my therapist, we jumped into our weekly meetings. The rules? No judgment. This was to be an honest, transparent, and most importantly safe space to express ourselves. No defensive or combative language. No recourse for anything said or confessed during our time together. When I say these meetings were transformative, I mean it with every ounce of my being. We learned so much about the boys. We listened. We laughed. We cried. We really got to know their hearts, address their fears, hear their dreams and understand their individual needs. We’ve continued these meetings post-pandemic. One of the boys will say, “I need to call a family meeting,” which tells us there’s something important weighing on them that needs to get out. And we honor that by sitting down and listening well.

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Watching my boys play ball, cheering from the sidelines, living life with other families, seeing the joy that emanates from their every pore - it’s all exactly what I signed up for.

Valuing community. After months of lockdown, when life slowly started to re-emerge in the summer of 2020, we all began to realize just how much we needed and had missed being around our people. Springs and summers around our home are filled with baseball games and practices, shuttling the boys to and from, camping out at the ball fields with bottles of sunscreen and gallons of water to cheer the boys on. But what we craved and missed more than the sport itself were the people it allowed us to do life with—the boys’ teammates, their moms, their dads, their siblings. When baseball finally started back up, it was our salvation—our lifeline to normalcy and community. That realization has enabled us to really dig in and savor doing life with our people, which has been an investment in ourselves and our boys that I know will pay dividends for years to come.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that life is somewhat back to a new “normal.” But as we’re knee-deep in one of our last four holiday seasons together, I’m thankful for how the pandemic strengthened our family.

I’m thankful for the beautiful life we share together, the opportunities to be vulnerable with each other, and the people we do life with.

And I’m hopeful that when they’ve grown and flown, our boys will look back
and remember the silver linings of that hard season (the one we’ve all been
in for way too long) and look forward to coming home and spending time
with us because of the strong foundation we built, while navigating
something so unchartered.

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