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Challenge: Back to School 2020

School Parent Guilt…Anyone Else?

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I recently asked one of my friends if he feels bad letting his kids sit around over summer break doing nothing. He looked at me and said, “No, that’s what summer is.” That reply took me by surprise. I kept thinking, what does that mean? What if his kids are bored? Shouldn’t he have a plan in place? What’s wrong with him? I guess for me, I just feel guilt. Really…guilt all the time.

See the moment this pandemic hit, I felt a need to turn into camp counselor, teacher and Martha Stewart all rolled up in one. I researched the best science experiments to do with kids. We then tried them all. Then, I looked up baking with kids and we made everything from suckers to cookies to s’mores. After that ran its course, it was on to crafts. We read craft blogs and made everything from tie dye to puffy paint to sand art. And yes, if you are wondering why your Target aisles were empty while sheltering in place, you can blame me. I can take on more guilt, trust me!

The bottom line is I felt guilty that COVID-19 took away school for my kids. Yes, they sometimes complained about the workload or a teacher, but they liked the routine. But even more then school were their friends. They really missed seeing those familiar smiling faces and their social circle outside of family.

I even remember one day in an attempt to counteract the guilt I felt over my kids not seeing their school friends was to drive around our neighborhood in a rainstorm delivering homemade desserts. As we dodged massive puddles my middle daughter screaming there was a worm stuck in her shoe, we diligently handed out cookies via their friends’ mailboxes in a systematic gesture of appreciation. In my guilty mind it was a way for my kids to feel a little bit closer to their classmates during this isolating time. Plus, it was yet another way to fill their now free time and eliminate a little bit of my guilt.

As for me, I missed my routine as well. As a working mom from home for the past several years I enjoyed my home office in the bright and airy kitchen not confined by doors. Now, I have moved to the furthest point in the house which just happens to be my bedroom so I can escape the chaos. Much like Rapunzel, I feel locked away from my former life. And in the moments between conference calls and email responses, I still feel guilt. “Should I have done one more craft with my kids or one more round of minute to win it games?” “What are my kids doing while I am on this call?” “Did I buy enough snacks for the week?” The guilt questions circle in my head one after another much like those 80s cartoon characters that get knocked in the head with a frying pan.

I even let my kids infiltrate my workout routine by streaming my yoga studio classes which were now online. What used to be an hour of sweat and Zen was now an hour of make-shift gym teacher explaining why their favorite animals were actually readily used yoga terminology. In my quest for less guilt, my workout session took on yet another way to keep my kids busy.

Now that we’ve been informed our school year will start three weeks later than expected, I have suddenly run out of ways to fill my kids’ time. So since I am no longer taking my camp counsellor job seriously, my kids have slipped into playing on their phones until they run out of batteries, wearing their pajamas all day, sleeping in every room of the house and forgetting to do the two chores I gave them in the morning. And my guilt is an overdrive. I am sure there is a blog or two telling me how I can fix this, but quite honestly, I don’t care anymore. I just don’t have the energy nor really the desire.

So, should I feel guilty? I started to think back to my childhood. What did I do when I was their ages? As a true Gen Xer, I rode my bike to my friends’ houses and played in their front yards all day or I built a Barbie house and then pretended a tornado destroyed it only to build it back up again. In an age of limited technology, I was forced to use my imagination or play make believe.

The bottom line is my parents didn’t feel guilty about not having a summer plan for me. I was left to my own devices to figure it out for myself. So maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty at all but treasure this time as a chance to let go. Let go of the plan, let go of the constant need to fill the hours and let go of the constant feeling of guilt.

And now that our back-to-school plan has changed 12 times and most likely will keep evolving, I am learning to take one day at a time. I am now teaching my kids to do the same. When they ask if they will see their school friends again, I say, “yes.” When they ask when, I am honest and say at “some point.” Or if they ask what we are doing today and expect a long list of items, I simply reply, “to figure it out.”

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I think we are all just figuring it out. However, getting back to basics isn’t such a bad thing either. And while many of us wear guilt daily much like a scarlet letter, we shouldn’t. Our kids will be fine, and we will be fine. We need to give up the need to be perfect. And most importantly the unnecessary parent guilt.

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