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We're all teenagers again: Thoughts on being grounded as an adult

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Quarantine brings out the best and worst in us.

We count our blessings, play family games, and go on long walks.

We pick fights, complain about the rules, and give up on showering.

How are you handling it? As the façade of family fun wears thin, and the future looms uncertain, do you find yourself seeking out the furthest corners of your property for coveted “alone time”? Are you doing mental gymnastics to justify just a little hang out with your friends? Do you cry for reasons you can’t articulate? Are you bitter about the unfairness of having to miss not just everyday fun and companionship, but major celebrations as they fall off the calendar?

Shelter-in-Place has Freaky Friday-ed us adults, as if in one magical, cataclysmic moment, we were plucked from our offices, gyms, and date nights, and swapped for teenagers who’ve all been grounded separately, together.

Not only am I feeling as aimless and emotional as a fifteen-year-old, but I’m starting to look the part in oversized sweatshirts, limp hair, and a Corona complexion from too much sugar.

But - I regress! Time to pull myself back to see the bigger picture. I don’t want to run the risk of focusing too much on my personal inconveniences without reminding myself of the terrible toll this is taking on the most physically and psychologically vulnerable, as well as the most overlooked and undervalued, members of our society. Daily reports on the losses - of traditions, of routines, of jobs, of relationships, of life itself- keep me grounded in more ways than one.

Despite the sadness, there are aspects to my grounding that I’m enjoying. Though it can be hard to believe or admit, research confirms that fewer choices often make us happier. Limited options have forced a creativity, comfort, and closeness I’ve been unknowingly craving. I’ve softened to my circumstances.

And as I look to the future, I wonder: When this is over, and life as we (mostly) remember it returns, what will we have learned from our grounding? For me, I hope both personally and professionally, I can carry forward this feeling of adolescent angst. If I could bottle eau de adolescence I’d call it Uncertainté…, a sickly-sweet musk you could buy in a box set at CVS like Jean Naté. It’s a scent I hope will linger in our memories as we approach parenting after quarantine.

If we’re taking anything from our grounding, other than organized cupboards and a decent sourdough starter, it should be the gift of spending time in our kids’ feelings. I hope I remember how difficult it is to be isolated and how the hardest part is not knowing when it will end.

When families are lucky enough to be drawn in separate directions once more, teens will be reunited with friend groups, sports teams, classmates, and freedom of choice. When they do, they’ll do what teenagers have always done: make bad choices. Not always, but sometimes. We all learn best through experience, and teenagers especially need to feel regret, pain, guilt, and sadness to build a working internal compass that will guide them later in life.

I hope you don’t ground them every time this happens. Reserve this tactic for when a child’s world becomes too big, and therefore, too dangerous, and you need to put up some walls in order to shrink their exposure. And when, in the future, you decide grounding is necessary, reflect back to this time to consider what might work best. For me, that would be: no judgment on the child, steady and open communication about why this is happening, allowing my child to feel all their feelings about the situation, giving my child time to sulk before expecting an openness to new ways of operating within the same four walls, and a gradual widening of their world instead of a massive grand re-opening.

Until then, from a very safe distance, I wish you more ups than downs, more patience than frustration, and just enough alone time to get you through.

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