When community numbers of COVID-19 cases started to rise, my husband and I were faced with some serious decisions regarding childcare for the twins. We are both essential employees. How would we manage two energetic three year olds and still meet the responsibilities of our respective careers if/when childcare closed? Do we work split schedules? Do we hire a nanny? Ask family to come stay with us?
Amazingly, childcare remained open. Due to our unique set of circumstances, we have opted to continue to send the twins daily. As COVID-19 action plans were implemented, we adjusted the best we could. We prepped the kids that staff would be wearing masks and face shields. We told them that Mommy would not be able to go into the building for drop off anymore, but rather staff would come out to the car to take their temperature and escort them in the building. I put on a brave face for them and told them everything would be ok. As soon as they got into the building I cried the entire way to work. I still do sometimes.
These are the decisions and situations that families across the nation are faced with as the school year starts again.
I remember Friday March 13th, very clearly. For me, that was the day the pandemic shifted from being something I was monitoring in the news to something that directly impacted my daily life. Within a week, we had completely set up Telehealth services and sent 32 staff members to work from home. We developed an emergency staffing plan and identified new ways to communicate to employees in real time. Between March and today, that emergency response plan has changed approximately 30 times.
You have to give yourself, your team, and your family permission to acknowledge when something is not working. It does not mean you failed. It means you were successful at continually looking at ways to improve. If you send your kids to school and two weeks in your anxiety is too high, it is 100% ok to change mid-stream and bring them back to virtual learning. Conversely, if you try virtual learning and your family decides it is not a fit, it is 100% ok to change mid-stream and send them to school.
Being charitable has many facets. There is the traditional sense of watching out for your fellow man by supporting non-profit organizations, places of worship, or other causes either financially or with our time. It’s taking a moment to be thankful for the blessings that we have, even in times of crisis, and doing what we can for those that are less fortunate.
It also means trying our best not to pass judgment. Everyone you encounter will have an opinion about whatever decision you make. If you send your kids to school, some people will say you don’t care about their physical health. If you keep them home, others will say you don’t care about their mental health or academic achievement. There is not a one size fits all answer.
Parents love their children. Parents do not want to intentionally put their kids in harm’s way. Please refrain from telling another parent they are harming their child with the choice they have made. Believe me, that parent is already struggling with making the choice that causes the least harm for their family.
We are all at risk for mental health issues during this. The combination of social distancing, economic turbulence, political discord and evolving information about the virus is overwhelming. Depression and anxiety do not look the same for everyone. The thing to focus on in yourself and your kids is any change in behavior. Is anyone sleeping more or less? Eating more or less? More moody? More withdrawn? Crying during previews for Disney movies?
Out littlest family members are most at risk to have mental health issues mislabeled as behavioral issues. They lack the ability to connect their feelings to their words and therefore may act out. Every one of their behaviors has meaning. That tantrum may be the way they express fear, anxiety or feeling unsafe in the current climate.
After we identify a change in behavior comes the hard part. We have to talk about it. If you don’t feel like you can tackle the subject, reach out for help. Mental health professionals are available via Telehealth if needed. If it is a child in crisis that needs immediate intervention, the Crisis Services department at Clarity Child Guidance Center is available 24-7 for walk-ins.
Our kids are watching how we navigate the treacherous landscape that is 2020. Are you displaying the type of behavior that would make you proud to see in your child? Or, would you put yourself in time out? Fear and anxiety can also lead to acting out behavior in adults. Be mindful of name calling and assigning blame to those with whom you disagree.
The teacher that isn’t comfortable returning to the classroom may have an immune-compromised loved one at home. The neighbor opting to home school for the duration may have made that choice at the expense of their career. The child begging to return to campus may be seeking out a daily escape from a turbulent home environment. To paraphrase an article I read – We are all in the same storm, but in very different boats.
A rising sea of kindness lifts all boats. The best way we can get through the start of the school year, and the duration of the pandemic, is to be more kind than is necessary to ourselves and each other.