When my now three year old twins started attending childcare, I struggled with the message that I wanted to send them out the door with every morning. I didn’t want to rattle off a long list of do’s and don’ts, but also knew the importance of setting the tone for the day and communicating clear expectations. I settled on four points – Listen, Learn Something, Have Fun, and Be Kind. What started as a family mantra has shifted into our framework for getting through the pandemic.
Plainly put, we don’t listen enough. Listening is not natural skill. I spent an entire semester in graduate school learning about active listening, a technique where you don’t just hear the words someone is saying, but you focus on the entire message being communicated. It forces you to pay attention to the other person very carefully.
During this time of heightened stress and anxiety, we all need to feel heard and validated, especially our little ones. Listening is step one of this.
It’s easy to tell our kids that they are responsible for learning something new every day. After all, school is their job right now. What we need to remember as parents (and spouses, co-workers, friends, etc) is that learning doesn’t end with graduation. We should be asking hard questions and investigating.
To speak specifically to the pandemic, somehow a public health issue has become politicized and everyone is painted into their chosen corner. Honest conversation and therefore learning has stopped. Keep responsibly educating yourself and be open to learning from others. Our children are watching and will mimic the behaviors/attitudes that we display.
I was guilty of losing sight of this at the start of the pandemic. The stress and anxiety related to balancing work, kids, marriage, and my own fears related to COVID-19 caused some depression.
I had to complete a self-check and start adding things in to take care of myself and the family. Leave work early (or log off early) sometimes to play. Take a mental health day. Spend time together as a family. For us, this means blowing up the inflatable unicorn pool in the backyard and letting the kids jump in 2000 times in a row.
Our children have lost so much during this time; we have to try to find the joy where we can.
When we repeat our mantra in the car every morning, I ask the kids which of the four is most important. The answer is Be Kind. If nothing else sticks, my hope for my kids is that this one does. The two of them growing into kind people is more important than their future career, my opinion about their future life partner, or their political ideology. I firmly believe that if we are kind to ourselves and each other all that other stuff has a way of working out.
We have an overwhelming responsibility to role model this for our children right now. The political fragmentation and racial tension that has been building over the years has been heightened by the pandemic and fast-tracked by bad behavior on both sides of the aisle. Our kids need to know that we can disagree with civility and compassion. Everyone you encounter is fighting their own battle you know nothing about. Approaching them with empathy and grace diffuses potential bombs and starts an honest dialogue from where growth can occur.
We don’t know how much more of this we have ahead of us. We don’t know what school will look like and what impact it will have on the progression of this disease. When all of these unknowns start to feel overwhelming, I come back to the family touchstone…
Listen, Learn Something, Have Fun, and - most importantly - Be Kind.
Daughter & Sister
Wife & Mom of twin 3-year olds
President & CEO of Clarity Child Guidance Center