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August 30: Back to School: Different Families Make Different Choices

This week I heard from several parents about tense, uncomfortable interactions with friends and neighbors regarding different choices families are making about educational plans for the fall.  This subject is so fraught with tension and complexity – what options is your school offering and how does it match your schedule, situation, and risk tolerance?  Do you have a family member with a compromised immune system, an older family member who has contact with your children, a child who requires learning support?  So many factors need to be considered as parents and school administrators make difficult decisions regarding what school will look like in fall of 2020.  

Given that parents and schools are making decisions about such an important topic at a time when people are also coping with ongoing pandemic-related stress and exhaustion, it is understandable that this topic and these conversations are eliciting strong emotional reactions.  From my perspective, I see parents working hard to make really difficult decisions about which school plan will work best for their child(ren), keeping in mind a wide array of considerations including health and physical safety, psychological and emotional well-being, and learning needs.   My wish for everyone reading this message is that you can take a moment to appreciate what a difficult task this is, be kind and gentle with yourself as you navigate these tricky waters, and try to commit yourself to withholding judgement about other parent’s choices.  If you feel tense and uncertain about what the fall will look like for your child(ren), know that you are not alone.  Try to find a few minutes of private time to sit with these uncomfortable emotions.  Labeling your fear, frustration, or anger might feel daunting, but once you have identified and named these emotions, I hope you will be able to process them by talking with someone close to you and making a plan about how to move forward.  If you find yourself drawn into a contentious conversation with another parent, it may help to have a script for coping with this type of conversation:

  • “It was really hard to make a choice about school this fall.  We chose the option that seemed best for our family but the process was really stressful.”

  • “I feel so tense about this school year.  I’m working hard to remember that parents and schools are all trying to do their best.”

  • “Everyone’s emotions are so high right now, let’s talk about something else.”

Many of these contentious conversations are playing out over social media.  As you peruse various social media sites and groups, I encourage you to be mindful of whether a site is providing you with something positive, such as knowledge, connection, or humor, or if it is increasing your sense of stress, pressure, and/or isolation.  Consider limiting when and how often you check some digital spaces, deleting them from your phone, or setting a timer to alert you once you have spent a certain amount of time on a site in a day.  Think of this as social media self-care – your own personal Parent Media Plan.

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