March 7: Pandemic Parenting One Year In
This week as we flipped the calendar to March, many people I spoke with expressed a deep sense of exhaustion and disbelief that we have been living with the pandemic for a full year. One teenager expressed herself in a very succinct and poignant way. She said, “It’s so disappointing to think about missed life opportunities like graduation, school activities, etc. and the fact that I will never get them back. I’m not sure how to process it.” In these simple words, this young woman expressed something many children and parents are feeling.
Some of the losses people have endured during the pandemic feel truly overwhelming and may take many, many months to process and understand. What can parents do to support children who are struggling to cope with experiences or relationships they have lost during the pandemic?
Spend a moment reflecting on the experiences your child has lost over the past year. See if you can carve out time to process your feelings about these losses with a partner or close friend, so that when you speak with your child you can have clarity regarding your feelings and reactions and how they may be the same or different than your child’s feelings.
If your child wants to talk about things they have missed, do your best to listen without judgement. It can be painful to think and talk about a missed family gathering, sports season, or class trip, but simply listening and providing space for your child to express these difficult feelings may ease their intensity a bit.
In a situation where your tween or teen is ranting, a couple of helpful parenting scripts recommended by Dr. Lisa Damour include:
“Is there anything I can do that won’t make things worse?”
“Do you want help figuring this out or would it be most helpful if I just listen right now?”
Use words to label and identify feelings. For example,
“You didn’t have a birthday party last year and now we don’t know if we can plan one this year. I see that you are so disappointed. This is really hard.”
“I hear you. It is so frustrating that there won’t be a 5th grade play this year.”
“Sounds like you feel deeply sad about missing graduation.”
Model coping by telling your child (in an age appropriate way) about your strategies for coping with losses you have experienced during the pandemic: perhaps you write in a journal, spend time making or listening to music, or plan a weekly call with friends or family members.
Hold in mind the notion of common humanity: children and families all over the world have suffered losses, but try not to judge your experiences against the experiences of another person or family. A teenager may feel truly devastated about missing out on prom even while a friend is mourning the loss of a beloved grandparent, and all of these feelings are reactions are equally valid.