A Pandemic Letter to my Children
This is my first pandemic too. It’s also my first quarantine. None of this is what you expected or wanted. I couldn’t have foreseen this if I had a crystal ball to guide me. But you know what? We’re going to be adaptable and flexible to get through whatever the pandemic brings. All those lessons in having a “growth mindset” will pay off. But first, there are some things you should know. Parents have no guidebook and are winging it. Yup, that’s right. We’re making thousands of tiny decisions which fluctuate with your moods, my moods, and the moon’s position. Basically, there’s no rules. We’re ensuring you’re fed, clothed, sheltered, and educated. Once the basics are covered, anything goes. If you didn’t know that before, here’s the proof: We are coming unglued! We are melting down in front of your teachers and our colleagues who now live in our home, thanks to Zoom. Work, school, and home life have never before collided like this.
Removing facades—and pants—reveals our true selves. There’s a unique sense of connectivity from both peering into someone’s home and allowing your home to be seen in disarray. Caught off guard and scrambling to manage kids, school, work, and home life, I’ve learned that high powered executives have lives similar to mine. Their dogs bark, their kids whine, and their partners saunter by the camera in various states of undress. After four months, we’ve all experienced work or school faux pas and we’ve all survived the embarrassment. Our new normal is being in each other’s homes without judgment.
While it may feel like you’re unable to learn well via video from your bedroom or our kitchen, there’s an upside to the chaos. By virtue of simply tuning in under less than ideal circumstances, you show your teacher and classmates that you can handle life’s curveballs. When your little brother or my rage vacuuming interrupts your classes, you demonstrate your ability to navigate obstacles with grace. Seeing the beautiful mess of everyone’s lives is an unexpected highlight. It normalizes life outside of the classroom. Being able to laugh at yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can have. Laughter unites people and you’re learning that good relationships are the lifelines to our mental wellbeing.
For teens, there’s nothing worse than being trapped at home with your parents under the best of circumstances. A global pandemic and quarantine does not improve the situation. I know how much you miss your friends. I miss them too. I miss the house being filled with laughter and joyful chatter. I miss cheering you on from the sidelines. I know how much you miss your peers; those who you simply passed in the hallway with a nod or smile are now missing from your life, leaving a COVID-19 shaped hole. The days roll in and out, each one like the day before, with no end in sight. It’s easy to lose sense of time without the structure of school and extracurricular activities. I am trying to keep the structure of dinnertime so that you have some sense of order in your life. As you may have noticed, I am exhausted. Physically I’m not doing much, but still I feel worn out. I’m tired of figuring out what to make for dinner. I’m tired of trying to put on a happy face when I’m terrified of the unknown. I am emotionally exhausted from trying to pretend any of this is normal. Although it’s my job to assure you that everything is going to be okay, I honestly don’t know what okay means anymore.
I noticed the fear in your eyes behind your smiling disbelief as we walked through the grocery store. The mask can’t hide your emotions from me. It’s surreal to see empty shelves which are usually fully stocked. It’s terrifying to think there’s not enough food and supplies for everyone. You will be fed and cared for, I promise. Humanity is being tested and I want to teach you to do the right thing. Be kind and take only what you need, leaving enough for others. Don’t hoard essentials. Trust that others will do the same. We are part of a community and must work with our neighbors in order to get through this. Generations of communities have survived by sharing resources and bonding together. The lessons you’re learning about compassion and empathy can’t be learned in school. I’m so glad you’re learning life lessons while still living under my roof.
I know that uncertainty is scary. Will schools open in the fall? Will you be able to resume extracurricular activities? Do you still want to attend college right after high school? How long will this pandemic last? What will the fallout be? I know you’re worried about your family’s financial security. I’m worried about these things too. I also worry about my family: my older kids, my parents, my siblings. We all live in different states and I worry that I’ll never see some of them again. And that worry isn’t invalid since it’s difficult to travel.
But kids, you cannot allow worry to consume you. Look for the bright spots, no matter how small. It’s okay to laugh and enjoy yourself. Try new things like hiking, biking or learning a new skill. Use your growth mindset to help you connect with others either virtually or in person. Personal growth arises from challenges.
For the first time, I’m glad there is no parenting manual. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to practice winging it for your entire life. A large part of parenting is to expect the unexpected. I’ve become good at working with that. I’m good at reassuring you with love and comfort that everything is going to be okay. It’s my first pandemic too. None of this is what you expected or wanted. I’m just as baffled as you are. But it’s going to be okay. Whatever “this” is, we’ll get through it together, just like we always do.