by Sara Littlejohn, MAC
Counselor, BCTM-East MS
It was eleven o’clock on a school night and my 7th grade daughter sat on the edge of my bed sobbing, “It is all just too much!” We were on day two of distance learning and day 20 of social distancing. I crawled up next to her and whispered, “I know, I know, it is all too much for me too!” I wrapped her up in a hug and told her I wanted her to go to bed and whatever had gone sideways with her day – with her school assignments, with her heart and mind – we were going to evaluate it under the light of a new day.
There is no prize being handed out to the set of parents who quarantine the best during COVID-19. Some families are genuinely enjoying the extra time with their children at a slower pace of life. Some families are really struggling, feel like they are drowning, and making it through each day is a complete victory. As thoughtful and compassionate believers, we would be wise to give each other an extra ounce of grace to run the full spectrum of parenting emotions during this quarantine.
Whether you are living your best quarantine life right now or just surviving this quarantine life, here are a few suggestions that might help your kids process what is going on around them. And if it all feels like it is just too much and you cannot handle one more suggestion, that’s ok! Hug those babies and keep moving forward.
Find the Heart
Right now our kids are experiencing a broad range of emotions: disappointment, fear, loneliness, exhaustion, confusion, relief, happiness, depression, anxiety and so many more. One helpful thing to do is find a healthy outlet for our kids to express what they are feeling and experiencing.
As parents, we do not like seeing our children anxious, disappointed or sad. But it is very important to invite our children to share with us what they are feeling and experiencing. They are real people, with real feelings and real experiences. And they are carrying all of it around in their tiny bodies. We might assume we know what they are feeling and experiencing, but until we give them the opportunity to tell us, we cannot be certain.
By inviting our children to share with us what they are feeling and experiencing we are directly reflecting how our Heavenly Father invites all of us to share with Him what we are feeling and experiencing.
Inviting our children to share with us what is going on inside of them will look differently for each. Some kids will love to journal their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Some kids will better be able to express their feelings through drawing you a picture, a Play-Doh sculpt or a Lego tower. Some kids will want to sing you a song or even put on a play about how they are feeling. Get creative here! Give them a simple prompt, “Journal, draw, sculpt, build with Legos, sing me a song, or put on a play about how you feel about the Coronavirus.” After they complete the prompt have them explain their project to you to the best of their ability. As a parent, this can be a rich time of uncovering what is going on in their little hearts and minds. Besides helping you understand your children, giving them this kind of opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings in healthy, constructive ways might also keep them from more unhealthy and destructive expressions later on.
Remember, after you invite your children to share their experiences and feelings with you, you want to respond by thanking them for sharing with you personal and important things. Don’t try to fix their feelings or minimize their feelings. Instead, ask them if there’s anything you can do to love and encourage them right now. Or even better, pray with your children after they share. You can teach them by example how to take those personal experiences and feelings they just shared with you to the Lord. Together, in word and deed, you can boldly approach the throne of grace knowing you serve a God who hears the prayers of his children.
Find a Rhythm
Many of us have undergone a major shift in our schedule and daily routine. We are all searching for something predictable and familiar. Finding a new rhythm will not look the same for every family, but it can be helpful to establish one while we all learn to wait well.
Some families will benefit from a daily schedule with activities designated for each hour. I would digress in my sanctification if I tried to implement this in our home, but many of my cherished friends and family are thriving in this approach. Some families (like mine) are benefiting from a list of things that need to be accomplished and then going about doing them throughout the day. Regardless of how you find your new rhythm, make it one that is fitting for both you and your children. Don’t try and be a superhero. Be reasonable and keep your expectations on yourself and your kids sane. Remember, no prizes are being handed out for the most beautiful, crafty and organized quarantine. Your new daily rhythm might look like keeping all the people under your roof alive, fed and clothed. Celebrate even these seemingly small accomplishments!
While the rearrangement of our days can be disillusioning, remember to point your heart and your children’s hearts to a rhythm and a foundation that never shifts beneath us: the God who is our sure foundation and our stability during this time (Isaiah 33:6). He is the God that supplies us every day with our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). He is the God who never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). We cannot promise our children or predict for our children how these next few days, months and years are going to unfold, but we absolutely can point them to the God who holds our every single day.
It is not a matter of if we are going to blow it as parents during quarantine, but really a matter of when (and how often) we are going to blow it. We are going to lose our patience, say unkind words, be selfish, get frustrated and lose our way. But what an opportunity to practice repentance and humility before our children. If you sin against your child, repent. If your child sins against you, forgive. Isaiah 40:11 reminds us that our Savior gently leads those that are with young. I don’t know about you, but I need a gentle Guide right now. We are with our young a lot right now, and Jesus never stops pouring out His grace and His kindness toward us as we navigate this new terrain. It’s alright to admit how confused, upset, irritated, or anxious you are right now – that’s exactly why you need a Savior! So put your hope in him, and point your kids toward him (not yourself) for hope as well.
A new day did come for my struggling 7th grade daughter. The sun came up and a new day dawned, and while our troubles did not disappear we were able approach them with new energy. A new day is also going to come for each of us. COVID-19 does not get to write the final chapter of our days and even our lives. Our hope, our children’s hope and the only hope for this broken world is found in the Living Hope that is Jesus Christ. May just an ounce of this hope sprinkle onto our everydays as we seek to gently lead our children as we are gently led by the Good Shepherd himself.