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Pandemic Parental Guilt

Since March, working parents and caregivers have been overwhelmed while trying to balance the demands of work and the care and education of their children. Parents got up early and stayed up later trying to get work completed as well as becoming homeschool teachers and tech support. And as the duties and responsibilites continued to pile on, they were still trying to offer comfort to their children who were trying to cope with the reality that their lives had completed changed over what seemed like the course of a weekend. Even as much as working parents were trying, it seemed like they were being crushed.

It’s not as if parental guilt is something that the pandemic conjured up. Parental guilt is deemed by some as the silent epidemic. The Mommy Wars made this silent epidemic into epic memes and hashtags that brought to light just how entrenched we can get in our own viewpoints.

As we come closer and closer to the election, there is a compounded impact of the pandemic parental guilt caregivers have been shouldering. Now added to the question of whether it is better/safer/more responsible to send our kids back to school or to choose a homeschool/virtual school option, we are now in the midst of a contentious election season. Even as I write there are two town halls occurring. A battle of the airwaves because the second presidential debate was canceled. As parents watch the election season get more and more conflicted and confusing, there is an additional weight on their shoulders to “choose the right candidate” for the sake of their children’s health and futures.

Parenting is hard enough in community with the support of childcare and schooling. If you are feeling overwhelmed, burdened, and inextricably tired right now, don’t give up.

You are not alone. You are doing great. We’re all in this together.

On Noticing

One of the ways that we find reconnect our body and our souls and get them back in communion is to notice. It sounds like a simple thing and it is, but we are so busy moving from one thing to another that we often forget to notice.

When I woke up this morning, I noticed some pain and soreness. I noticed that my right hamstring, the one that has always given me trouble since that one time I overtrained after a half marathon, was sore. I noticed that I had some soreness in my core where I did some work to yesterday to strengthen my core after carrying and caring for babies. I noticed that I didn’t have the heaviness under my eyes that I have had so many mornings. I noticed that it was later and that the children had slept a little longer.

My noticing turned into gratitude for rest for the children and relief from the heaviness under my eyes. My noticing turned into plans to take my run a little slower today to not strain my hamstring anymore. My noticing turned into thankfulness for the time in the mornings to not rush to school, but to be present in the new day’s light.

Noticing reminds us that we are not just a mind. Noticing reminds us that we are not just a physical body. Noticing gives space for our souls to speak to us and to bring us into the new day with intention, reflection, and gratitude.

“Mama, can we sit for awhile?”

This morning our walk was different. The air was cool and the wind was gusty sending leaves changing colors whirling to the ground. This is a season of change. The inbetween-ness of summer and fall. The new routines and new schedules. The new unexpectedness of whether the morning will feel like hot and humid summer or just a little chilly.

The light is different too. It’s not the morning light of summer that promises sunburns and sweat beading down your back. It’s softer, warmer, and more welcoming. Easing into the day rather than starting the day bright and brilliant.

As we were walking on our Saturday path that leads us to a trail, the four-year-old looked at me and asked, “Mama,  can we sit on that bench awhile?” I smiled. Maybe he too was noticing how things were changing. Maybe he too wanted to bask a little longer.

“Let’s do it!”

We watched the leaves whirling and twirling and laughed as hair got blown in our eyes and then back out just as quickly. We talked about the new books we had found at the Little Free Libraries along our paths. We talked about how we might have to get some of our long-sleeved clothes out. We waved at walkers and laughed at dogs chasing squirrels.

There was nothing particularly significant about our conversation except that there was time for our conversation. There was time to sit on the bench and notice and wonder. There was time to be together.

This gift of time is changing us, inviting us to slower pace, beckoning us to reconnect to each other and the world around us.

On Grounding

In the midst of all the changes we are experiencing and the way our sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, it can be very easy to disconnect from our bodies and our souls especially. When we are constantly reacting to decisions and news because we can’t think ahead, then we move into an automatic kind of motion. Our energy becomes chaotic.

Even though there is so much uncertainty, there are ways that we can ground ourselves in our bodies and in the right now. In fact, grounding ourselves is one of the ways that we can stop our sympathetic system from firing incessantly.

Grounding is finding yourself within your body and soul. It is finding your center and holding your center. When we ground ourselves, we let go of wanting to control the things around us. Grounding also ignites our immune system and increases blood flow, something we all need right now. Grounding is reconnecting to the world around you most of the time by touch the earth with bare feet, removing any barrier between your feet and the earth.

We are disconnected from ourselves and we are disconnected from the earth.

Reconnecting ourselves to the earth reconnects us to ourselves. Reconnecting to ourselves reconnects us to each other. This is a reminder we desperately need right now.

Shadows of Loss

One of our favorite things to do as we are on our morning bike ride and walk is to find our shadows and watch how they change as we turn onto new roads and the sun rises higher. As we were walking the other morning, I found our shadows seemed to be everywhere. Their presence was prominent in a way that reminded me of all the things that we are carrying right now as we mark six months of this new life.

Tara Haelle recently wrote about this as we try to find our equilibrium:

The destruction is, for most people, invisible and ongoing. So many systems aren’t working as they normally do right now, which means radical shifts in work, school, and home life that almost none of us have experience with.

A shadow we can’t ignore. A shadow following us as we try to walk paths we thought we knew.

David Kessler, the world’s most renown voice on grief describes it this way:

Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

A shadow of grief. Shadows of grief merging together in long and intertwining ways that make our steps heavier.

Kirsten Weir says this:

As the pandemic has evolved, people have had to confront a series of losses: The loss of a sense of safety, of social connections and personal freedoms, of jobs and financial security. Going forward, people will experience new losses we can’t yet predict.

Robert Neimeyer, PhD, the director for Portland Institute of Loss and Transition says:

We’re talking about grieving a living loss — one that keeps going and going.

A shadow that we can’t escape. A shadow that follows us wherever we go. A shadow that keeps showing up reminding us our lives have changed and our lives are changing.

And so we keep walking on the paths that we thought we knew discovering new revelations and new depths of our strength.

Holding On

Going to the library has always been a part of our weekly routine. It is a place where I always found comfort and a place I knew I wanted our kids to find refuge. One of the last memories of “normal” life was a field trip to the main library branch where not only as there trees growing in the middle of the building, but the lower flower is also all for kids.

I was quick to sign up as a parent chaperone because I knew that I wanted to see our four-year-old as he took it all in. We explored books and then enjoyed a puppet show about the three little pigs while the thirteen-month-old tried to get to the puppets.

I remember sitting next to a fellow teacher who was a doctor and asking her what she thought about COVID-19. I remember being concerned, but none of us knew how much life would change and that in just a few short weeks we wouldn’t sit beside someone in a closed-in space without a mask on. I didn’t know that the idea of field trips would be something that was not a guarantee, but a logistical nightmare because of transporting kids on an enclosed bus and changing locations. I didn’t know that so many of the places that were field trip destinations would be closed to big groups.

At the end of the scheduled activities, the kids were allowed to check out books. Our four-year-old chose a book called My First Book of Girl Power, a book about superheroes and one in series from which we had checked out multiple different books. This book throughout closing school and changing schedules and not seeing our older sister became a companion and comfort. This female pastor and literacy teacher loved that he was clinging to the concept of female superheroes and a book during uncertain and unknown times.

Because libraries closed, we didn’t turn in this book until we got a notice that it was due this week…six months after our field trip and indeed the memory of a life we used to live. We turned it in with masks on at a drive-through window at a distant library branch where we were picking up our hold items, but before we did, we took a picture reminding ourselves of the field trip, this good book, and that we would be able to check it back out soon.

May we pause to remember, even when it’s painful and may we hold onto hope in superheroes and good books.

 

Getting Off Track

This week our morning bike ride/walk has hit a snag. As our four and half-year-old has become more adventuresome riding over bumps and stumps, he popped the chain off its track. After repairing this twice on our long Saturday path, we had to call in reinforcements. The ride in the back of Dad’s truck after he came to rescue us was worth it!

This morning while he was trying to go down and around an obstacle in the road, he ran full force into the wheel of the stroller and popped the chain again. Because we were on a path that had a bit more traffic, we couldn’t stop and repair the chain. And so he had to push the bike back home. As we were walking, we were talking about what happens when things don’t go as we planned.

“We get frustrated!” he responded.

“Yes, it is frustrating, but is it a big deal or a little deal?”

He paused for a moment thinking. “It’s a little deal.”

“That’s right. We are safe and we are together and we’ll be home a little bit later than we thought, but not so much later.”

This language of big deal and little deal is language we have used with all of our children. It’s language that asks them to think about what’s really important and what really matters.

It’s language that I’ve started to internalize too, especially during this time of homeschooling and balancing more roles and responsibilities. It’s centered me and sobered me as I reflect on the number of people who are fighting a virus that there is no known cure for and who are grieving losing someone they love who has died from this virus.

Even as it started raining on our heads, we talked about the fact that we had dry clothes and towels at home that we could change when we made it there,.

But first, we had to keep walking and keep pushing the bike.

On Living Life

I just started listening to Michelle Obama’s new podcast and it is wonderful. Her voice is honest and challenging. I knew that I wanted to tune in after reading her book Becoming last summer.

In the second episode (the one that has gotten so much press because she says that she has been experiencing low grade depression), she speaks with Michele Norris and says:

I hope we don’t go back to normal. I hope we go to better.

This is such a challenging statement, especially as I hear more and more people talk about “getting back to their lives” or asking whether they are just “not supposed to live their lives” because of the virus. All of this speaks to the way we are trying to process that really we have no experience to process. We don’t know what is right. We don’t know whether what we are deciding is mitigating a normal amount of risk or putting us into more risk. The uncertainty and the politicization of this virus have us all second and triple guessing what we are deciding to do and how we are moving around in this new world.

I hope that we will have the strength to sit in the not knowing. I hope that we will have the courage to say no to things even when others are saying yes to things so that we can reflect on the way we used to live life.

I hope that we have the compassion to understand that even as we are making choices, many, many families are having choices made for them. They can’t see their family member who is in the hospital. They can’t schedule a funeral that their loved ones had planned. They can’t feed both themselves and their children. They can’t go to work and care for their children.

May we look deeply and honestly at the way we used to live life and vow not to get back to normal, but rather get back to better. Better care for our neighbors in need. Better, more courageous choices to counter a culture that benefits some and oppresses most. And a better understanding of how our choices impact others.

 

A Helping Hand

One of the aspects I’ve heard many parents reflect is good and so hopeful to witness during this time at home is the relationship that has developed between siblings. This is true for us too. The way that we are watching our four and half-year-old learn to be a big brother to a toddler is so sweet and encouraging. After our morning walks and bike rides, while I fold up the stroller, I see him reach out his hand and our eighteen-month-old and help her walk up the stairs.

He waits patiently and says, “You can do it. There you go. Just one more step.”

I never taught him this. I never taught him to slow down to her pace and to look down at her feet as she was walking up the stairs to make sure her foot was planted before he moved on to the next step. I never taught him to encourage her along the way.

Maybe helping each other comes naturally to us. Maybe when we see someone learning something new it is actually our natural instinct to reach out a hand and say, “You’re doing great. Keep going.”

Maybe it’s our consumerist, capitalist culture that subverts this natural helping and teaches us that in order to survive and thrive we have to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps not worrying who we are stepping on. Maybe this isn’t natural at all and when we are still and quiet we feel disconnected and unhappy not because we don’t have enough but because we are stepping on other people rather than giving them a helping hand.

There’s something about this time at home and this stillness that is teaching me to watch and learn from our children what is good and right and important rather than believe the messaging that supports greed and inequity.

Thanks be to God for little hands reaching out and waiting while step by step we return to who we are.