Whether at home, work or in the classroom, few of us feel we were our best selves this past year. Instead of beating ourselves up for our pandemic parenting, let’s use this summer to reframe where our kids—and we—go from here. This is the perfect time for families to reset and lay the foundation for our “new normal.”
Our kids may need support this summer as they re-establish a critical sense of belonging and reconnect with friends and classmates. Find ways to spend one-on-one time with your children. Remind them they’re not defined by any challenges they may have had, particularly with remote learning.
Younger kids: Expect them to be clingier than usual. The need for reassurance is normal. Regardless of when they may have returned to school, the time they spent at home and with you was significant. If they aren’t thriving in their school setting, find a different activity to explore their talents and identity.
Teens and tweens: Schedule a mental health well-child visit with a counselor or therapist. Many states have started programs to offer such visits for free. Framing this as no different than the annual pediatrician checkup lessens the stigma while providing an opportunity for teens and tweens to try talking with a trusted adult other than you.
None of us had expertise parenting during a global pandemic. We went through a life-changing disruption with little control and can expect anxiety about what’s next. While we don’t want to worry our kids, there are relationship benefits to sharing our struggles. Even if you tried to keep your parenting façade last year, there’s still time to shed some armor by sharing your feelings.
Younger kids: Set a nightly ritual where you both recall parts of your day and briefly mention your challenges too. Instead of faking it, share when you’re tired or frustrated and how you plan to recharge. If you’ve never explained why you’re giving yourself a three-minute time out, it’s worth a try! Tweens and teens: Older kids are remarkably more likely to share when outside on a walk or drive. The movement, lack of eye contact, and open space all contribute to a deeper conversation. But the key to giving up armored parenting is to listen more than you react or solve.
Start a weekly family meeting ritual with the food and agenda up to the kids. That doesn’t mean you’ve surrendered. For one family I know, the sole topic for weeks was getting a puppy. Months later, their pet turtle reminds everyone to negotiate and compromise.
We’ve all heard how COVID has been an opportunity to usher in a new normal as we evaluate what didn’t work in our pre-pandemic lives. Doing this with your children and families can lead to illuminating and authentic dialogue.
Younger kids: Identify a few core values unique to your family and important to you culturally. Use those values, whether a love for adventure, service, or courage, as anchors to intentionally decide what you’ll keep or reimagine from pre-COVID family time.
Tweens and teens: Older kids may balk at a values discussion. Instead, model this by stating what you most want to commit to in your own life without pushing your kids to do the same. See what happens as you start to act on your values in visible ways.
“I realized I need more time with Grandma because tradition and history matter more than I once thought.” “I realized I said yes to a lot of commitments that didn’t really serve me.” “I learned how much we have compared ourselves to others and I want to do more to give back.”
In our homes and our classrooms, how we move forward as we re-emerge from the pandemic matters much more than anything we did in the past.
Rebecca Holmes is the mother of two young children, a former middle school teacher and Associate Commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education and is the CEO of the Colorado Education Initiative, a regional nonprofit serving visionary schools and districts.