If 2020 has proven anything, it's the fact that life is truly unpredictable. This year has brought about precipitous and profound changes in my family's life and in the lives of countless others. The pandemic has effectively put an end to life as we knew it in many ways. As of right now, we no longer shop in stores, eat in restaurants, attend story time at the library, play at the park, or work outside of our home. What is more emotionally difficult is that we no longer have weekly family dinners, we don't see friends and family except via video chat or through a window, and my children don't get to play with their cousins or give hugs to their grandparents.
We were teased a bit by the rush to reopen around much of the country. Now, though, it seems like we have taken 10 leaps backwards as new COVID-19 cases surge, particularly among young people. I understand the desire to regain some sense of normalcy. I, for one, would love to hire a babysitter so my husband and I could have a date night. I would love even more for my children to be able to play with their cousins, share their new knowledge with their grandparents, and make new friends. Yet even the slowest of changes can be tough to adapt, and the changes wrought by the pandemic have been anything but slow. Our ability to adapt reflects our strength and resilience. I choose to view the rapid changes in our lives as teachable moments — opportunities to demonstrate to my children how to handle change gracefully and to embrace this new normal that we call social isolation and distancing in the name of public health. This is not to say that the new normal has been easy or that there haven't been bumps in the road. There are speed bumps, potholes, detours, and construction zones every day, but we are taking steps to make the transition from the new normal to just normal.
Psychologist Karen Postal, Ph.D., ABPP-CN asserts in Psychology Today that our children not only crave structure (more on a subconscious level), but they need it. When we provide structure and routines for our children, it teaches them to regulate their own emotions and reactions, to organize and make plans, and to control their impulses. With this in mind, my husband and I have worked together to establish and implement a new routine that blends structured at-home learning (yes, even during summer vacation) with independent playtime, family games, naps, quiet time, and meals throughout the day. This has been a surprising amount of work worth every bit of the effort. But even the best-laid plans can go awry, so we have had to learn to scrap some planned activities in favor of something else depending on how my kids are reacting.
There has been a marked increase in tantrums, irritability, and misunderstandings from our kids, and from us as well, truth be told. Following stay-at-home orders has created new and unfamiliar frustrations and stressors. My eldest son and I are typically homebodies, but not having the option to go out and about has actually made us want to go out more often. Talk about reverse psychology! You don't realize how much you enjoy something until you can't do it anymore. It has consequently been essential for me to teach my kids helpful vocabulary, tools, and techniques to express their emotions and to cope with feelings of being cooped up. My eldest son now stops, breathes, and takes a moment to calm himself when he starts to get upset because he can't play at the park or go to the library. I have also tried to incorporate plenty of hands-on activities such as making kinetic sand, painting, and churning homemade ice cream to stimulate creativity and imagination.
We are lucky enough to have a pretty spacious, fenced-in backyard where our children can safely play, so we are making efforts to turn the yard into a fun-filled summer oasis for the kids. Little by little, my husband and I are transforming the yard into a quasi-amusement park complete with a DIY stock tank pool (above-ground pools are just about impossible to find right now!), a stimulating water table, a wooden playset, and a safe soft play area filled with rubber mulch. We are spending so much more time outdoors, soaking up the sun on morning walks around the neighborhood and playing outside. This has created opportunities to teach the kids about different kinds of flowers, plants, birds, and weather phenomena.
In many ways, social isolation has made us more engaged and connected as a family. We are enjoying more home-cooked meals together as a family, we are sharing virtual arts events with our children that would not have been available to us before, and we are getting to know the ins and outs of our personalities. I won't deny that I could use a break from washing dishes, though. And what I wouldn't do for a restaurant-quality hamburger and fries! We may not be able to get together for our normal dinners and celebrations with our extended family, but communication with our family has actually gotten better, more frequent, and more rewarding.
Once this pandemic has ended, I hope that my husband, my children, and I will be able to look back on it as a time that taught us to go with the flow and face daily challenges as they arise without putting pressure on ourselves to maintain the status quo. Until then, we will do our best to take things in stride, to find levity in tense situations, and to set healthy boundaries for ourselves and our children.