Parenting is Playing the Long Game

By Stacey Meadows, LCSW-C

I think we can all agree that 2020 has turned out a lot differently than any of us could have imagined. It has been almost three months since COVID-19 entered our lives and while we may have settled into a “new normal,” the vast majority of us are still in mourning. We are not only mourning the lives lost to this illness, but also the lives that we lived before the days of masks, isolation and chronic unknowing.   

Those of us with children have the challenge of navigating these changes not only for ourselves, but also for our kids. We’ve quickly added the role of full-time parent, housekeeper and teacher, to our various other responsibilities – which for many includes full time remote worker, and for some means no work at all.   

While balancing all these responsibilities, parents are most consistently concerned primarily with their children: Are they getting enough of my attention? Are their educational needs being met?  Am I being a “good enough” parent even though my rope is thin? How will this impact my kids? 

Of course, this experience has been traumatic for most of us in one way or another. As parents, it is our nature to worry about our children – after all, they carry our hopes and dreams, and we’ve invested our lives and our love in them. It is reasonable for parents to wonder what long-term impact this experience may have on our children, and to wonder if the chaos of this time may cause them any harm.   

While it’s impossible to know what we may learn in hindsight regarding the impact that this time has had on our families, we can look to the trauma research field for some hints. For years, trauma researchers focused on the impact of individual and collective trauma, but in more recent years, we see the outcomes of this research move us into another direction – the study of resilience.   

Resilience is our ability to overcome barriers, to persevere through adversity. What research shows us is that humans are incredibly resilient.  

While children may experience higher initial stress reactions to traumatic events, caregiver support and nurturance has an incredibly powerful influence on our little one’s ability to feel safe and loved through difficult times. Having caretakers who support children in learning resilience goes a long way in preparing them for overcoming all the challenges life might have ahead. 

To be clear, children are not immune to trauma, and there are certainly circumstances in some families that have been acutely traumatic for our children (for example, the loss of a family member, abuse or domestic violence). However, for the majority of children being home with their families has truly become their normal, even though these are difficult circumstances. And, while the adjustment out of this period may be difficult (for everyone!), with your support and love here too our kids will eventually settle into familiarity and routine. 

Undoubtedly there have been both ups and downs as we collectively review our parenting experiences through this time. In contrast to our split attentions, emotional encounters and competing responsibilities, many parents also share appreciation for the slower pace of having nowhere to go, of being available for shared meals, or providing hugs/connections interspersed throughout the day. 

Remember that parenting is playing the long game, and if you’re home with your kids all day there are lots of opportunities (even if they’re just moments) to connect with our kids, and to repair where we have not been our best selves. 

You are your child’s greatest resource, and you are the one who is most likely to notice if they’re not doing well with these new routines. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a medical or mental health practitioner to get support for yourself or your child if you’re concerned about them or struggling to figure out how to balance all these new and competing responsibilities.  

Stacey Meadows is Manager of Children Therapy services for JCS. 

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