Updated: Sep 12, 2021
Remember to extend the same kindness to yourself as you would to your kids, family, friends, and colleagues.
Photo by Pixpoetry on Unsplash
There seem to be so many learning curves right now. Distance learning, social distancing, shelter in place, virtual webinars, online workshops, livestream, homeschooling, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts.
The list goes on and on…it seems like we learn something new each day, only to find out that we need to re-adjust, re-calibrate, and re-learn it all tomorrow. Time is both extended and compressed, strangely resistant to the norms of our lives pre-COVID-19.
My favorite coronavirus-related meme goes something like this:
Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November, All the rest have thirty-one, Except March, which had 800.
Sheltering in place is hard. And tiring. And, at times, really boring. Think you can’t face another Zoom meeting? Imagine how your kids feel when faced with another week of packets, screentime, remote learning, and another day cooped up inside with mom and dad (and hopefully a dog or cat).
When television producer Shonda Rhimes recently Tweeted about teachers, many parents shared her pain: “Been homeschooling a 6-year-old and 8-year-old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.”
And, if you haven’t seen it, this 90-second rant by an Israeli mom sums up the way many parents feel about virtual or “distance learning,” as it is euphemistically called. While teachers object to calling it “homeschooling” (teachers are still teaching), parents feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of overseeing their kids’ schoolwork while holding down their own jobs (if they are fortunate enough to be working).
Brené Brown refers to the scary, anxious time we’re living through as “FFT” or “effing first times.” It’s hard to be new at things, and right now there are so many new things — school, work, even going to the grocery store requires planning and preparation — let alone a global pandemic.
In a recent podcast, “Collective Vulnerability, the FFTs of Online Learning, and the Sacredness of Bored Kids,” Brown acknowledges the burden that teachers carry, trying to educate students remotely: “It will be a total FFT for you, your team, your school, and your district. The wheels will fall off. It will NOT go as planned.”
“FFT! OMG. YES. Teaching online! Distance learning!” (and that’s just the teachers)
For parents, Dr. Brown suggests that we give our kids the “holy experience” of boredom. That said, boredom will be an FFT for many kids, accustomed to the daily attractions (and distractions) of SnapChat, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and video games, all readily available on their phones and devices.
It will take hours of complaining about feeling like they’re dying before they settle into that strange place that’s rarely visited by today’s children — their imagination. We don’t need to entertain them, we need to model vulnerability for them and support them in this FFT. — Brené Brown
Just as we feel disconnected from our regularly-scheduled lives, so do our children and teens. Boredom can give them the much-needed time and space to disconnect from their screens, to be creative, to engage in activities they haven’t tried in a awhile — the neglected guitar, the dried-out watercolors, the notebook filled with fragments of poetry.
Bottom line: We don’t need to entertain our children 24/7, and some boredom can provide space for the growth of creativity and imagination.
For many of us, wired to run at a 24/7 pace, it’s been hard to slow down, hit the pause button, and reflect on our lives. Time is behaving oddly, with the days and weeks passing either too slowly, too quickly, or seemingly not at all. I can only imagine how distressing this must feel to our teenagers, given their natural propensity to take action and look forward to future events.
Leah Weiss, PhD, MSW, is an author, researcher, lecturer, and international expert on self-compassion. She also teaches Compassionate Leadership at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where she created the perennially wait-listed course “Leading with Mindfulness and Compassion.”
According to Dr. Weiss, a compassionate attitude can significantly reduce the distress people feel in difficult situations like COVID-19. “Our world is changing rapidly, and there are many things out of our control,” she says. “One thing we can control is our mindset, particularly our compassion. Remember to show the people in your life — including yourself — patience with imperfection in these days. We are all learning to navigate this together.”
In a thoughtful article from the Harvard Business Review, Scott Berinato describes the discomfort we’re feeling as a kind of “shared grief.” That makes sense, especially for the children and teens missing out on so many milestone moments — prom, birthdays, spring sports, musical performances, open house, family reunions, graduation.
In addition to the sense of loss we’re experiencing at missing our daily activities and routines, Berinato describes “anticipatory grief, which leads us to feel unsafe, uncertain about the future. We know that something bad is coming, but we can’t see it, and we can’t control it.
Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans say their life has changed at least a little as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and 44% say their life has changed in a major way. Interestingly, women (47%) are more likely than men (41%) to report that their personal life has changed in a major way since the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s okay to miss your old life. It turns out that “pandemic-induced nostalgia” is a real thing, as we mourn the daily pleasures of our normal pre-quarantine lives — going to lunch with friends, grabbing coffee at Starbucks, running errands, picking up kids from school, using public transportation, attending meetings with co-workers.
There will be silver linings to the coronavirus pandemic (greater appreciation for teachers, essential services providers, healthcare workers, and more), but the greatest gift, I believe, will be a return to in-person, face-to-face interactions. Is anyone going to miss Zoom meetings? Not so much.
Humans, and especially tweens and teens, are hardwired for social connection. While technology and social media introduced us to the joys of virtual connection, this public health crisis will (we hope) return us to the pleasure of authentic human connection. We may even find that our kids are less entranced by their devices, eager to spend time with their IRL friends.
In the meantime, please remember that self-compassion is not just for other people. Be kind to yourself, because you cannot love and support your children, partner, or family members unless you take care of #1 (you).
This too shall pass, and hopefully the coming months won’t have 800 days.
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Written by Charlene Margot, M.A., Founder and CEO, The Parent Venture. Palo Alto native, mom of two young adults, lifelong advocate of kids, schools, and families.