I did something this week that makes me feel hopeful: I made appointments for my two teenage daughters to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. I’m anxious, hopeful and in disbelief that we have come this far. So many people have lost loved ones or are otherwise suffering due to the impact the past year has had on our world and our lives. I don’t take that at all lightly.
But even as I look forward to this new step, I find myself suspended in a combo state of grief and gratitude. Even as many families are desperate to go back to "normal," I’m not sure I ever can. This year has taught me so much about myself and my family. We can’t go back.
Here’s what I’ve learned and what my family won't change, even as society reaches post-pandemic life:
We won’t go back to normal at home.
The first few months of the pandemic went by in a blur of too many late-night glasses of wine and lots of screen time. By last fall we realized we were in this for the long haul and we upended our daily routines — for the better.
Most nights, we have dinner together as a family. Even after we’ve eaten, our four kids sit at the table and chat for at least an hour. Why? Because we have nowhere to be. Their siblings and parents have become a lot more interesting to them since their daily activities and social lives have been largely put on hold.
While I’m eager for my kids to have more opportunities to see friends, reengage in activities and get back to their lives, I’m not at all ready to give up the freedom in our schedules. I want to keep the closeness that the free time has spawned. I didn’t realize just how significant a toll the pace of our lives was taking on us all — until we were forced to come to a grinding halt.
I know every family is different, but with time to reflect, I’ve realized I was paying too much attention to how I thought we were supposed to be doing this whole "family life" thing. I’ve realized we’re happier and healthier without so much on our plates. I won’t go back to caving to the pressures of doing all the things or FOMO. As it turns out, few of the activities my kids were participating in were necessary for them.
I’ll be more intentional about what we say yes to and what we say no to.
Moving forward, I’ll be limiting how many different sports or classes they’re signed up for at any given time. I’ll even be thinking more critically about the little things like birthday parties and playdates. These commitments eat into our weekends and leave us all feeling depleted and disconnected by the time a new week rolls around. I’ll be more intentional about what we say yes to and what we say no to.
We won’t go back to normal school.
Two of my kids are dyslexic. Two have ADHD. One thing was clear to me from day one of virtual learning: It would not work for our family.
But to be honest, in-person school hadn't really been working either. Two of my kids were struggling academically and one was having significant mental health issues. I just felt overwhelmed with what to do about it. School shutdowns gave me the time and space to really consider what was best for my kids and to observe, in real time, how being out of school every day was impacting them.
The slower pace has meant a noticeable improvement in all of my kids’ temperaments, they’re less anxious and less irritable. They’re more creative and cooperative. Once I was forced to take a hard look at something they’d been telling me — for years, in words and with their behavior — I saw it so clearly: Traditional school was not working for them.
Now, my teens are each in a few virtual classes, but are mostly doing homeschooling. My younger two are full-time homeschooling. My teens get all the sleep they need. They have the freedom to log many more hours of reading, art, writing and outdoor time.
I’ve learned to be fine with Lego creations or art projects that take up the entire day (and living room floor) because it’s a worthwhile trade-off for more freedom, more rest and more time together as a family. Though I’m still researching what school will look like for my kids this fall, I know they won’t be going back to traditional, in-person school.
We won’t go back to normal work.
Like many local companies, my partner’s employer is revamping its long-term work-from-home policies. He’ll likely be going into the office less frequently, for good. Without the daily commute, we've been able to spend more time together, and he spends much more time with our kids.
For me, I realized that working my job and guiding my kids in their homeschooling work was not sustainable. I was lucky to land a new job with fewer hours. It's been so much easier to balance.
While our kids will be in classes more hours of the day by this fall, my partner and I plan to keep our at-home, reduced-hour work schedules. It’s made us closer as a couple and as a family, and reduced a lot of stress in our home.
After a year of remote learning and social distancing, families are itching for an epic and meaningful summer. Learn how to unlock your kids’ unique passions and make the most of this summer in a free ParentMap Live talk on June 3 by author and activist Jonathan Mooney.