by Oonagh Delaney
These last few weeks (turned months) have changed us all. I hope no one in your life has been immutably altered by the illness of someone dear to you. As we continue to move forward in this unknown and strange period, you may experience more anxiety. We are responsible for those around us, and likely some of us are having to care for little ones as well as for older parents or loved ones. Taking care of others while social distancing has brought massive new challenges to the daily demands of parenting, whilst trying to meet our own needs.
Recently I had a long FaceTime with a former student’s parent. She was exhausted, physically, emotionally, and mentally. She had nothing left to give to anyone. She slumped forward in surrender in tears that were not the cause of her own unmet needs, they were reflective of her profound worry. She told me, “I’m just so, so nervous of f#%^ing it up, I love him so, so much!” She then described a list of things that she felt she was “supposed” to do. Her list included: some online learning (but not too much), a good amount of time outside (but without getting too close to anyone), time playing the never-ending board games, card games, puzzles, reading, science experiments, and crafts. There would be a check-in from well-meaning teachers to make sure she was on top of her child’s work, which only added to the anxiety. She worried aloud that only some things on the list were getting done, and not done well, or only half-heartedly, and that she was an utter failure. And, oh! The sheer monotony of it! Day in and day out! My God, will this ever end?
I’ve had these conversations with parents before, many in fact, but never under such extenuating circumstances as these. I told her what I always tell overwhelmed and worried parents, and what I also want to tell you: “Your child just wants you to be happy.” That’s it! Honestly! Nothing else!
Do you remember as a child a time that you were maybe on a family vacation that should have been fun, but despite being at Disneyland or Six Flags, in Chicago or Bora Bora (no, me neither), that one, or both, of your parents was miserable or angry, frustrated or irritated, probably by unmet expectations? These are the moments that stick in your mind as a child. Not Disneyland, not Six Flags, not Bora Bora, but the sadness brought on by a parent’s unhappiness.
You need to give yourself a break. In this current moment, this could look like turning off the news, reading a book without pictures, telling your child to go play in their room alone for a while, and then doing whatever it is that makes you feel happy. Throw out the rule book, which was incidentally thrown together four weeks ago by people also just making it up as they went along. Your child will gain more security, the ability to cope in adverse situations, and the understanding that, yes, life does change, and we can adapt. They will be secure knowing that we are okay.
The old adage, “If Momma (or Daddy) ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” has never been more apt. Let go of some of your worries over the list of undone, ease back into some new normalcy that doesn’t include Zooming to help your kid finish their geography assignment.
Oonagh is Waverly’s Preschool Director. She has one student in 12th grade at Waverly and two Waverly graduates.