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September 3, 2020

Moms & Dads: how to get through this Super Weird start of a School Year.

My kids, like your kids, started remote learning this week.

I can say what I know to be true: 1. I’m so glad they’re older, and 2. I’m so sad they’re older.

I’m sitting and scrolling for moments, watching posts fly in—some in support of remote learning and the teachers making this happen, and others not so much.

Some of you are heartbroken over the lost social opportunities with friends in school. Some of you are pissed and afraid the kids aren’t going to learn anything. Some of you are quiet and unsure what to think. I think we can all agree that this start of the school year is nothing like we’ve really been through before and it’s, for truly lack of better words, super weird. 

I’ve walked the aisles of Target that, at this point, normally look like the day after Christmas—with school supplies dangling off shelves and remnants left on floors. This year, those same aisles are full. We didn’t go get our back to school clothes or first day outfits. There were zero haircuts in our house. I almost forgot to take the first day picture because I just continue to feel like I don’t know what’s going on. And it’s not because people aren’t doing their jobs and communicating schedules—it’s because I struggle to center myself in this, and I don’t know what to think.

I see mixed feelings everywhere.

There are so many parents who are so sad, devastated really, that their child’s first experience at school is nothing like they thought it would be. They’re grieving lost moments in time, rites of passage, and rituals that they’ve known to be true for themselves and wanting and waiting to pass them down to their kids. And they’re struggling, frustrated, and bursting into tears the first day because their son or daughter is walking away mid-Zoom and rolling around on the floor. They’re watching their kid space out, totally mess up their cutout of themselves, and messy color instead of coloring inside the lines.

For those of us with older kids, we’re vocalizing our gratitude for them being older, for not having to monitor them constantly and re-direct, re-direct, re-direct all day as parents of preschool and early elementary children are doing. But there’s a sadness that lurks for us too, because we know what they’re missing out on and it’s complicated and messy—but it’s what we’d planned mentally for them too. It’s far from the coloring in or outside the lines, but we couldn’t have, nor would we have, known that in our younger parenting years.

Intangible grief and a profound sense of loss over what we’d expected and what we’d had pictured in our minds is real. It’s real, and it’s met with complicated logistics and the continuous stress of trying to work from home and meet schedules and demands of children, partners, and workplaces. Grief, logistics, and also the burden of guilt as we sit and watch our children in our homes—but from afar, because we’re consumed by our demands and they’re consumed by theirs. All in the same place, but not anywhere near together like we were six months ago, and so we grieve that too.

Many parents want to give up this remote learning thing. It’s hard to keep a kid on an online schedule, and yet it’s also hard to create that schedule for them. So we also feel trapped in a no-win situation.

Remote learning or homeschooling—either way, it’s difficult to monitor a child who wants to get up and play and be comfy in their own home on their couch the way they’ve been. It’s hard to re-direct them to pay attention and it’s hard to watch them make mistakes that we normally wouldn’t see (like coloring outside the lines) and not feel a visceral response to freak out. A crazy, messy coloring cutout looks somehow way cuter taped up in a school hallway than it does lying on the floor of the family room.

What we’re missing, as parents, is real: camaraderie, moments of “me too,” a break to do what we need and want to do, and some semblance of independence or self-care in any way. We’re all missing something and there aren’t any bus stop coffee conversations or after-school pickup lanes to collectively mourn the change. No sideways glances and eye contact that seem to say “I get you” from one drop-off van to another.

Yes, there’s a lot we do not have right now. And it’s really tough.

And there’s also a lot we do still have.

Time is going to go by, and at some point, this will be a distant memory. Perspective. Collectively, we are stronger than we are alone. It still takes a village and we still need our tribes, our community. Parenting isn’t getting easier and neither are our work-from-home processes, and yet we remain super hard on ourselves—our parent guilt game is strong. Self-compassion is crucial.

Just as we’ve always had and will always need, perspective, community, and self-compassion remain the constant thread that will get us through this time in our lives and connect us all.

Complain, be sad, mourn the losses, and allow yourself and one another time to grieve. Grieve together, but different. Then look for the moments of joy and let’s celebrate our successes together, but different. Have compassion for ourselves and one another, knowing we’re all—every single one of us—doing the best we can with the situation at hand together, but different.

And let’s all just hang on, together, but different.

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