Where is the Parent’s Playbook for Change?
Babies have a way of keeping you on your toes. In those early days of parenting, things change so quickly. You think you’ve finally figured out how to buy yourself a minute by putting the baby on a playmat so you can run to the kitchen to grab your coffee, and the next day you come back to find that she’s learned how to roll over and scooch her way under the coffee table. Or, just when you’re finally getting a solid 6 hours of sleep a night, the little guy figures out how to ninja his way out of his swaddle. He lets you know through the monitor that he has no intention of letting you miss that moment.
In those first two years the changes happen so fast that you almost never settle into a groove. You roll with it. You come up with new tricks. But before you know it, things change again, and you can’t believe that the jumperoo that you absolutely could not live without three months ago is collecting dust in the corner. All along the way, you are learning lessons and forming muscle memories that make adapting to each phase a little easier and a little less daunting. Change becomes your “normal”.
Some time around age 5 or 6 though, the changes start to happen a lot more slowly. You have to actually compare the picture taken on the first day of 1st grade side-by-side with the picture taken on the last day to confirm that yes, this child actually did grow! Routines settle into place for much longer. Clothes are actually worn long enough to look weathered. And that feeling that life keeps changing on a dime starts to go away.
So maybe that’s one of the reasons why these last couple of months in 2020 have been a bit head spinning for me. After years of having each of my three kids in different schools and preschools, on different schedules, managing multiple drop offs and uncoordinated vacation days, this was the year that all my boys were in the same school. Together. The same halls, the same events to kick off school in the fall, old friends, favorite teachers, and one simple drop off and pick up. I had settled into the grooviest of grooves. A true “normal”.
Then March came. One day I’m dropping my kids off at school in the morning, sending them arm-in-arm into the world. The next day we are clustered at home together, hoarding toilet paper, while I try to teach math (and figure out why we don’t “carry the one” anymore). What is happening?? I was in a groove!
I really want to say that I rolled with these sudden changes with ease...that I flexed my muscle memory of how to adapt quickly. I desperately want to tell you all about the color-coded school schedule we whipped up, and that we stuck to with strict but kind enforcement. I want to talk about the crafts, the baking, and the minimal screen time. But the truth looks a lot closer to Doritos for breakfast (me) and endless games of Fortnite (kids).
In the early weeks of lockdown I struggled a lot with how to parent “right now”. And I don’t just mean the logistics of how to homeschool, or laying the ground rules for Zooming with friends. I mean the hard parent stuff. Like how do I explain what’s happening in the world without scaring them? Do I let them see how much I am struggling with these changes? Should we not watch the news in front of them? Is it ok if they see me cry? I really felt lost, and the barrage of messages on TV and social media from brands telling me over and over again that “these are unprecedented times” only reinforced my feeling that there was no playbook on how to handle this.
Then something happened during the second week of distance learning. My kids declared they’d had enough of “school” for the day. By 9:30am. They didn’t want to read, or do math games, or try some at-home science experiment. Ten days earlier they had been at school living their normal life and now suddenly they were cut off from the social and emotional support of their friends and teachers. They needed a break. A moment to stop between real school and home school to just breathe. And fortunately for us, in all of this change, I had just become Superintendent of our little school district. So I accepted that no one was going to be learning calculus on my watch. I actually canceled school for the day. We ate popcorn and candy while watching a marathon of the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. It was just what we all needed that day.
That was the moment I realized that there is no one playbook for managing change. Each of us lives our own unique set of circumstances. No one else’s family has the exact same mix of personalities, struggles, and joys as someone else’s. My husband and I have been raising our family for 10 years now. And with every good decision and bad mistake we’ve made along the way, we have been writing the playbook for us. Just because the world has gone a little haywire, doesn’t mean we should throw it out.
So, as I try to adapt again (and quickly) to yet another “normal”, the muscle memory that I am going back to over and over is the readiness to change and flow with it. I can’t stop this global pandemic. I can’t stop people we love from getting sick. I can’t make schools or summer camps reopen. I can only help them learn how to cope when things feel bad or uncertain. I can let them see the news and then discuss how we are keeping ourselves safe. I can show them by example that it’s ok to feel sad but that you can also still find joy in new things. I can teach them how to make the brownies that are a key part of our family survival playbook. And in the end, if they only take away one lesson from all of this, I hope it will be the knowledge that when we can’t stop bad things from happening, they will always find safety and love at home.
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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Kudos.
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