I realized last night that in all the talk about talking to our kids around coronavirus, there’s one key message I’ve been leaving out: that what’s happening right now is absolutely unprecedented in our lifetimes.
The thing is, kids are (almost by definition) very, very young. They don’t have a lot of experience in life, and whenever something happens, it’s new to them. But after a while, they come to realize that whatever it is, we’ve experienced it before. And they look to us to guide them through it.
That can be tough when we don’t know what’s going on. When we’re making it all up ourselves as we go along. When we’re under extraordinary stress.
Here in Israel, we’re in our fourth week trapped indoors. We came in a few days after Purim and have almost literally not been outside except for a couple of short walks in the first week, before even that stopped being allowed.
At the moment, in theory, nobody is allowed outside here except within 100 metres of their house, wearing a mask. In an hour, new regulations will go into effect locking everybody in except for a few permitted circumstances (medical needs, parents swapping custody of kids, walking dogs).
Did I mention that as a result of all this, 25% of the country is unemployed? And that number doesn’t even include the number of self-employed people who aren’t able to work, like tour guides – basically everybody who works in tourism, and everything related. And the self-employed people who work from home who can’t work, or who can barely work, because their kids are underfoot. At least we still have a job.
But yeah, it’s stressful.
And we may assume that our kids KNOW this.
That it’s unique.
That it’s stressful.
That we don’t know what’s going on.
But that it will be over.
And life will go back to normal.
Even though we have never experienced this particular crisis before, most of us – by the time we get to the age of having kids -- have experienced enough shake-ups in life to know that we will return to normal, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Even if, day-to-day, it seems like it’s taking %#@% forever to get there.
Yesterday, I decided to tell my kids all of that. That I don’t know much more than they do. That we, their parents, have never experienced anything at all like this in my lifetime. And that this is one of the milestones we will all probably remember forever.
My mother recalled, during one of our hour-long Zoom chats the other day, that my bubby, her mother-in-law, talked once about how she wasn’t allowed to go outside to play when she was a child during the war – which would have been World War I. That it was too dangerous. It was a small memory, third-hand, but it was passed along, because my bubby remembered and brought that memory with her to Canada. Why was it worth remembering? Because there had never been anything like it before or since.
We use a lot of clichés all the time, talking about how something is revolutionary, unique, one-of-a-kind… and then when something truly unique comes along, we may find ourselves at a loss for words. How can we capture the sheer strangeness of this topsy-turvy time?
I think it’s pretty simple. Just be honest.
Don’t pretend to know if you don’t. If you’re home with a husband or any other adult, talk to them, let your kids hear you struggling to figure it out. Tell them you’re frustrated, angry, tired, pent-up, whatever it is you’re feeling. Not all the time, obviously. You also don’t want to overwhelm them. But listen to them, help them find words for what they’re feeling – either directly or indirectly through your own example.
All of this will help them remember, and help them create a narrative for themselves of what’s going on. Narratives are the stories we tell ourselves about what’s going on in our lives. And they can sculpt the nature of memory, our image of ourselves, and the way we deal with future moment in our lives.
So that they’ll have memories of this time that aren’t all horrible. That they’ll be able to tell their children and grandchildren someday to help new generations deal resiliently with all the stuff that comes along.
How are you helping YOUR kids (at any age!) through this tough time? Let me know in the comments or email me whenever!
Best wishes for a quiet, peaceful, healthy Pesach and a speedy return to normality.Image by hamiltonjch from Pixabay