As Minnesotans, we are well versed in what winter brings us. The nights come earlier, and the mornings begin later. The days become colder and frigid, making it more difficult (or undesirable) to spend time outside in the fresh air. We know how to manage winters in Minnesota, yet this winter is different than others. This winter, we have to keep pushing through a pandemic. 2020 has brought us all kinds of ups and downs. For many families, it seems like it has been more downs than ups. The loss families have experienced this year is extraordinary. The losses are both direct and ambiguous, and unfortunately, we may have more to come. The storm of this pandemic has been filled with grief, loss, restrictions, and a path of unknown and uncharted territory. We can’t control the storm outside; and yet, we can shelter our family through the storm. Each family has a different boat to shelter themselves from the storm; all being impacted by the same storm in different ways. Resilient families continue to push through the storm – but how do we do it?
The pandemic has brought on ambiguous (without closure or clear understanding) and direct (substantial, tangible) loss for many. For our kids, they have had to grieve the loss of a normal school year — of going to their school each day, sitting closely with each of their friends and playing outside for recess, of playing their sports season and progressing in their extra-curriculars. They have had to miss out on Homecomings, 1st Day of School excitement, on Friday night sports games and weekend tournaments. Our kids are grieving the ability to build memories with friends and grieve the flexibility of socializing with friends in-person. Families have grieved their sense of normalcy in their routines, of being able to separate their work, home, and school lives. And, families have also experienced direct loss. The loss of employment and financial income. The loss of health and for some their lives of family members and friends to this Coronavirus. At times, the losses feel unbearable; many of us at a loss for words to even describe the pain we’ve experienced this year. I see your pain. I see your loss. I encourage you to grieve.
Resilience: (1) the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness (2) the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. People are resilient. Families are resilient.
It is human to grieve the loss you experience. Parents, this is your opportunity to teach your kids how to be truly human.
So, what s a parent to do?
Grieve with your kids, show them how to do it – cry, express the frustrations and pain, make space for the questions and sadness. Make certain they know that you can handle taking care of these emotions yourself (and if you feel as though you cannot, seek out help) and be there for their hard and difficult emotions (and if you feel as though you cannot, seek out help). When we hide children from pain, loss, anxiety, they can become more anxious if they are aware of it but cannot see how that it is being addressed. Open a safe dialogue for your kids to talk about the losses; authentically listen to their emotions and help them gain an understanding of what they are feeling and experiencing. You can validate their perspectives by stating, “I understand,” or “I hear that you’re feeling ___, how do we want to care for that emotion?”. Be mindful to not inadvertently invalidate their feelings by justifying the circumstances — I know you’re angry they cancelled the football season, BUT you’ll be able to do it next year.” (using the word ‘but’ can invalidate the emotion in the first part of the sentence), or saying they ‘shouldn’t’ feel a certain way — “you shouldn’t feel sad about that, honey,” (this can send a message that feeling sad is shameful).
As a family, consider creating rituals to acknowledge the losses experienced in 2020 – journal together, make a time capsule to signify your 2020 experience. Build a gingerbread house together and label it 2020 and then blow it up with some fireworks (do at your own risk). This journey can be hard and challenging, and we have the innate ability to recover from toughness through openly and genuinely grieving the losses.
Parents, ask yourselves – What is giving me the strength to get through this? What is giving me hope? What am I able to control right here in this moment, and what is out of my control and I need to let go? (cue Frozen theme song) — hold onto the answers to these questions and let them guide you and your family through this. This pandemic will not be forever; we will not feel this depth of distress forever. Processing the grief and loss is all a part of resilience journey.
Our kids are watching us to figure out how to manage and walk through this experience. Parents, they look to you as their leaders – to show them how to do the grieving, how to care for ourselves, how to utilize supports when we need them. Our kids mirror what we do; they rely on our leadership. When we put on a mask, they will follow suit. When we safely express our emotions, they learn how to safely express themselves. And, I imagine most of you haven’t experienced a pandemic before and feel just as lost as your kids. It’s okay. It’s okay to tell your kids you don’t know – process that confusion with them. And, lean into the relationships you have with friends and family to see how they’re doing and how they’re coping with the challenges. We still have a community. When we work together and support one another we and our children grow our sense of resilience. This time is causing us to grow and think about how to be and be with each other differently from now. So, go ahead, push that boat out there and while staying in your boat (for now) show your children that this is hard, different and certainly very challenging and we can get through this together.
By Callie Albaugh, MA, LAMFT & Matt Meyers, MA. LMFT