Parentine: what your kid really needs during quarantine but won’t tell you

Parentine – (noun) A state, period, or place of isolation that includes the activity of bringing up a child as a parent, teacher, daycare worker, nurse, cook, janitor and overall provider of things.

I wanted to share this moment with my son from this morning in the hopes that it will encourage all the parents out there attempting overachievement parentine, as I like to call it to give their kids some slack and more importantly some time. Yea… you know if I’m talking to you. Don’t worry… we’re all guilty.

My 8 year old son was working on his school work with me this morning at the kitchen table and after quite a bit of grumbling, leaned his head down and said, “Mom…I’m not feeling myself.” I already knew. He had been on the verge of tears twice since starting that morning, but at the sight of his big dark eye lashes hanging over his paper and filling up with tears, I was taken aback by the amount of weight I could almost see him holding. 

 I looked at him and said, “Are you sad?” He nodded and started to tear up, but held it back. I often overestimate my children’s resilience in times like this. I assume they are fine because they are flexible and positive natured. Although we aren’t immune from hearing the occasional “my life is over” or “worst day ever” comments, in our big family the kids tend to roll with the punches. Ashamedly, they often hear me make comments like, “life is hard” and “it’s not about you” but in this moment, this moment that clearly required bravery, this little one was trying to hold back all the collective grief and pass it off as a show of strength. 

Little did he or I know the strength this moment required wasn’t a holding back but rather a letting go. First off, let me say how proud I am of this kid for naming it. “I don’t feel myself” is a difficult thing for most adults I know to recognize, let alone to admit aloud. We could all take some lessons from my 8 year old son’s true bravery today, myself included.  IMG-1956 (1)

Thank goodness, I had the awareness in that moment to listen rather than model again how to push back the pain. I took his hand, something I have learned is so important with my own children when I really desire to connect with what they are feeling, and we had a nice chat about how it’s okay to be sad, angry and disappointed. Mostly, I just asked him over and over again what he missed about each part of his old routine. When he stopped talking, I asked him to elaborate or tell me more about a particular game he loved playing or a friend he thought was funny. Through tears and laughter he shared things with me from “banana spys” on the playground (don’t ask), to PE (of course), to the way the classroom actually felt when you walked in. Together, we decided I would help him set up a space at home that isn’t the kitchen table so he might feel some comfort and purpose.

My favorite share was when he said he missed his teacher. I asked, “What do you miss the most about her?” He said, “Her face,” and as if that didn’t melt my heart enough I said, “Her face makes you feel happy.” He added, “Her face makes me feel smart. I just feel smarter when she is in the room.” These teachers are nothing short of miracles. Want to tug at the teacher’s  hearts? Write them a note right now. Ask your kid what they miss the most about their teacher. Ask them to be specific. Send it in an email with a quick thank you. It doesn’t have to be long or elaborate, but their hearts are aching now too and helping to connect a teacher’s and a kid’s heart is a gift all it’s own. Let’s flood their inboxes. 

But thanking a teacher isn’t my only mission in sharing this story. It’s the perfect summation of so much gratitude and grief that has come for so many of us as well as our kids these days with school at home. It’s overwhelming, and my guess is that, like me, parents might be trying to do it all perfectly right down to discussing their child’s feelings. Each time I got an email about how best to do this, I loaded on the guilt about the conversations I wasn’t having with them and the wasted time I had spent on Netflix and Facebook trying to “self care.” 

The funny thing about guilt is it’s about me, not them. It’s self-serving. It’s about whether or not I look like a good parent, but if I heard anything today, it was a reminder to be self giving of my time when my kids need it most. Hear me clearly. When they need it most, not at every moment. The message was to be patient and watchful. Ironically, in my Catholic Christian tradition, this is just what we are being called to do in this holy week. 

Just as each kid processes in their own way, they also process in their own time. For one kid, it might be over school work or during a classroom zoom this week. For another, at bedtime tonight, and for another it may be a month or even years from now.  When my son and I were done he looked at me and said, “Thanks mom.” The two words every parent desires to hear from time to time. Sometimes I think it’s one of the only reasons we wipe so many boogers and clean so many rears, but it’s as rare as a zoom call without a frozen face. So I’m gonna tuck that one in my back pocket for awhile.IMG-1958 (1)

Whatever the timing, there is no perfect way except to offer your presence when the need does arise. Sadness comes from a feeling of loss and processing that feeling is one of the most important parts of grief. And let’s be real, we are all grieving. What I’m offering today is an invitation for you to watch and wait. Here me parents, the most important thing we can do during this quarantine isn’t the perfect balance of homeschool and work, or even making sure our pants are on during a zoom call (although this is a good idea in case you decide to stand up). It isn’t making the best meals, or turning on all the online field trips, whilst painting the kitchen or losing weight with the now free online exercise classes. It is simply a call to watch for that moment of need 

to be ready

not balanced

to be present 

not perfect

and to listen.