by Chantal Bufe
Lately, I have been using this word a lot. Mainly when speaking to friends, when we tell each other how much we are looking forward to a time with fewer restrictions and more freedom, a time with fewer worries and more confidence.
Like most parents, my primary anxiety has to do with my children. I wonder how this pandemic is impacting them right now and if it is affected their mental health. I wonder
whether it is influencing their behavior and how it is possibly shaping their future.
I do not yet have answers to any of these questions, and I doubt I ever will. But it is comforting to know that experts out there are doing their best to understand the emotional and behavioral consequences on children and teens (such as this Baltimore study). I am curious to see whether their findings will provide additional parental tools should this pandemic last longer (or should another crisis follow).
For now, when it comes to our children's mental health, my husband and I have relied on our children's words, their behavioral cues, and our parental instincts to determine their emotional state. Although I have to admit that there continue to be moments when we are somewhat at a loss, unsure whether our child's irritability/ nervousness/ lack of concentration / (fill in the blank) is 'normal' or whether it is their reaction to a feeling that stems from the effects this pandemic has on them.
Again, we will most likely never know. Still, as this long year is coming to a close, I am increasingly yearning for some additional reassurance, an end-of-year (please don't let it be 'beginning of term'!) 'review,' if you will, that lets us know that we have done okay as parents and that our children are on the right path. That mentally, they are strong and able to process all that has happened this year and all that may still come.
I think I am longing for this reassurance because I used to get it daily in personal interactions with other people, mostly other parents. At drop off, at pick up during the day, or parent evenings. These face-to-face exchanges - even if they lasted only a couple of minutes - were my sounding board, providing me with a good sense of how all our children were doing, what problems they all were facing, and what all of us parents were doing to help them.
While parents can still connect digitally, that collective sense of parenting - keeping an eye out for each other and each other's kids - has become so much more difficult. It is much harder to tell how another person is doing from a distance. And it is much harder to describe how your child is doing while you live within that distance.
There is so much truth to the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a kid, not because it implies that a child is too much work for a parent to handle alone, but because it correctly points out that a child needs interaction with many different people, who provide various inputs, to grow into a well-rounded adult.
Until distances between people and parents become smaller again, we have to help ourselves and use the available resources, like the raisinggoodhumanspodcast or theconsciouskid.
And there are, of course, still actual people who can help, like doctors or child psychologists. In our case, we just found out that our new pediatrician in Germany offers (telemedical or in-person) mental health assessments (aka conversations with the children) to ensure their emotional wellbeing.
And I think that this is simply wonderful. Not only because I will feel reassured, but mainly because I know my children will benefit greatly from having another person to talk to and confide in, another member within their 'community' who will watch out for them and guide them. During this pandemic. And afterward. For something tells me that we can use all the help we can get.
Puberty, for instance, has recently joined us at the dinner table.
An interesting companion. But that's another crisis altogether.
(Photo: Kelly Sikkema/ Unsplash)