First, I want to be clear, I get why hospitals, pediatric organizations or public health departments are saying that children should return to school. When it comes to the economic toll of not having them in school, they need to go back. I get why they are concerned for children’s socialization, the mental health of some, the food needs of some, the isolation of some, the learning of some and because of the horrible truth that when schools shut down some children lost a much needed escape from unhealthy home environments. I am not in any way minimizing the needs of these children. Many children drastically benefit from school attendance.
But some don’t and I am struggling with the blanket statements and the assumptions of these reports that they know what is best for each and every one of our children.
This is a time to make your own decisions
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Decisions can be hard at any time, and with the world in the throws of a pandemic, there are added layers we have never dealt with before. .
As always, what I advocate for is autonomy and the ability of families to make decisions that work for them and their own unique circumstances. It is unlikely that every family is sharing in all of the exact same experiences through this. There are a lot of shared experiences, but as unique individuals with varied life experiences and varied biases, our own perspectives, resiliency, and communication styles are going to impact our children during this time. Even if on the surface our “pandemic experience” appears to mirror that of a neighbor, there will be differences.
I am also an advocate of being an active participant in your child’s education, and that includes thoughtful decision making. While for me, that “normally“ means active participation in school council events, it also means consistent advocacy for my children’s needs, and that part isn’t any different now. I need to look at what they need, given who they are as people and given our family needs, and make decisions based on those things.
I am having a reaction every time I read a headline that goes something like “Such and such organization recommends the full return of school for all children.”
Why!? Why would one path be the right path for all of the children? Since when is every child the same? Since when did every child benefit from our mainstream (and often outdated) education system, even prior to the pandemic? What makes them think that school attendance is what is impacting our children the most or on the flip side going to make them ok through this pandemic?
Let’s call it as it is
The economy needs children to return to school. The economy needs people to feel like life is “normal.” The hospitals that are sending out reports are inundated with children and families who are struggling. They generally don’t see the children who are thriving. Public health is also concerned for the well-being of the adults at home with their children, not just the children (a valid concern). Our system still supports an industrialized school system that generally follows a one-size-fits-all approach (although children who learn differently do *hopefully* have accommodations) so their approach to a return is likely to be one-size-fits all as well.
There is always good and bad
There is always good and bad in every situation. What have they been for your child and family during this time?
I can tell you ours. My children miss their friends. I miss my friends, my alone time and I struggle with having to be “on” at all times. There is no reprieve. They bicker ALL. OF. THE. TIME. and it is enough to make me want to jump off the roof some days.
We have shifted into a multi-generational family household during this time and it is HARD some days. We have missed in person milestones with those that we love dearly, and it has broken my heart. Our family will (I’m assuming) welcome a new baby into the extended family, without the privilege of holding them and bonding with them from day one.
I miss grabbing a Starbucks and wandering HomeSense (insert Target, Marshall’s, whatever your store of choice is). Mostly we just miss the carefree, don’t-have-to-overthink, can-do-as-we-please kind of days. It is hard living with a cloud over your head.
The goods though, they outweigh the bads. Never have I ever thought I would have the privilege and luxury of being home with my children EVERY SINGLE DAY for months on end. I am a working mother. Balance is always hard and I often don’t have enough time (even when I put whatever I can on automation). The balance has always been there, now it is just different, but I am home with them, and incredibly thankful for that. They fight every single day, but they are spending way more time together and I am pretty confident that their relationship and problem solving skills are going to come out stronger than they were before this time.
Our List Goes On
We have hunkered down at their grandparents home for childcare help and so that we could outsmart the physical distancing thing right from the start (we are all one household and isolate together). My grandmother (aka their great grandmother) was in the process of moving in with my parents, and that was expedited when the world started shutting down. We are now four generations under one roof. It is HARD, but my children are growing. They are growing in their empathy, in their compassion, and in their patience.
They are spending WAY MORE time outdoors and in nature. We have started doing yoga every day. They are learning to cook because we are being afforded a different schedule and more time together. They have invented games. I finally gave in to letting them start YouTube channels (a win for them, but I am still not sure how I feel about this!). Life is slower.
I have taught them by meeting them where they are at. They are getting 1 on 1 schooling based on their own learning styles. My littlest who is super active and probably should spend his days climbing trees rather than sitting at a desk, is actually doing that (and his mental health has improved dramatically because of this, there literally are no words to explain how happy my mom heart is). My introverted oldest is seeing friends but isn’t forced into spending all day every day with them, she has been hoping for this situation her whole life.
We have found creative ways to keep connected, realized what relationships are really important to us, learned more about ourselves and our priorities and we have tried our hands at new skills. The first few weeks were all about survival, but we have learned a new way of being and we have a new appreciation for our time and relationships. We have grown.
If your little ones are struggling with worry and anxiety, whether because of school or home from school, check out our favorite books for children that deal with worry and anxiety!
Where am I going with this?
At the end of the day, your life doesn’t have to be dictated by the headlines, nor should it be. What does YOUR child need? What does YOUR family need? There is no cookie cutter answer for this question. There never is with parenting, I am not sure why we would pretend there is with this.
Every single day I get messages from friends, from colleagues, from relatives, struggling in one way or another about sending kids back to school. Some want to send them but feel guilty or are scared about the safety risks. Others don’t want to send them, but feel they are the only ones who won’t. They feel like they are “supposed” to. Some plan to send them back for a little while and plan to pull them out if numbers start to climb. The commonality in these messages is the pressure they feel around making their choice. They are pressured from their own social group, from the teachers in their community, from their workplaces, from the headlines, from “expectation” of others.
It would be ridiculous, and unkind, to say that these decisions are 100% ours to make and that we shouldn’t let any external factor impact us. It just wouldn’t be true. For a parent that does not have childcare, the option to keep their child home is really not an option. There are external circumstances that impact each and every one of us, for better or worse. Some life circumstances can be changed, some cannot. It would be unfair to assume that a creative solution can always be found.
Let’s Pause for a Moment
However, what this can offer us is a pause. A pause to assess. For those who have never been quite ok with the mandated school requirement, for those who have wondered about homeschooling or unschooling, or alternatives like forest and nature school, for those who just went through the motions of sending their kids to school when they turned 3 (or 4 or 5 or 6 depending where you are) it’s a chance to consider if that was/is right for your child.
For parents who have assumed their child didn’t do well in a mainstream school environment, it’s a chance to reflect. The same goes for those who have assumed their children have thrived. This time is an opportunity for those who have wondered about a different way of being. For some they have seen their children blossom outside of the school walls. For others, this time has reinforced how school benefits their children, why they should be there, how they thrive in that environment. Every child is unique, and so should the decision making process for this.
You get to decide
The messages will continue to roll out from the “powers that be” about why your child should attend school. Most of our countries have a certain way of doing things. The expectation is that the majority of people will fall in line or just genuinely agree that those ways are best. Sometimes they are.
But YOU get to decide for your child (hopefully while considering their voice.) Consider everything in your life, but let go of the pressures, expectations and headlines. Do what is best for your child and your family. You know your family best. The newspapers that are writing headlines, they are considering all aspects of their needs. You need to consider yours. Read the reports, but keep a reflective mind when you do. If you are exhausted and can’t think anymore and need the reports to tell you what to do, that’s ok too. Just make a decision based on the needs of your family, and yours alone, whatever those needs are.
If my message seems bias…
If my message seems to be that of advocating against returning to school, please know that it is not.
I am, however, advocating for you to decide for yourself during this time (as always). The mainstream expectation is to send them to school. So, it would naturally seem that encouraging people to stop and reflect and decide if that is right for them, seems as though I am encouraging people to do the opposite. But that is not the case.
I want you to be happy and safe and I want you do do what feels right for your family. I am protective of my friends, and I’m protective of you. That means I don’t want you to allow any more “givens” in your life than you need to.. My intention is to encourage you to pause, reflect, consider critically. It is to encourage you to make a decision that helps your family thrive and your Mama heart be happy.