All of us – no matter where we live, where we work or whether we consider ourselves left or right or somewhere in the middle – share at least one thing: We are eternally grateful for the dedication of the doctors, nurses, EMTs and other frontline responders who have worked tirelessly, even when tired-to-the-bone, throughout the pandemic.
In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, we all remember how residents of New York City took to the streets or their balconies each night at 7 p.m. to bang on pots to show their appreciation for the work of these healthcare heroes. It was a moving sight amid so much tragedy.
But there is another group of heroes that have rarely been given the credit they deserve during these challenging times: parents.
Although children and teens sometimes forget that their parents are real people with real struggles of their own, mothers and fathers have had to deal with enormous stresses as a result of the pandemic. They’ve had to deal with social isolation, job insecurity, financial hardships, family health crises, loss of loved ones and more. Through it all, they’ve needed to be there for their kids, reassuring them that normal life would return.
Parents had an enormous amount to deal with. Young people who already dealt with various mental health issues found their symptoms heightened, while many others experienced those challenges for the first time. Depression and anxiety were (and continue to be) widespread, but many kids exhibited an increase in anger, aggressiveness and impulsivity as they attempted to manage remote schooling, the loss of social connections and activities, and the lack of privacy and space that came with 24/7 togetherness with family.
And, as kids and teens tend to do, they often took out their frustrations on their parents.
At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, we recognized early on that the pandemic would put a strain not only on kids but also on their families. We started a series of free, virtual Pandemic Parent Support Groups where mothers, fathers and other caregivers could express their own frustrations and learn from others that they were not alone.
With the guidance of one of our therapists, they shared ideas for helping children structure their time. They spoke of the struggles of remote schooling and learned coping strategies. They learned how to be a “container,” or a kind of safety valve, for their children’s feelings. And they were given a safe space to express their own fears.
Today, in what is often called “the new normal,” most of us are in a different place when it comes to the pandemic. Kids are back in school; the vaccine has provided a level of comfort that didn’t exist in the early days of the virus; and we are able to be out and about in the world once again, albeit with precautions and wariness.
Still, the challenges for kids and parents alike are far from over. We are just beginning to realize how the pandemic has impacted our children’s feelings of security and wellbeing, while still dealing with our own fears. Uncertainty remains about what will happen in the future.
But one thing gives me comfort: After witnessing the courage, steadfastness and love parents displayed during these last 19 months, I am certain that they will rise to the challenge.
If you are a parent or caregiver, give yourself credit for all you’ve done for your family. Be sure to engage in self-care while you continue to care for your kids and your community. The usual coping skills apply: support from friends, exercise, time in nature, meditation—whatever helps you take a deep breath and feeds your spirit.
Finally, reach out for professional support if you are feeling overwhelmed or if your children are struggling. Real heroes know that going it alone—especially as we enter the hectic holiday season—doesn’t make you brave. We are all navigating uncharted waters, and sharing our thoughts, expectations, successes and frustrations with other parents can strengthen our confidence and help steer us on a course that enhances performance, achievement and fulfilment.