Q: I am the mom of two girls who are entering kindergarten and second grade. I hear lots of people talking about their kids’ mental health having suffered during the pandemic, but my kids appear to be thriving, despite the fact that we have only interacted with people virtually or on walks since March. They’re making academic strides, they have long stretches of free play in our overgrown, magical backyard, and I’m home way more than normal, even if I’m stretched thin by working from home. We are eating well, reading books and snuggling. They bicker sometimes, and sometimes the older one wants to read when the younger one wants to play with her, but in general, they play happily together for six or more hours a day. We don’t have a TV, so there isn’t much screen time except for the math apps they use for about a half-hour a day each. My husband works part time from home, so we swap roles midday. I’m tired, and my work will get way more stressful once the academic year starts up again, but for now, we seem OK. It’s not ideal, but I see no manifestations of distress. I keep hearing from friends about how miserable their kids are, but I wonder if I am missing something? Is there reason to believe that some kids are benefiting from the slowed-down life that the pandemic has created?
A: A couple of weeks ago, I posted on my Facebook page about how many parents have been whispering to me, guiltily, that their families have never been happier. Their children are thriving in the absence of activities, tight schedules, rushed mornings, mundane homework assignments and long days. In place of the daily grind, their children have discovered boredom, which is the birthplace of creativity. And because you have pulled off the miracle of having low to no tech in your home, you have truly allowed your children’s rhythm to emerge. Many families feel the same way as you.
But if you measure your ease and happiness against the stories of struggle and distress in other families, you may wonder what you are doing wrong. It is human nature to compare ourselves to others, and when we don’t relate to the majority? That is pretty uncomfortable, even if the reality is that we are happy where we are and with what we have. So, are you missing something? I think the only thing you are missing is the comparative suffering that makes humans feel simultaneously miserable and satisfied.
As for your other question: “Is there reason to believe that some kids are benefiting from the slowed-down life?” Yes. Your own life is proof of this. But to learn more about the good that has come from slowing down, pick up “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross. This beautiful book goes right to the basics of what children need, and, as I read your note, I was reminded of Chapter Six, titled “Filtering Out the Adult World.”
Payne and Ross write: “Simplifying a child’s daily life is one of the best ways to restore a sense of balance in parenting. By simplifying their toys and environment, their schedules, and the sense of rhythm and regularity in the home, you allow them the grace to be a child. You allow your connection and your values to gain purchase, to rise above the noise of acceleration and excess, the drive for ‘the next big thing’ to do, have, or attain. Simplifying acknowledges how a child comes to understand the world—through play and interaction, not through adult concerns and information. The pressure is off when childhood is no longer seen as an ‘enrichment opportunity’ but instead as an unfolding experience—an ecology—with its own pace and natural systems.”
I know the quote is long, but it is important to take note of what you’re seeing. It isn’t that you are doing something right or wrong for your children; rather, you are allowing them to simply be. Your children’s imagination and your family’s rhythm add up to happiness and calm, despite your hard work and fatigue.
You are fortunate, and because you have this good fortune, I suggest you find a way to help those who don’t have the luxury, time or mental health to create what you have. How? Volunteer at your local food banks and women’s shelters. Find organizations that are supporting children who were suffering before the novel coronavirus pandemic and are in even more danger now. Make donations or highlight anything fun and creative that others are doing to help children. I’m not suggesting that you are obligated to do anything more than live your life, but our communities need people like you.
Finally, keep a little journal of this time, so you can remember what it was like, what your children did and said, and what changed when the world stopped for a bit. It may help you again in the future when you least expect it. Good luck.
Meghan Leahy is the mother of three daughters and the author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.” She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education and a master’s degree in school counseling and is a certified parent coach.