For the last few months, my husband and I have noticed that our children are more emotional than usual. Our typically gentle six-year-old son has lashed out at others. Our eight-year-old is dramatic, but she's taken it to a new level with doors slamming and lots of tears. Our three-year-old suddenly puts his hands over his eyes and weeps for no apparent reason.
What is going on?
If pandemic fatigue is setting in hard on us, it's likely affecting our children too. They might not have the words for it now, but we can see how their actions are possibly lining up with ours. I know that I have been struggling with feeling grumpy, irritable, tired of all the socially distant activities, and in need of extra hugs. Add in all the political tension that might be a hot topic of conversation in your home, and our kiddos are likely struggling to feel safe in a world that doesn't feel so safe. (Let's not even get into if their parents are fighting more than usual because they never have any time alone in their own home, which I clearly know nothing about. LOL)
Much smarter people than me have written a plethora of articles on practical ways to help children deal with the trauma of our current climate in America. A simple google search will help you with that. What I want to write about today is something that I have a unique perspective on and hope it might help you through the fears you may have for your children.
As I've written about in detail before, our older children experienced significant trauma when Redmond was born. They were two and four then. After much anticipation of the baby's birth and homecoming, we left for the hospital and didn't come home for two weeks. (We went home the day after he was born for one horrible hour as we tried to think of what to pack for an extended NICU stay. We had to peel Charlie off us as he screamed and begged us not to leave.) After two weeks, we spent about 12 hours at home with our older children, then returned to the NICU for another two weeks.
We had great caregivers for our older children. Rick's parents and our nanny kept them in their regular routine. They came to the hospital to visit their baby brother several times. THEY SEEMED FINE. In fact, after the way I had hovered over every single thing they ate and wore, how much exercise they got, how much time they had to socialize, and so forth - exerting total control to create the perfect life I believed they needed to thrive - they didn't seem to miss me at all.
When we were finally all back home together, their new baby brother hooked up to oxygen and a feeding tube, the effects of the trauma began to pop up. Charlie, now three years old, couldn't stand to be away from us for a moment. Eliana bit her nails until they bled and clung to other people. I was devastated that all my efforts to protect them from trauma and anxiety had failed, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
But when you hear the phrase, "children are resilient," it isn't a lie. They are so resilient! We prayed about how to handle them, and reassured that we were just the people for the job, we did what came naturally to us. We treated them with extra care. I couldn't do a lot of activities with them for a while, but I snuggled them every chance I got. We were gentle with them, doing our best to respect their emotions and let them heal.
I learned so much through that time. The main thing I want to share with you today is this: the control that you exert over your children in an effort to give them the best life possible isn't necessary. It might not even be healthy for them. The organic food you make from scratch from your garden? Awesome! But not necessary. We were on a Whole30 diet before Redmond was born. After he was born, we had to eat whatever people brought us and a lot of frozen, pre-packaged food. We still have very healthy kids. The care you take to make sure they're not behind in school, and quite possibly very far ahead, doing flashcards and reviewing spelling words, and reading to them every day? Wonderful! But also not necessary. I had to leave the kids education almost entirely up to their teachers for that first 18 months, and they're okay. (It's been a great joy to me to be able to help them with their school work these days, but with the knowledge that they'll be okay if I occasionally can't get to it.)
It's even okay if the Sunday school teachers have to be almost solely responsible for teaching them Bible stories for a while. It's okay if they miss out on some art lessons, gymnastics, and ballet. It's okay if they miss a sports season. It's okay if they get too much screen time for a few months.
God isn't surprised by any of this, and the gifts and callings He has given them do not change because they have to take an unplanned break from all the things we think we need.
This pandemic and the political climate we're in is going to affect us and our children for the rest of our lives. We'll never forget. But we were made to handle difficult times. We were created by God to be resilient.
Things like this make us (and our children) stronger and less easily upset by the harder things of life. In ten years, when our children have to wear a mask for a few days because they have a cold, they won't mind. They'll think, at least we don't have to wear them to school all day, every day. If they can't see their loved ones for a few days, it won't be a big deal. At least they haven't had to go months without a proper hug!
Events like the ones we're experiencing right now make us stronger. Our grandparents were fighting wars as teenagers. Our great-grandparents were likely starting their families before we expect our children to be out of school. Things are rough right now, and we are showing the signs of weariness. That's okay. We will make it through and we will be stronger for it.
In our weakness, God's strength is revealed in us. With God's help, we can do hard things.
My suggestion is to take a little extra time these days to hug your children, brush their hair, paint their nails, and scratch their backs. Sit beside them on the couch and read books together - even if they can read already. Play board games. Have a family camp out in the living room and stay up late watching movies and eating popcorn. Physical closeness, even when the kiddos are big enough to brush their own hair and don't seem to want to snuggle, creates warmth and safety.
Last night, amid a flood of tears and fury, I stopped myself from demanding that my daughter behave herself. I quietly whispered in her ear, "I know that you are having a hard time today, so let's spend a little extra time together. I want to lay down with you and read."
She was angry that I made her go to bed an hour earlier than normal, but I tucked her in and laid down beside her. I asked her to snuggle and she turned her back and scooted as far away as she could. I took a deep breath, allowed her the space she needed, and read aloud from Anne of Green Gables. It took about 15 minutes, but her body gradually relaxed. Her tears dried. She shifted around in the bed and resettled a little closer. I kept reading. She commented sleepily, "That Anne sure does talk a lot! Tickle my arm, Mom."
I agreed, giggling, and tickled her arm as I continued reading for a few more minutes. She fell asleep and her storm was over. But it wasn't over for me. I snuggled up to her sleeping body and kissed her precious head, crying. I begged God to give us wisdom, begged for Him to soothe our hearts. God reminded me gently that she is the answer to my most desperate prayers. I remembered that even though we are being tested right now, she is everything I ever wanted and more. I thanked God for the gift of raising her, this amazing creature that He entrusted to Rick and me, and begged Him for wisdom to do it well.
Finally at peace, I wiped my tears off both our faces and got up. I resolved to spend some extra time with her today, doing something she enjoys.
If you can see the storm coming, take some deep breaths and settle within yourself that your child needs a place of safety in you. Be their anchor - calm, steady, and firm. I did not allow her to be disrespectful to me, but I allowed her to express her emotions and didn't demand more from her than she could give.
This weekend, why not find a task you can do together as a family to give everyone a sense of accomplishment? Cook a simple meal together, move your furniture around, paint a room, or do something nice for a neighbor who lives alone. Do whatever works for your family, as long as you're working together toward a goal. (My older kids are currently helping their daddy build a shelter in the woods. They aren't much help. They goof off while he does most of it. When he can use their help, he has them help him. They love it!)
It's good for us to acknowledge the difficulty and experience the emotions of the moment. Our kids need that freedom too. Let's not forget, they might not express it like we do, but their emotions are valid and it's good for them to have a safe place to express them. Most important of all, remember that you are the parents and this is YOUR job, no one else's. If none of my ideas work for your family, don't do them. If you ask God, He will make sure you have everything you need to take care of them in the way only you can.
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