by Lori Strauss, Associate Head of School
On Saturdays when I was a kid, my grandfather and I used to walk around the neighborhood. At every stop sign, my grandfather would pause for a full count, look both ways and take a deep breath. One day I asked my Zayde (Yiddish for grandfather) why he stopped for that full count, looked both ways and took a deep breath. After all, stop signs were for cars in our very quiet neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona. I recall the stillness and smile that lit his face as he said, “I like routines and sometimes I forget to take deep breaths.”
The last week has brought tremendous change to our communities, schools, homes, and predictable routines. I have heard from several parents that the level of uncertainty in our world has increased stress, anxiety, and moodiness in their children. If we are being honest, it’s not just our children, it is us—their parents as well.
How can we stay present and engaged with our kids in ways that ease discomfort and uneasiness when we are feeling overwhelmed with concern about our elderly parents, possible workforce downsizing, the strain on our healthcare system for routine care that members of our own family need, and so much more? It doesn’t make us “lost” or “bad” parents to admit this. We haven’t faced a situation like this from which to draw upon. Most of parenting is learning from what you did the time before, so now what?
Employ some of the same techniques you always have. Try to get your kids talking and just listen. Stay clear of advice and providing too much insight from your own experience. Allow kids to shed their worries, even if their biggest concern is about a boy they really like and has nothing to do with COVID-19. Ask questions without judgment while you are taking a walk, working on a puzzle, or eating dinner.
Conversation is equal parts talking and listening. It takes practice, especially if you feel like you know someone well. The easiest people to tune out are those who you think you know the best.
Does it feel vulnerable for you to acknowledge with your child that sometimes you don’t listen as well as you would like? That today you would like to do a better job of listening?
I am encouraging you to try it. For most of us, it is true that our multiple responsibilities interfere with being fully invested in the one conversation we are in at a particular moment. Acknowledging this with our children is role modeling how to talk about not being perfect.
Last week in his video message to our community, Landis referenced this notion of “patience, not perfection.” This is really difficult for tweens and teenagers today—many of whom subscribe to multiple social media channels and outlets that hold a standard for perfection that most of us growing up in the ’70s, ’80s, and even ’90s did not encounter in the same pervasive way. Perfection standards are about looks, behaviors, and performance. If the gift we can give our children this week is a demonstration on how rarely we are actually perfect, I will take it.
My fear in writing this is that someone will read it and think I am an expert. I am not. I am an educator by profession, a therapist by license, a mom of two kids, and totally new to parenting during a statewide near lockdown. I am doing the best I can. I am talking to my kids about all the ways I am not perfect. I am also stopping at every stop sign for a full count deep breath.