On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram I see pictures and posts from my friends who are parents of young children. They are all scrambling to adapt their families to life in various states of quarantine. I see the photos of crafts and outings. I read about frustration and being overwhelmed. Occasionally I have words of support to offer. I have to admit that along with the sympathy I feel, one of the emotions in my head as I read these posts is jealousy. These families are struggling to contain young ones who want to be busting out into the world. They are building new structures and patterns. In my family the strictures of quarantine are requiring everyone to sit in old, depressive patterns that we were trying to escape from. Last night my 19yo had a bit of a cry saying “It is silly. I’m at home all the time anyway, this shouldn’t feel any different.” But it does, because there is a world of difference between choosing to stay home because of depression and being required to stay home because of mandate. Yes we were already sitting in a pit with depression, but now pandemic has slapped a lid on top of the pit trapping them in the hole with the depression. All of our solutions were aimed at getting them out of the pit, now we have to learn how to conquer mental health while being cooped up with it.
When my kids were younger, this quarantine would have been exactly the sort of challenge that excites me and spurs my creativity. I would have been researching optimal schedules, planning crafts, feeling overwhelmed, feeling guilty for letting them watch too many movies, making them help clean the house. I would have lamented difficulties and found moments of joy. All of which is exactly what I see in my friend’s posts. Through all of that, I would have given myself a structure because “the kids need it.” I tried to do some of that last week. I declared that each day would have a Mom Project in the middle of it. It would be the fixed point in all of our days that would give us structure. They could then plan their other things around it. Day one my attempts caused a meltdown, which wasn’t surprising since any expectation often leads to meltdown around here. The following days went better, but by day four I had a conversation with my 17yo where it became clear that my young adults neither wanted nor needed the structure of a daily Mom Project. I was the one who desperately needed some control lever on our new life patterns. As soon as I realized the Mom Projects were more for me than for the kids, they stopped happening.
I am no longer the creator of my family culture, not in the ways that I used to be. We all create it for each other. We used to be a musical ensemble with me as the conductor. Now we’re a quintet that really needs me to step off to podium and pick up an instrument instead of pretending to be in charge. I miss being the conductor. It was my role for so long and was a comfortable space for me. I got to choose and manage and plan. My current job is much harder. I have far less illusion of control. I care deeply about the happiness of my children and their futures, but I have to step back and let them make choices. Sometimes I can see where the choices they are making don’t lead them in the direction they say they want to go. Then I have to decide whether to allow them to experience natural consequences or whether to place myself as an obstacle trying to redirect their course.
We were just finding a balance for my 17yo attending school, going to therapy, and managing household chores. Then pandemic, and suddenly teachers are emailing me and expecting me to step back into a schoolwork supervisory role that I had carefully and deliberately stepped out of. Every time they email it pokes me right in the hurting guilty place where I’m not at all certain I’m making the best choices for my child, who is almost not a child anymore, and who definitely would like me to back off. Wanting Mom to back off is an important and age appropriate stage of emotional development. He is claiming his own identity and becoming responsible for his own life. It is difficult to try to honor his need for me to back off while being barraged with emails asking me to step in. So strange to have to withstand the barrage and hold space to allow my son to choose to fail so that he can (hopefully, eventually) learn from that failure in ways that motivate him to build a future he wants.
So among the other griefs that pandemic has dished out to me, I’m also managing the ongoing grief of figuring out parenting. I need to acknowledge this. Then I need to spend some time in the rest of today consciously noticing the gifts that being trapped in quarantine is giving my family, and the things I love about my kids being young adults and not small anymore. There are joys here and I need to focus on them.