A week ago Friday, my kids were sent home from school with all their papers and backpacks and jackets - waving goodbye to friends like any normal Friday. As a parent, I knew school would probably be cancelled soon. I knew school may not open again this semester. I had already heard “shelter in place” and “don’t forget to support local business if you can”.
The atmosphere was charged with impending change as people were reorganizing their lives quickly.
I kept reading, reading, reading - trying to create an understanding that would make me feel safe and in control. Yes, I found a bunch of information. Yes, there are projections. Yes, we should stay home, socially distance, donate money or check in on neighbors. Of course we want to do everything we can for our community and for ourselves. But what happens over the long term? We don’t know.
But what will that mean for me and my family specifically? We don’t know. And it seems like new developments come to the surface everyday.
Sure, everyone has a perspective.
But we’re in a time of not knowing that’s a new place for most of us.
So how do we handle this overwhelming not knowing? How do we experience the cycles of emotions that come up with not knowing - the boredom, overwhelm, sadness, anger, and maybe joy, relief of being home? What if we stop being on our phones, reading social media, watching news, and looking for answers? What if we stop trying to put together a big picture of what happens next? And what happens in a month? Three? Six?
It gives us comfort to put together a cohesive, coherent picture for ourselves but the truth is most of us are living in a space of not knowing.
I’ve noticed myself working and reworking our family schedule as if THAT’S the pivot point of bringing some control back into my world. If I can just get our routine right, we’ll be good forever. If I can just organize my way out of it….(BTW, My sweet family lets me post these schedules around our house - as they kindly sidestep them as they indulge mom’s crazy hobby of schedule-making while they go forth with their own lives.)
There are a few things that have helped -- or at least ease the moment.
- Acceptance - First, accepting what is now. You’re breathing. You’re alone or with family. You’re here. In any case, this is a new moment. Sometimes even THAT feels like a radical step.
- Gratitude - short-circuit your reptilian brain’s fight or flight by finding gratitude and appreciation of the moment. Appreciation is the grace that finds its way into the tightest spaces of our lives.
- Connect to the body - Stretch. Exercise. Walk. Move. We are designed to process stress through the body. Not by rumination. Not through more doom-scrolling. Movement can move the moment.
- Nature - Go outside if you can and look at the diversity and gorgeousness of nature. if you can’t go outside, do you have a plant or a pet? Take a moment and observe it. Quiet your mind by looking carefully. Nature is phenomenal and brings richness and calm.
- Turn off the screens. Give it a break. Does even the suggestion of putting your phone away raise some anxiety? Hmmm…
- Help someone else. Call a friend. Donate money to a cause that matters to you. Donate a service. Approach your normal jobs of parenting or your professional endeavor with an attitude of service. You’re showing up and it makes a difference.
- Bring lightness to parenting This is a whole complex situation in itself and I trust parents are getting through how they can. You don’t have to be an amazing homeschool teacher or the “fun mom” (or dad) 24/7 but even small ways of connecting, reassuring, and laughing will go a long way. As parents, we are sometimes at our best and most fulfilled when we can bring a smile or delight to our kids with small surprises, easy patience, or a favorite meal. Kids sense tension and worry, and of course we don’t need to shield them from everything in life (we can’t) but to bring a sense of safety reassuring them that you’ll be there for them.
Although everyone has had times in their lives where we didn’t know what was next, this is one of the rare times we’re experiencing it together. The upside of this is that you aren’t alone. And we each bring our own stories to the moment, we don’t know what the future looks like yet. We actually never did, though it was easier to project the illusion of certainty sometimes. Be easy. Be kind. Keep breathing and we’ll get there together.