Pandemic parenting is altogether unmapped territory (and one we’d like to never visit again, of course). Happily, though, there is no “Pinterest” version of How To Pandemic Perfectly, so there is plenty of room to make it up as you go along. And families who are not going anywhere (perhaps not even to a school building or to an office) have found themselves with an awful lot of time together.
A LOT of time.
If a book begins with, “They were trapped in the house together for over a year,” it’s not likely to unfold into a heartwarming story of family connectedness; and if a movie starts with that premise, it’s definitely going to be a horror movie, right?
Of course, no one would necessarily recommend that kind of extreme family “togetherness” outside of a pitch meeting for reality tv shows. However, if you’re going to be in that position, it’s probably time to put your Pollyanna hat on and find a silver lining.
Necessity Is the Mother of Invention
One Grayson parent explains that she has found new connection with her two children in a surprising place. “Forced” by repeated entreaties from her children to finally give in and begrudgingly play a round of Dungeons & Dragons with them (including her husband as Dungeon Master), she shared this revelation:
Playing D&D with my kids has completely surprised me. We are peers when we play (in fact, I actually know the least about what we are doing…by far). It turns out that my kids are far more clever, creative, and sharply funny than I thought they were. Being an elf wizard thing myself is kind of fun, but getting to know my kids in this completely different way has been a totally unexpected bonus of the pandemic.
The inversion of roles — who is the knowledgeable leader and who is the bumbling novice — must be refreshing for her children, apart from whatever joy they get from the game, itself.
Additionally, this journey into terra incognita together has given them a completely blank slate in terms of social context, in which they are no doubt discovering new things about each other — and though she doesn’t describe it, her children are undoubtedly surprised by things about their mother, as well.
Going Everywhere by Going Nowhere, All At Once
Parents of the gifted often spend a lot of time sniffing out opportunities and programs for their children, from summer camps to weekend programs. While this hunt is made substantially easier through the internet (yay, more time online!), it can still be frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive.
Oddly, the pandemic has upended some of those issues. Because in-person programs are closed all over the country, a good number of them have gone virtual. That means that families across the country may be able to send their children to programs that would have been financially out of reach in 2019. Without the cost of an airline ticket, hotel room, and personal days off from work, after all, a family may even be able to enroll children in programs for gifted children anywhere in the country!
With the physical restrictions of “The Before Times” lifted, there is a massive shift in possibility. (Changes in summer program participation among historically underrepresented populations would be a fascinating topic for research, incidentally; is the gifted education community “accidentally” increasing equity significantly?)
Families under pandemic pressure
Additionally, the pandemic has shifted work rules and expectations. Some have described a sort of hyper-permeable membrane between family life and work because so many people have shifted to working from home. However, another Grayson parent described the opposite phenomenon:
I work from home, and so does my husband, plus our kids are learning remotely this year. Explaining to my boss that I really need to take a personal day to spend time with my kids because they’ve had a tough week is a whole new thing than it used to be. Before, that would have been a really weird thing to request, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have done it. People everywhere know that everyone is under a huge amount of mental and emotional stress, and seem more accepting about how important it is to spend time keeping your family afloat. It’s a weird sort of attentiveness to the importance of mental health that seems more universally accepted than it used to be — it’s okay for us to prioritize that, in a way it wasn’t before.
While living through this is too high a price to pay for this attitude, any kind of progress made on this front is worthy of note. Parents of gifted children know that their children’s characteristic sensitivity means that their social-emotional well-being may require more attention and management; unfortunately, many of them learn this after very negative experiences in school. Wider public awareness of — and even deference to, in that parent’s experience — the importance of proactively tending to our families’ social-emotional needs may be a societal shift we did not foresee, but one we should welcome.
HelpGuide, a small independent nonprofit that runs one of the world’s top 10 mental health websites shares multiple tips for parents and everyone in the family.
Pandemic Parents know how to make lemonade
All those hours together really do deserve to be used well, especially since doing so can yield such rich rewards. That can feel like a lot of pressure, but it doesn’t need to.
Sometimes, as the newly-minted elf wizard described, you have to be willing to take a step outside your comfort zone to try something you’ve never done before. Sometimes physical confines lead to wider opportunities that were not possible before. And sometimes you have to be the “mama bear” who steps in to advocate for something intangible but central to your child’s well-being.
At home with our families is the one setting in which we can set aside pandemic mitigation efforts. We can ignore social distancing and give each other a hug or a snuggle (and we should!). This time has been unimaginably weird and stressful, but there are benefits we can enjoy long after we have rounded the corner of this epidemic, and many of them involve closer family relationships.
After all, home is the place we can drop our masks — both figurative and literal — and be who we really are.
This post was developed for the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop where you can read more Pandemic-Inspired Epiphanies as well as a host of other topics that you may find useful in your journey as a parent, teacher, or advocate for gifted education.