It is week 10 of lockdown in my house. I suspect that we are like many of you in that there have been highs and lows, sometimes several of them within the span of a day. As a mother during this time, I have run the gamut from “I’m rocking this!” euphoria to panicked distress that my children – ages two and seven years – are not-so-gradually devolving into a nudist and a video game zombie, respectively. I had the eerie feeling yesterday that my son’s soccer team photo from January came from a distant past or a parallel reality. As time passes, however, my growing sense is that there are some hopeful bright spots in this unusual and challenging time.
Much has been written about several aspects of our families’ newly constrained lives – the opportunity for our children to learn resilience, a new level of appreciation for schools and teachers, the importance of self-care – and I hope that these lessons will outlast the challenges of this moment. And while I am enormously grateful for the simple pleasures I have enjoyed with my family thanks to the enforced absence of busy-ness – flying kites, baking cookies, walks, unhurried mornings full of snuggles, games of hide and seek, more time for personal fitness, easier meal prep – those are not the things that I want to focus on in this article. Instead, I want to talk about some of the ways that my husband and I have tried to incorporate what we know about the developmental milestones of younger school-age children such as my son into our approach to surviving and thriving in lockdown.
Perhaps the most notable feature of my rapidly aging eldest is his increasing desire for independence. We experience this as unmitigated joy when he puts his dishes in the dishwasher after dinner, and as mind-exploding aggravation when he insists he understands the directions for his schoolwork though he clearly hasn’t read them thoroughly. It would be fruitless and counterproductive to attempt to squelch his growing self-sufficiency. Instead, we are connecting independence to responsibility and embracing the lessons to be learned from that: budgeting one’s time, avoidance of procrastination, diligence, perseverance, conscientiousness, patience. I think of it as unstructured structure – I provide the list of responsibilities he must complete during the day before he can choose his own activities (usually screen time, of course), and he takes charge of the order and pace in which it is done. He is palpably proud of himself each time he completes the list, and after several days he began to enforce the rule himself. He would have learned these lessons at some point without a lockdown, of course, but this has been a chance to teach it more intentionally, demonstrating those values in my own work habits, explaining the reasons we think these values are important to his development and his future, clearly connecting the actions and the consequences in a way that is immediate and meaningful. His growth in this area has been remarkable. As an additional benefit, my son sees the importance his father and I place on his education in a really explicit way, an investment that has been shown to positively impact kids’ academic success, self-esteem, motivation, and school-related behaviors and attitudes over the long term.
This has also been a time for us to show him that his thoughts and feelings and ideas are something that we respect and value, a key to his sense of being accepted, of being valued and loved, and of being respectful and accepting of others as he builds his understanding of his place in the world. On his down days – and I think we all have had our down days at some point in these 10 weeks – I have found that what he really needs is some help in seeing that the way that things are now isn’t the way they are going to be forever. We make plans for the future – trips to take, sports teams to join, events to attend, time with friends – and we pinky promise to do them when we are able to again. We talk about the teamwork of our family and our community and the larger communities and how each of us doing our part helps to keep others safe and well for their own families. We take moments to acknowledge that there are far worse struggles in our world than having to stay in a while longer. We call our friends and family, and we eat mint chocolate chip ice cream together. His favorite.
The time will come when we are back to our crazy schedules once again. Baseball practice, swimming lessons, birthday parties and work responsibilities will pile on top of each other again – exacerbated by my daughter’s debut into the wider social world, no doubt. My hope is that we will come to that time better equipped by the lessons we have learned in this time. Lessons of personal responsibility, of teamwork, of planning for the future, of mindfulness, of gratitude, of caring for each other – the lessons we all began to learn when we were seven years old. Lessons tailor-made for a lockdown.