Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’d like to say, “This has gone on long enough,” but I realize that the pandemic is far from over.
My frustrations include friends and family members who whine about their own inconveniences but don’t do anything to remedy the inequities exposed by this crisis.
My children participate in gathering non-perishable food and outgrown clothes on a regular basis, and I’ve explained how these needs have increased for many families. We have also taken to heart the Black Lives Matter movement in our choices of books and movies as we continue to spend quite a bit of time at home. Despite access to the outside world through technology, I guess what I’m most weary of is my own social isolation.
Is Anyone Listening?
A lot has changed for families because of the pandemic. Families already struggling to meet their basic needs have faced extra challenges and community forces are filling in as well as they can.
Your own family seems to have adapted by now despite disruptions and inconveniences. Most of everyone’s needs for P.I.E.S. in your otherwise socially distant home are probably being met. What seems lacking is a well-matched social network for yourself.
Every stage of life, from toddlerhood on, benefits from a peer group. Peers are people who help you to know who you are and what to do. Peers can relate to your situation because they’re in it, too. You may recall assessing the value of relationships you had when you first became a parent. Anyone in a similar phase of life became instantly more appealing! You swapped appraisals of pediatricians, announced discoveries of stores with pick up windows, commiserated about sleepless nights, and shared remedies for diaper rash.
Parenting in a pandemic certainly poses new challenges. This is a good time to assess your peer group and fill in with replacements as needed.
What needs to get accomplished in your day? As a parent, you are still fulfilling an important role for your children. Now that e-learning is on break, their creative and intellectual pursuits may fall on your task list. Who helps you to provide what the children need? Stay connected to people, even if it’s through phone calls, video chats, social media, and websites, to get the information, feedback, and encouragement needed for this crucial purpose.
The same goes for other tasks that you need to complete. Limit the time you expend with friends and family members if this is not helping you to move toward a goal you have set for yourself at this time. Supportive relationships, by comparison, help you achieve more than you could alone. Goals could be physical – a remote exercise buddy, intellectual – recommendation for an online course, emotional – reminders of the beauty and joy that exist in the world, or social – helping you recognize the positive difference you can make in the lives of others. Find people to help you clarify and move toward your goals.
When you first became a parent you may have disconnected from former besties while at the same time shifted in your thinking about things like sleep (desperately needed), housework (why isn’t it taking care of itself?), and career (would that require shoes?). Parenting more than one child also created a shift in who you are and what you think about and need to do each day.
Pandemic parenting adds another twist to this gig. You have concerns for your family in the here and now that relate to still evolving events and conditions in the wider world. Your awareness of the wider world leads to a sharper picture for you of wrongs that need to be righted.
Look around for people whose sense of what’s important mirrors your own. Again, this may be through connections by phone and internet more than in person. A cousin on the west coast, who matches your ideals as a citizen of the world, is as accessible as someone in your same time zone.
Taking Organized Action
Membership in a well-fitting peer group leads to cooperative, mutually beneficial action. An example from pre-COVID-19: a phone call between moms to arrange a future get together for their children leads to the realization that both moms needed to pull some ingredients together for family dinners while both dads would be working into the evening. My friend and I creatively composed a meal between what was in my kitchen and hers. The children all enjoyed the meal (at her house) then went off to play while we cleaned up and chatted until it was time to get them to their respective beds.
Do you have a peer group to match your daily purposes around and beyond caring for your children’s needs? See if there’s a like-minded peer among the parents of your children’s friends and classmates. Facebook is a handy way to check out a person’s priorities and values! Or poke around to find a local group such as Feed Anne Arundel or Center of Help/Centro de Ayuda to see if their needs at this time match your need to be helpful. Some volunteer work can be done from home.
As you match yourself up with people with whom you have daily purposes and values in common, see where the conversation goes. The pandemic has altered our daily social patterns for sure. Use this opportunity to combat social isolation with a peer group that helps you be the best possible version of you.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: www.drdebbiewood.com.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com