What is “Normal” Anyhow? 

We’re halfway through the spring semester, already! (Time flies when you’re in a pandemic, am I right?) Summer is right around the corner and on it’s heels is the fall semester. This will mark the beginning of the long-awaited return to normal. Schools plan to pick up their pre-pandemic routines and resume in-person classes. The “normal” we’ll transition into will be a twilight-zone version of normalcy and it’s going to be difficult for both children and parents alike. 

You can’t act too soon to lay the groundwork that will help you manage this transition. This post is the first in a series all about how you can use this summer to prepare for the world to wake back up. In this post, we’ll focus on how parents can begin gearing up for schools to reopen.

Transitions are when the most instability arises. Start building a support system.

Instability is tough to handle. It can feel like you are in a free fall, grasping to regain control. When we feel deeply unsettling amounts of instability, the resulting inner turmoil can cause overwhelm, impaired cognitive function, decision paralysis, or even trauma. According to The Child Mind Institute, the strength (note: not the size) of your social network correlates to how likely you are to effectively cope with stressful events. 

During the pandemic, many of us turned our focus inward, spending our energy on people in need of our immediate attention. This summer, try to reintegrate one or two people outside of your nuclear family that you can share intimately with about your stresses and successes. Find a style of hang-out that feels relaxing for you: a phone call, a video chat, or a cautious in-person meetup. Give yourself permission to laugh and to share goofy pandemic anecdotes, if you have any. 

You probably feel pressure to know what to expect this fall. Field questions gracefully.

If you’re typically the parent who is on top of all-things-school-related, your spouse, partner, or child might be asking you a lot of questions regarding the upcoming transition. While it’s fair for them to look to you as the authority figure, the reality is that no one has a handle on this situation because circumstances are always changing.  

When you feel like you can’t handle another question, remind yourself that your child or spouse is likely turning to you out of concern and anxiety. First, pause the conversation by telling your loved one that you need a moment to breathe and center yourself. Try taking a few breaths, pausing for a count of four at the end of your inhale and exhale. Then, ask yourself: what would allow you to rebuild your bandwidth in order to have a productive conversation? Do you need questions to be held until after you’ve finished work; after dinner; after a nap or a walk? Convey to the questioner that their concerns matter before telling them what you need.

The pandemic has turned you into a superhero. But even superheroes need help.

This pandemic has turned parenting — already one of the most emotionally demanding jobs you can take on — into a whole new world. If it was demanding back when your child was in school for seven hours, five days a week (and it was!) then these days, parents have to be super humans. 

Over the summer, the promise of school in the future will sometimes feel like a relieving light at the end of the tunnel. But alongside your relief, you might also experience confusion, worry, anxiety, or even dread. If you’ve already started feeling these emotions when you think about school reopening, you’re not alone. Many parents fear for their child’s safety, including the possibility their child might bring COVID-19 home; are concerned about their child’s anxiety or other emotional concerns that have surfaced over the past year; are worried about losing the closeness they’ve built with their child during the pandemic. 

Seeing a professional over the summer can be pivotal for you and your family to smoothly move through this transition. The ease with which you make the leap back into normal (whatever that is going to look like) lies in being proactive and learning how to manage the overwhelm that changing circumstances can stir up. Adaptability and asking for help are defining characteristics of emotional resilience — start practicing now. A professional can help you locate and communicate your fears, build family-friendly plans of action, assess your resources, and process the trauma of this past year. Depending on your needs, you might want to schedule sessions on your own, or together with your partner or children. 

In our next post, we’ll look at the children’s side of the coin, investigating what it is about the upcoming transition that makes them excited or concerned.