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Here’s Why I Love Social Distancing With My Teens

I was secretly thrilled when our governor announced that schools would switch to remote learning in March. I was also relieved. My heart went out to the families who were going to be impacted by the pandemic, but I knew that the orders to shelter in place would help save lives.

Staying at home wasn’t a big transition for me. I have always preferred exercising outdoors to getting a gym membership. I teach therapeutic movement classes and, prior to the pandemic, I typically met clients at my home studio. Now I see them on Zoom. My husband has also been working from home since last year, so we had to learn how to occupy shared space without stepping on each other’s toes (or accidentally appearing on each other’s video calls).

You might think the constant presence of our teenage sons, who are 17 and 14, would have been an added complication, but I loved it. I loved social distancing with my family. I didn’t miss the hustle of waking up early to get them out the door to school. Once we started observing our natural sleep rhythms, everyone became more relaxed.

We found a new groove together, and separately. In the mornings the boys tackled their schoolwork. In the afternoons they did a push up challenge with their father. I had my own time to do what I’ve always done solo—exercise, write, and teach. In the evenings, my youngest played Xbox with his friends virtually while my oldest watched movies. But the proximity meant that, even as we worked independently, we saw each other all day long.

Staying Home Together: The Upside of Quarantine

Though we have had to cope with the stress of the pandemic, we no longer have the stress of the boys living their lives out of our sight. Pre-pandemic, my husband and I spent our weekends shuffling them from extracurricular to social activities. Since March, we’ve had more time—and meaningful conversations—with them.

The boys were mostly understanding of the restrictions of social distancing, maybe because their generation is used to connecting with friends on technology, but there were still occasional frustrations. I heard my 17-year-old empathize with a friend one day on the phone. “It’s not that you’re stuck in your house,” he told her. “It’s that there isn’t anywhere to go.”

The last time I spent this much time with the boys was before they started school. As much as I enjoyed their baby and toddler stages, it was hard work. During lockdown, I’ve been able to enjoy the benefits of all that sweet time with them with almost none of the effort. Except for the cooking—there is so much eating that goes on with two teenage boys. I’ve never spent more money on groceries.

Unexpected Benefits to Social Distancing

No longer pulled in several directions by school, activities, and friends, the boys lingered around us longer. They were more open to hugs. They curled up next to me on the couch so I could rub their heads like I did when they were little. One morning my oldest asked, “Mama, what are you making for breakfast?” Before the pandemic, I was typically referred to as Mom. No one had called me Mama in at least ten years.

Before remote learning, I hated how much of their schoolwork relied on screens. Now I am grateful that their early introduction to technology meant an easier transition to learning independently at home. Watching the boys on Zoom classes at our dining room table gave me new insight into how they viewed their classes and teachers.

In the past, the idea of “being more present” was a goal that eluded me, but this pandemic has been an invitation—no, a dictate—to do just that. I can’t picture what the boys’ future will look like, but I can focus on each moment, every day. With so much up in the air, it comes as a relief to take changes in stride as they appear.

This summer the boys reasserted their independence, spending socially distanced time outdoors with friends whenever possible. I find myself missing them, and texting to ask when they will return. Their school recently announced that students will begin the fall semester online. I look forward to the four of us finding our groove again—together and separately, and safely, under the same roof. The quality of how we live now will be what the boys take with them as they move into adulthood. And I am learning to ease my grasp on what is to come.

Sarah Leibov

Sarah Leibov is a writer and Feldenkrais practitioner in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two teenage sons.  She is at work on a memoir about surviving her own teen years. You can find her on twitter @LeibovSarah.

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