“I don’t even feel like talking to my friends today,” said one of my teens.
“I wanna go to sleep early tonight,” said my preteen.
Few things exist as they were just a few weeks ago, at least in my three kids’ lives. They’re U.S. expats attending private school in Switzerland, sharing a tight, four-bedroom flat beside a lake with my husband and me, two dogs and two cats. When the pandemic first hit our area, we felt somewhat prepared. The kids still related to friends, teachers, my husband and me—only their connections were all made from home. There was talk of sports, homework, and there was a sense of excitement, along with fear (mostly from me) about the new situation.
But now, a month into lockdown, the landscape appears bleaker. Our home is quiet, but for the sound of birdsongs, the storks constructing rooftop nests, or a teen blending a smoothie or heating water for tea. We rarely interact face-to-face with non-family members.
Sadly, we’ve come to accept this new reality.
When I suggest a family hike, only one kid, if any, usually shows interest. And so I prod. Even the dogs look oddly at the occasional stranger we pass when venturing down the path beside our home. Though we’ve adapted to our new lifestyle by lifting weights, jumping rope, baking cookies, gathering together for dinners, building evening bonfires, playing games, and watching movies— there’s a distinct sense that we’ve lost something, like the world.
Even when the kids talk online with classmates and teachers, they show less interest in chat groups and social media. Before, this fact would’ve thrilled me; now, I want my kids to socialize online. My two boys have become more interested in Minecraft worlds and in private courses involving little interaction. Often they don’t even want to play ping-pong together. The hard part is, my teens are too old, or too independent, for me to dictate their day. I give suggestions, but for genuine follow-through and engagement, I have to encourage them to plan their own time.
And so I wonder— even if we can make every effort to keep our kids mentally and physically healthy during a pandemic; will they ever be the same?
No, our children won’t be the same. But, like foraging for wild vegetables in the forest (which is a fun family activity, by the way), I have to focus on the good that I see in my kids because of this global pandemic.
Focusing on the Good:
1. Our family has become more reflective and honest.
Now that we’re stuck home together, my kids talk more about the people they miss, and also what didn’t feel right about certain relationships. Additionally, my daughter tells my son what he does that drives her mad, and he actually listens. He tells her what he needs from her, and (sometimes) she listens too.
2. My kids are more concerned for others.
Without access to the world, my kids think more about how other people are doing during this time. Just before the lockdown, we raced around collecting soap donations for refugees at the camp where I volunteer, so that residents could wash their hands. The simple fact that soap is valuable, hit home. My kids can understand this reality now. This pandemic has instilled more empathy in my kids .
3. My teens better recognize the value of school.
Online learning has enhanced my kids’ technological abilities, their time management skills and their will to self-motivate. When they return to school, they’ll better appreciate face-to-face learning in a building away from parents, with the ability to access the things they can’t do at home: lab experiments, playgrounds, sports, field trips and simply sitting in groups chattering.
4. They’re more creative, strong and responsible.
Circumstances have forced my kids to manage their time, make meals, help with the household, face their fears, think positively, and fight boredom with ingenuity. These practical and creative skills can’t be replicated in a classroom. Best of all, these life skills will serve my kids for a lifetime.
5. They’ve become part of history.
Remember when we had to transplant weeds from the yard to use as Easter flower decorations? Remember when we slept all morning in the sun on the patio? Remember lying under the stars as we watched the pink moon during the pandemic? We’ll reminisce over these experiences in 20 years, and maybe our children will tell their stories to their grandchildren, too.
No, our children won’t be the same when this is over. No one will.