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Spending Time with My Daughters: An Unexpected Pandemic Bonus

“Mom, you will never guess what happened at school today!”

Now that my twins are back to in-person classes, they are always bubbling with the latest news for me as soon as they hop into the car to go home. Sarah is moving to Alabama, and Liz dumped her boyfriend but has a new one, and Christina got detention for wearing a crop top, and did I know that shampoo actually makes you lose hair? Dion told them so.

I am up on all the hot-goss the middle school has to offer, and while I’d love to claim that my 12-year-olds gush to me because I am just this amazing Lorelai Gilmore-type parent who has always had a close relationship with my growing tween daughters, it actually has more to do with the global pandemic than with any magical parenting skills.

Our Pandemic Year Together

COVID-19 ravaged our society, and it stunted my children’s social development. It stopped them from attending school, going to parks and the mall, seeing movies, and even eating anywhere that wasn’t home.

But there is another side to that coin. The pandemic, while excruciating, had a silver lining in that my tweens got an extra year as children. As 7th graders, they would have fulfilling social lives if they could have gone to in-person school all year, joined groups and clubs, and grown into their teens as we all have done before them.

Because I had to fill in that social gap by spending time with my daughters, our relationship is closer than it was at this time last year, and closer than it would be under normal circumstances.

Not only did my kids get an extra year of childhood—away from the pressures of cool in-groups, gossip, and feeling inadequate or embarrassed by their growing and changing bodies while under the scrutiny of other middle-schoolers—I also got an extra year of their childhood.

Typically, 12 is a big year for breaking away from parents. There are no more playdates; they hang out with friends instead. There are no more Disney films; they’re begging to watch “The Vampire Diaries.” Parents, while still necessary stabilizers, are no longer part of the inner circle. It’s the way it should be, the way it must be.

This is why, when COVID put everyone into a state of suspended animation, I was so lucky to be at the point in my parenting journey where my kids could simply…well, stay kids for another year. It’s a year I would not have gotten otherwise, and I’m grateful for it every day, especially now that I send them off to school and I feel their personhoods developing away from me.

My Daughters Are Growing Up

Yes, they are striking out on their own again, slowly, in this post-pandemic age, but after spending so much time with my daughters, they still look to me as a confidant and friend. I’m not uncool yet. That year together, when we weathered storms and puberty, when we baked and planted gardens and played backyard basketball and laughed, is sticking with them.

Even as they ask about shaving their legs so Susie will stop making fun of them, and even as they try on two-piece bathing suits hoping for a “glow-up” over this all-important, coming-of-age summer, the closeness of our relationship remains, a vestige of the entire year I spent as their sole social outlet.

Not having the social web of middle school relationships for nearly a year may have put them behind in some ways. But on the upside, it put everyone behind equally. Those of us with tweens just happened to be allowed to keep them a little closer for a little longer—every parent’s dream during times of health and wellness. We need to take our wins where we could get them this year. COVID drained us, hurt us, asked more of us than we knew we could give. So I’m happy I will be able to look back on the quarantined months as quality time with my quickly growing girls.

Darlena Cunha

Darlena Cunha is an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Florida and a freelance writer.

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