It’s been more than a year of living through a pandemic.
Let that sink in for a second.
An entire year of living through an experience that most of us never would have imagined we’d go through during our lifetime. The whole idea was one that 98% of us only grappled with for maybe 120 minutes during a movie (Contagion) or for several hours while reading a novel (The Stand).
For most of us, this overwhelming situation was purely a “Can you even imagine?” probability. Or a “That could never happen here” brush-off.
We were not prepared for this year
To say that we were all a bit unprepared is the understatement of the decade. And as parents, we all know that even if we HAD been intellectually prepared, or logistically primed, we still would have been woefully unprepared emotionally. Think back to the baby books you might have read while pregnant, or the first aid kits in the back of your car.
Because not only have we been adjusting and pivoting (ugh, that word!) and reacting to changes in almost every aspect of our own lives, we have been witnessing our kids do the same, and we have been feeling responsible for their challenges and frustrations. We’ve been experiencing this seismic shift in two distinct modes: Personal Pandemic and Pandemic by Proxy if you will.
A universal parenting warning is this: “We are only as happy as our unhappiest child.” And it is perhaps the most profound adage of life as a parent.
Over this past year, we’ve watched our kids’ lives be utterly upended.
We are experiencing the pandemic personally and through our teens
We’ve witnessed and felt in our cores their cancellations — school, sports, clubs, hangouts, dances, graduations, campus tours, jobs, and first (or last) dates.
We’ve watched them sigh and cry.
We’ve watched them shut down, zone out, sleep too much, sleep too little, slam their doors, freak out, perform self-care, and in some cases, harm themselves. Because it’s all been too much. And we’ve sadly grasped that one messed-up year in the life of a sixteen-year-old is a much greater percentage of reality than that of a forty-six-year-old.
And at times, we’ve all felt completely alone in our fear and our anger over the unpredictability of their pandemic experiences.
It’s easy to start feeling alone
It’s been so easy to feel alone, as we sat in our homes and Zoomed and distanced and masked up to grocery shop and run errands. Oftentimes it’s been scary to even think about socializing with friends, neighbors, and family members who don’t live with us.
And it’s become easy to think that we’re the only parent feeling exactly how we’re feeling. Because it’s been such a tangled-up web of emotions, it’s felt like a struggle to even voice our feelings on various days. What do you even call a blend of sadness, anger, terror, gratitude, and hope? “Santegratope?” I don’t think there’s a dedicated support group for that sensation.
But it’s enormously important for us to remember this: We are not alone.
It’s important to remember that you are no alone
If you’re feeling resentment, so are millions of others. If joy seems elusive today, it is for countless other parents as well. If you feel like screaming into a pillow tonight, you are in good company. If you are elated that you got some great news this week, others feel your happy tears deep within their own souls.
Parenting teens and college students is a challenge in a good year. The tween, teen, and emerging adult years have their unique pigeonholes for a reason. The rollercoaster metaphor is spot on. They are the best of times; they are the most dreadful of times. But throw in a pandemic and it’s simply a fresh kind of hell on any given day.
We are all feeling it. We are all exhausted. We are all burnt out and just want all the ease and predictability of our “normal” lives back — even if they weren’t really all that easy and predictable pre-March 2020. Hindsight is lovely viewed from behind a mask with sanitizer-chapped hands.
Our teens and young adults all have faced the same upheaval, but they’ve done it like they do everything else. In their own unique ways, dependent upon their personalities and abilities. But as parents, we’ve all had to deal with shepherding them through it. Tiptoeing with trepidation across that razor-thin high wire, balancing, bending, and trying desperately to keep our eyes on the horizon, not on the ground, so far below us. Helping, but not helicoptering. Supporting, but not smothering.
Here are the ways you are not alone
So if over this past, prolonged year you’ve felt infuriated by shifting rules, goalposts, and edicts — you are not alone.
If you’ve felt heartsick about your child’s lost opportunities, isolation, or shrinking connections — you are not alone.
If you’ve stared at an unused graduation gown, prom dress, interview suit, basketball uniform, dance costume, plane ticket, or study-abroad itinerary and shed a few tears — you are not alone.
If you’ve felt incredibly proud about a child’s resilience and how they’ve managed to thrive and succeed despite everything — you are not alone.
If you’ve felt despondent about inequities and prejudices aimed at your child — you are not alone.
If you’ve felt grief over the loss of innocence, life, or ordinary milestones — you are not alone.
If you’ve felt cheated by what’s been taken from your teen or young adult’s evolution — you are not alone.
If you’ve found solace through therapy, medication, food, binging old TV series, or puppies and kittens — you are not alone.
If you’ve felt enraged by other people not taking things as seriously as you have — you are not alone.
If you’ve listened to slamming doors, screaming, or unsettling silence — you are not alone.
If you’ve felt numb and spent a weekend in pajamas eating cereal in dirty sweatpants while watching true crime documentaries — you are not alone.
If you’ve felt overwhelming anxiety about your kids’ futures or sheer delight in what’s right around the corner — you are not alone.
If you’ve shared inappropriately hysterical laughter with your child because there was no appropriate response to yet another obstacle — you are not alone.
If you’ve felt confused about how your child should be doing or how you should be feeling — you are not alone.
Many others feel exactly as you do
No matter what you’ve voiced within your home, kept silent in your heart, or raged about in public, be assured that countless other parents are feeling exactly the same and are furiously juggling similar issues and concerns. Even if they haven’t shared them due to fear, shame, or lack of time and connection.
And if you just now have the desire to share or find connections, reach out in any way that you can. There is always someone to share in your loneliness, whether you want help, validation, or just an ear.
No matter how long you’ve stayed quiet or felt alone, you are truly only as lonely as you want to be.