Teens are in an Uncomfortable Middle Between Old and New Normals

Earlier this month like many people across the country, we had to decide how our high school sophomore would be returning to school in the fall. We had several options, including in-person, totally virtual, and hybrid choices.

We were all comfortable with our decision, all virtual for the first 9 weeks, then we can reassess. Did we feel good about it, though? Deep-down good about it, in our gut and our bones? I suppose we felt as good as anyone can about any choice for Fall 2020.

I have to remind myself that this weird state of affairs is my daughters’ new normal. (Twenty20 @coffeekai)

Change often requires a major disruption

As an organizational consultant and executive coach, I spend a lot of time with my clients talking about how there sometimes needs to be a major disruption to a system for big change to happen. Learning to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable is a big part of allowing innovation to creep in during what could be crisis.

For anyone hired at a company during a big time of transition, hearing stories about how “this is not how things normally are” is confusing, because their experience is their normal. While work can return to routine and calm, it can never be exactly the same after a disruption.

By and large this is a good thing, because it means change can (and does) happen. That doesn’t stop human beings from pining for things to be the same as they used to be during the unknown transition time.

This is our first pandemic too

Early on in the pandemic, our daughter would ask my husband and me how things in our country might change, when we might be able to go out again, etc. We always had to reply the same way; we didn’t know, this was our first pandemic, too. This settled in on her, the reality that her 14-year-old self was experiencing something new and unknown along with her 46-year-old parents.

There was no playbook, no parental understanding to guide the way. We had to deal with this reality together as it came to us and figure out what our “comfortable discomfort” might be.

As we enter the second school year affected by Covid-19, I find myself asking more specifically, “what is a normal school experience?” At the beginning of her freshman year, I thought I knew what that would be for our daughter: chorus concerts and drama productions, difficult AP classes, learning to drive, and football games under Friday night lights.

When I realize what she will not have now that we are protecting ourselves from Covid-19, I feel a sense of grief. All of that community! All of that togetherness! All of it is precious and important, and it just won’t be possible for a long while. These are losses worth grieving.

I remind myself, though, that this weird state of affairs is her normal. This worldwide crisis is the backdrop to the end of her freshman year and the beginning of her sophomore year. It isn’t a comparison to what was expected, or even what has been in the past and what we hope to return to in the future.

This is what our kids will learn in the uncomfortable middle

The uncomfortable middle between the old and new normal is what high school is for her, and because of that:

  • She will discover joys and challenges unique to the new reality that we could never have imagined before this pandemic occurred. Along with the rest of her generation, these will shape her into the adult she is becoming and prepare her for the world that will exist after this virus.
  • She will find strength out of isolation, connecting with others in novel ways to still create a community at her school. Togetherness will find a way, but it may be a way we didn’t expect.
  • She will test her self-discipline and her determination. Learning at home, via the computer, is not for the faint of heart (or the procrastinator.)
  • She will have more physical time with us and less time with friends, for better or for worse. Leaving for college is right around the corner, and we aren’t taking this extra time together for granted.
  • She will learn to ask for help. Asking teachers and peers for help is difficult, but when you are cut-off from typical interactions, it is even more necessary to ask for help when you don’t understand something. This experience will help her (and her peers) to push past embarrassment and develop this critical life-skill much earlier than many of us have.
  • She will navigate this stage of her development at exactly the time and in exactly the place she was meant to do so.

We are sad about our losses but focus on our gains

As all of her summer plans were cancelled—French immersion camp, a trip to a friend’s bar mitzvah in Washington, DC, and volunteer work with little kids in a musical theater camp—our daughter has shown a tremendous aplomb and ability to adapt.

She’s cleaned out her room (a miracle) and designed and built her own bed/loft/teen hideaway with the help of my dad. Those are memories she’ll never regret making, and they would not have been possible with our previous summer schedule.

She’s learned how to film and edit movies. She’s made us dinner and made our schnoodle homemade dog treats. This gift of time does not replace what wasn’t possible this year, but it has been a tremendous gift, nonetheless.

As her parents, my husband and I are still sad about the losses. We will continue to be. The good news, though, is that we can both feel sad and be excited about her future at the same time.

We are spending our time these days focusing on how to make each day the most effective, connected day we can. We are learning how to cut each other slack and show up in supportive ways. We are laughing at funny inside jokes that come out of all of this time together.

Pandemic or not, that is enough for our family in any season.

You’ll Also Love Reading:

Therapist Reminds Parents of the Most Important Way They Can Help Their Teens Through 2020 Here is what one mom and therapist believes parents have to keep in mind as we face challenges through the pandemic.

About Kori Lusignan

Kori Lusignan is a native Wisconsinite living in Florida and avoiding winter with her husband, daughter, and very loud rescue schnoodle. She works as an independent organizational development consultant and executive coach. Ms. Lusignan holds a Master of Science degree from Northwestern University in the area of learning and organizational change. She loves helping people to thrive through change. In her free time, Kori likes to cook & bake, watch real-crime shows & British mysteries, and spend time traveling with family and friends. You can find her at miserylovescookery.com and koritelling.com

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