My three children have provided me with many sleepless nights over the years. Sometimes illness or a school project was the culprit, but most of the time I lay wide awake racked with anxiety, worrying about the emotional or physical well being of one of them. I, like you, instinctively have worked hard to protect my children from harm. I sent all three of my children to private school and made sure they went to church every Sunday hoping I could insulate them from hurt and provide them with the safety and security they needed to flourish.
But in the last 12 months, every parent has had to face the hard reality that our children are living in a difficult and traumatic time. No parent can totally protect their child from the repercussions of a worldwide pandemic. We have all lived through multiple layers of disappointment and stress as we have mourned the loss of celebrations like birthday parties, graduations, and vacations, and the loss of basics like jobs, homes, and schooling. Some have even lost loved ones.
The result is that everyone, including children, have had to learn to adapt and cope with a new reality. However, the new world in which we are living, while difficult to navigate, also has the potential to empower parents and consequently our children become better equipped, and ultimately enabled to handle life’s toughest challenges.
Empowered Parents are Tuned In
When the world shut down last spring most of us were suddenly inundated with something very few of us found familiar:: time! Flour was incredibly hard to find on the grocery store shelf as people began to embrace the art of baking. Home repairs and procrastinated projects now filled many empty hours. Families enjoyed walks together in an unseasonably cool spring and early summer. An ideal setting had been created to turn the fuzzy noise of a hectic lifestyle into the clear and vibrant sound of life itself.
I remember that as time stood still, I felt stripped of all my purpose and importance in life and began to generate activity where none existed just to fill the void. When my adult children finally agreed to come to dinner despite an overwhelming fear of getting their dad and me sick, I could not help but be distracted by texts that I was receiving, a sure sign that someone needed me, a feeling I had been missing and now eagerly embraced. At that moment, my 27-year-old daughter looked at me with pleading eyes and asked, “Can’t it wait, Mom?” I decided it could and laid my phone aside. This was a time to be tuned into my family.
The pandemic has reminded me that kids, even 27-year-old kids, need tuned-in parents. Understandably, a child’s need for a tuned-in parent increases as their age decreases. Even though we live with more distractions than in any other time in history, a child’s need for a connected parent remains. In fact, a parent’s ability to connect with their child through relationship and experience has been proven to be the most strategic way to not only help a child develop, but to enhance a child’s brain growth. When the pandemic of 2020 broke out, much of life stood still. At the time it felt crippling for and left a void in many families, but a door of opportunity had opened for others. Empowered parents seized the moments given to them to connect with their children spending valuable time playing, teaching, and sharing life’s experiences.
Empowered Parents are Motivated to Act
Crisis inspires action. Whether it is a pandemic or a power outage, people are often motivated to engage and make a difference when faced with adversity. I personally felt challenged to find a way to help people connect when the pandemic first invaded our lives. I helped organize a “drive by” Easter egg hunt, set up my preschool teachers on Marco Polo, and even recorded puppet shows for my students. Many others did incredible work making masks, delivering food, and risking their lives to care for the sick. Parents who are moved to action are inspirational models for kids, demonstrating active responsible citizenship.
During the recent power outage my son-in-law checked on every neighbor on his street and helped many of them by repairing pipes, delivering firewood, and waiting in long lines for needed supplies. Parents who are motivated to act during crisis become heroes to their children, unconsciously training them healthy and productive ways to cope during hard times. During the winter storm I thoroughly enjoyed reading Facebook posts about how many of my friends with young children camped out together in front of fireplaces, played games, and made a dilemma into a lesson on problem solving and survival skills! What excellent parenting! While none of us like to struggle or face the unknowns that hardship elicits, the often-heroic actions of motivated people provide children with excellent role models to emulate.
Trials also bring fresh perspective and remind us to be grateful for the simple things in life. Winter storm Uri reminded us to be thankful for hot showers, warm meals, drinking water running from our taps and the engulfing warmth flowing from a fully powered furnace during the coldest day in a century. Embracing an attitude of gratitude has been shown to improve health and longevity; the comfortable lifestyles we live often steal from us the reminders we need to maintain a spirit of thankfulness. The pandemic has made me extremely thankful for my health and for my family. The power outage made me incredibly grateful for spaces that many have lost in recent days:: my home, my bed, my bathroom and my kitchen. Children need to be reminded and trained to be grateful for all of life’s blessings. Difficulties in life are opportune moments to lead children to have thankful hearts.
Empowered Parents Model Grit
Angela Duckworth, researcher, professor, and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, defines grit as “passion and perseverance for a very long-term goal” and “having stamina.” In her research she found that gritty people were more likely to achieve success in life. Having grit is more directly related to achievement than a high intelligence quotient, an economic advantage, or even talent. The conclusive evidence of her research leads to the question, How do you develop grit in kids? Duckworth believes one of the best ways is developing a “growth mind set.” A concept conceived by psychologist Carol Dweck, growth mindset is the belief that you can learn, grow, and acquire the skills you need to accomplish goals. Recent events have tested emotional and physical grit, especially that of parents with little ones who must manage their own emotions as well as those of their children. But each time we embrace a growth mind set we empower ourselves and our children and we grow a little grittier, giving us the stamina to handle life’s next big challenge.
Empowered Parents Give Hope
The difficulties of this past year have been unprecedented, launching us into a new reality that few feel equipped to manage. However, hope is always present, sometimes hiding beneath the rubble of chaos, other times arriving in the open arms of a friend or a neighbor, often appearing unexpectedly in a new grateful perspective or even in an idea or revelation. Choosing to find hope and meaning in the mayhem that life serves us transforms our struggles and hardship from purposeless devastation to opportunities for growth and inspiration.