I have three children under five years old and my eldest daughter started preschool at the beginning of 2021 while my other children were still at home with me. So the past 18 to 20 months weren’t dramatically disrupted by the pandemic and lockdowns like other school age kids.
However, my eldest did go through a hard time with the famous “separation anxiety” of starting a whole new routine away from us, her parents and siblings. It took months for her to adjust and to finally enjoy going to school where she felt challenged, heard, loved and cared for, making her transition to the new environment slowly but successfully.
Then, lockdown came.
She knew something was different. She kept asking me what day was it so she can calculate how many days were left to go back to school (she used to go twice a week). Once we knew that we were definitely in an indefinite lockdown, and after she asked me for the 10th time that week if she was going to school “tomorrow”, I explained it all to her. The conversation went somehow like this:
“Over 100 days have passed now since that announcement. Politically speaking, leaders resigned and leaders were proclaimed … adding too much stress to a common mother’s anxious heart.”
Her: I’m going to school tomorrow?
Me: No, not tomorrow. School is closed.
Her: (looks at me in shock) So, my friends are there?
Me: No, your friends (I mentioned a few names of classmates to her) are all at home with their mummys and daddys.
Her: and Miss XXX too?
Me: Yes, everyone is at home because we are in lockdown, but when the school opens again you are going to see them all again and have fun.
I proceeded to smile, play, laugh and change the subject. Typical strategies to avoid her overthinking and to give me an exit to more explanations that would confuse her.
Over 100 days have passed now since that announcement. Politically speaking, leaders resigned and leaders were proclaimed, all that together with announcements of new dates and new numbers, adding too much stress to a common mother’s anxious heart.
All of a sudden, after being constantly terrorised about a disease -which is still there-, after going through excruciating life-changing decisions, existential crisis, faith crisis… after all that fear and stress, now we are heading to a more normal existence, transitioning back into society.
Going together through lockdown
No matter how old our children are they went through this lockdown with us. If you were an essential worker and needed to leave home, they spent a lot time by themselves trying to do homework, use Zoom and other online tools to keep up the pace of school, while you felt guilty when you came back home.
If you were a stay at home parent overwhelmed with the extra tasks with no respite: at the end you didn’t have schedules for them because you AND them were exhausted and anxious.
If you were working at home: you kept having 100 interruptions from your conference calls because someone chucked a tantrum, a baby cried non-stop, maybe some screams happened in the background while playing, maybe a big Lego tower splashed the floor making a thunderous noise…
Oh! What a nightmare!! We didn’t DO it all… We CANNOT do it ALL… that feeling of failure haunted us. Still does. And now we are sending our children out there again and we feel like we didn’t do enough!!
“The only thing that will keep us away from God’s will is sin, and in our Catholic faith we have a wonderful gift from Our Lord which is the Sacrament of Confession …”
We start making a mental list of all the things we should’ve put in place: structure, routine, a smile more often, maybe? Less 11am Conference and more 6:30pm Rosary Prayers? “It is too late!” -someone whispers in our ears, poison us with self-hate, self-recrimination and guilt.
But don’t you dare feel like that or believe the devil’s whispers!!! God is in control of everything!
“God can make good out of anything. Think about it: if God can take the ugliness of the Crucifixion and give us the Resurrection, He can certainly take these situations in our lives, that each of us are dealing right now, and take my “little mess” and just make it into something beautiful.” (Alicia Hernon from The Messy Family Project, on the 2nd of October at “Flourish” virtual retreat from @flourishingwomanhood)
But we wonder, -always second guessing the Almighty- what good can He take out of me and my failures?
Oh! A LOT
Firstly, as mothers we are not meant to do it all, even if the movies and society encourages us to do so, even if they pressure us to live up to these expectations of perfectionism, because we are only meant to SEEK God’s will in everything we do, not the will of others around us. The only thing that will keep us away from God’s will is sin, and in our Catholic faith we have a wonderful gift from Our Lord which is the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation.
Rediscovering the sacrament of Reconciliation
Isn’t it a beautiful word “Reconciliation”? Because it IS a Reconciliation. When we sin we break the rules of friendship with God and when that happens we can go and reach HIM and His forgiveness. After doing that we feel the Grace of His Love and Power in our hearts. We have been craving for this moment for months now. We have been away from HIM both physically (Eucharist) and mentally and emotionally (Confession) for too long.
So we sinned, then we felt guilty, and because we couldn’t go to Confession we felt lost and started making more mistakes, and sin again… etc… the cycle continued… and what was initially a little dirty particle in our hearts now needs a vacuum… but don’t worry, God can blow away the dirtiness of our sins in a breath.
“I suggest talking to them and preparing them for school but also engage them in grounding/relaxing activities (meditations, exercise, art, music).”
Secondly, a word from God to you from Isaiah 41:10:
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
He was there when the lockdowns started. He was holding us tight when the waves of uncertainty were flooding us and He will STILL BE THERE the morning when you drop off your kids to their first day of school –again- facing a different world… a world neither of us expected to be raising our kids in.
Lessons from Lockdown
The other day I was chatting with a Catholic Psychologist from the United States, Dr. Marinés Novoa (@thecatholicpsychologist) about how to help our children transition from home to school after so long without a structure. We know our lockdowns haven’t been as long as the ones experienced in other parts of the world but some of her insights were very enlightening.
The first thing she said was: “They’re exhausted. (The children) are not used to having to get up and go to school physically and socialise. So although some may be excited they will also be exhausted after. I suggest adjusting bedtimes (for all ages) and practice getting up for school 2-3 weeks before school starts so their body can transition to the time.”
“In regard to the stress of actually having more school work, she suggested to keep an eye on it and for parents “to be mindful of how they’re doing with school work and help them create a new routine/structure to manage their work….”
Well… if I am going to be honest, I am exhausted too… as parents we should also adjust our routines too.
Dr. Novoa also spoke to me about Anxiety:
“They haven’t had to be with classmates in person for so long, so there may be anxiety when there normally isn’t. This can present differently for each child / age group. Some will have physical complaints (stomach aches, head aches). Others might seem tensed up or irritable. I suggest talking to them and preparing them for school but also engage them in grounding/relaxing activities (meditations, exercise, art, music). If the anxiety is severe, I suggest working with the school on a plan to support your child. Do they have a safe space they can go to if overwhelmed? Are there counsellors available? How can they take appropriate breaks?”
Be the Centre of their Peace
Patience is the key here. We should be the centre of their peace. Listen to them with our ears but also with our eyes: when we look at our kids in their eyes, there is a power and a thin communication line that can be achieved by showing true interest with no interruptions or distractions. Let them use their words and don’t be afraid of what they might say.
In regard to the stress of actually having more school work, she suggested to keep an eye on it and for parents “to be mindful of how they’re doing with school work and help them create a new routine/structure to manage their work. I would suggest a homework monitoring system for the first month until their child is adjusted to prevent them from suddenly getting behind and feeling even more overwhelmed.”
The times ahead are challenging but we are not alone in this journey of Motherhood. The love we have for our children will help us help them. But the love God has for them is bigger than our own love.
Connect to God
When you drop off your kids at school, don’t head up to the coffee shop, don’t run to that retailer for that item you couldn’t get online and don’t go back home to do housework because housework will always be there for you. Instead, head up to your Parish, ask for an available priest and celebrate the Sacrament of Confession. Connect to God. It is a matter of urgency.
I said it once: The Grace of God that fills up your heart and soul after a Confession has no comparison.
Makes your burdens lighter.
Makes your days brighter.
Makes your sleepless nights an offering.
Makes your anxieties go away.
Makes your sadness go away.
Makes your heart be at peace,
with the peace of God.
“The love we have for our children will help us help them. But the love God has for them is bigger than our own love.”
We are doing this. We are going back to the secular world… a different and polarised one.
We need to arm ourselves with the Armour of God.
We need God’s grace.
We need God.
Let us pray for our children and for us, parents and teachers, too.
Rosary in arms. Let’s go.
God bless you,
Liza, a Maronite Mum