Pandemic parenting requires families to adapt to new narratives
Is it just me or does every mother feel as if we are just winging it? Motherhood is the ultimate "on the job training." We read all the books, ask advice from more "seasoned" mothers than us, but nothing could have prepared us for mothering this year. There isn't an issue of "What to Expect When Parenting Through a Pandemic."
As COVID-19 engulfed our country, our lives and our faith, I felt myself submerged by fear — fear for myself, for my family and specifically for my children. I tried not to let that fear crack through my facade, but I saw it reflected in the faces of my two sons as they looked to me for reassurance. I knew then that I could not let fear overtake me.
We needed to create a new narrative in our family story — one of resilience.
Even in families like mine, where husbands share the load of household commitments, I knew I needed to set a tone for our home before we fell into despair. I knew my sons were looking to my husband and me for security and to remind them that they were safe.
Frankly, at the beginning of the pandemic, I didn't know if they were safe. But I knew that only God could provide us comfort if we were not. I knew we needed fortification.
Without Mass or our parish activities or Catholic school services, it was up to me to establish that rhythm of liturgy in our home. We began to read, pray and reflect as a family in a way that we never had before.
We began each day with a Scripture reading, a story of a saint, prayer and a song. Through this rhythm I taught my sons not to be fearful. I thought of fear as another communicable disease. Just as a mother inoculates her children against diseases which infect their bodies, I worked to protect their hearts, souls and minds.
I taught my children not to be fearful. I taught them that fear is not from God. We only fear God himself. We remembered how each time an angel appears he said, "Fear not!" And we memorized grounding passages like, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear" (1 Jn 4:18) or "For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control" (2 Tm 1:7). We called upon these passages to calm us when fear came to engulf us.
We also read stories of saints who had gone through trials. These ordinary people stood firm in their faith and had the courage to answer God's call. This made them extraordinary. It made them saints. We read about others like Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who faced adversity with grace and strength. These stories revealed to us how easy we had it.
It is not as if I did not have my struggles, but as a leader in my house, I knew I could not fall into despair. Children are sensitive to their parents' emotional life. And in my home, they are especially sensitive to mine.
I knew sometimes it was OK to let them see me struggle, because they too were struggling. But sometimes I needed to guard them and find space to express these emotions away from my children. I learned this from one of Corrie ten Boom's stories.
Ten Boom was a Christian who hid Jews during World War II. This eventually led to her own imprisonment in a concentration camp. Never did she lose her faith or her joy. So much of her joyful outlook on life and faith can be credited to her father.
Once on a train ride as a child she asked her father a very grown-up question. Instead of answering it, her father asked her to carry their luggage. The luggage was large and heavy. She told her father she could not. It was too heavy.
Her father told her that he wouldn't be a good father if he asked a little girl to carry such a load and that it was the same thing with knowledge. "Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now, you must trust me to carry it for you."
I use this story when my children ask questions about the world, pandemic or no pandemic. Sometimes I answer the question, but sometimes I say, "It's too much information for a little person to carry. You must trust me to carry it for you."
This story has been a helpful tool. After hearing the story, they know what I am referring to. They trust me to reveal an appropriate amount of information. When they press me for more information, I say, "Ask me again in a (month, six months, year), and I'll see if your mind and heart is strong enough for more information."
It has been an interesting year but not a bad one. Changing our family narrative has been the key.
By Shemaiah Gonzalez, Catholic News Service