March 2021

Pandemic Parenting

And the Power of Perspective

By Erin Beck Maver

Sometimes, when I deliver life lessons to my kids I think I’m partly delivering that lesson to myself. Today was one of those days.

Somewhere during the course of my life I was presented with this analogy, and it really stuck with me and made an impact.

I’ll attempt to summarize: Imagine you’re sitting at a table with three other people, each occupying a space that corresponds to “North”, “East”, “South”, and “West”, on a compass rose. From your perspective, sitting in the “North” position, you see the number “3” written on a piece of paper. Sitting to your right is the person in “West” position who looks at the very same paper and sees a “W”. The person opposite you, “South”, sees a cursive “E”. And, finally the person sitting in “East” position sees an “M”. If we rotate seats we can see one another’s perspective, but it’s difficult when we aren’t able to shift our position. Maybe we can imagine what the other perspective might be if we are familiar with what is written on the paper – such as in this instance. If you’re familiar with the English alphabet and number system this sounds pretty obvious. This “3”, “W”, “E”, “M” symbol is the same image experienced from different vantage points. But, what if what’s written on the paper is in another language? Or, maybe it’s symbols from a religion you don’t practice or an advanced college course you never took. Maybe it’s the image of a stranger’s life.
As adults we understand the concept that we might not necessarily understand the nuances of another person’s life. The more we live and experience, the more we grow our capacity for compassion. Each struggle we face gives us new viewpoints – different perspective.

As pandemic life ebbs and flows -seemingly endless waves of new understanding and growth sculpt the beaches of our lives. But, it can be a messy process.
Today, in a fit of frustration and despair, I shrieked as I pushed back tears, “these teachers just have no idea what we are dealing with!”

I was at my breaking point. I’d awakened after a tough night’s sleep (bad dreams brought children to my bed and elbows to my ribs), and heaved a frustrated sigh as I recalled that one of my kids had forgotten their chrome book at my sister’s house (where we typically hold our “Homeschool/Zoomschool”, because our RV hotspot doesn’t hold a candle to normal internet, but her kitchen is being remodeled and, thus, we are stuck in a 350 square foot box for hours on end), knowing that I’d need to send one child out to sit in our truck (which has a more decent hotspot) while another child used my phone for their morning zoom meeting. It had been one thing after another – assignments from last week needed revising, assignments for the current day needed explaining. Pre-school aged sibling needed reassuring and all kids needed feeding. Mommy needed coffee!

I was in the throes of trying to squeak out one more ounce of patience and even tempered voice when my eldest explained that she couldn’t simply read the book I bought to match the curriculum, she had to watch the video of her teacher reading the book because it’s filled with questions and vocabulary prompts. She can’t use this particular platform in the truck because the videos won’t load with sub-par internet. I know, that sounds reasonable. I know, I sound a little unreasonable. But, I just wanted to shout and cry and have someone come hug me because sharing one phone between two kids makes for a long school day. And, I still hadn’t found time for coffee (or food or a shower or a breath). Pandemic parenting is tough.
Being the typically cool headed person that I am, I was able to take a deep breath and refocus. But, to be honest, it really only LOOKED like I had pulled myself together. I apologized to my kids and started the dishes once I’d gotten everyone settled into a task. But, as I stood over the sink my thoughts began to wander and a little tear fell down my cheek.

I don’t think I’m alone. Sure, not everyone decided to sell their house and move their family of five into an RV for a year of travel. That has definitely added to the intensity this season of life has offered. But, I’m certain many other mamas and daddies have shed a tear or two this school year (and have their own set of difficult circumstances to wade through). And, I’ll bet we could create a reservoir if we collected them all. We could call it “Up Covid Creek” and maybe someday we might all join together to jump off “The Zoom Failed Again Falls”. That is, if we ever get to gather in groups again. The toddler tantrum section of my brain is running around, wildly screaming that this will never end!

And, oh, how we need an end! We need some hope! But, we don’t have a crystal ball and we’ve been thrown too many curve balls to even imagine holding onto some semblance of certainty.

So, I understand when I hear the shouts from frustrated parents who just want schools to reopen. And, I empathize with the desperate cries of parents who want to ensure the safety of students, teachers and families. I do my very best to have compassion for my fellow community members.

And, THAT is why that tear slipped when I stood at the kitchen sink. That tear was my wounded little heart feeling too many feelings and UNDERSTANDING that I’m not alone. That was me, wallowing in self pity, and, suddenly feeling ashamed of my unrestrained expression of emotion. Truth be told, the shudder that came after that tear was specifically (and, importantly) reserved for my kid’s teachers. And, I felt remorse for what I’d shrieked in my fit of frustration.

Sometimes, when I deliver life lessons to my kids I think I’m partly delivering that lesson to myself. Today was one of those days.

I waited until they had finished their last assignments and I sat them down to explain my earlier outburst. I don’t want them to think that it’s unreasonable for one to lose their cool sometimes – we are human after all. Sometimes we lose it over life’s smallest troubles, we all have bad days. But, I do want them to recognize those moments within themselves as opportunities for reflection and growth. I try to teach that by modeling. And, on this day I knew I needed to fess up that mommy had lost perspective.

My kids are familiar with the analogy of the 3 (or, maybe it’s M, or W, or E? Or, as they point out, it could be a bottom or a bird!) – they’ve heard me speak often about having empathy and compassion for the struggles of their fellow human. And, I felt like I couldn’t just screech about how their teachers “just don’t understand” (insert dramatic sob, for effect) because I also needed to tell them that “I just don’t understand” the hurdles their teachers are facing. Later in the day, one of my kids received a voice response on an assignment from one teacher who admitted she’d struggled with some tech issues on a particular assignment and lauded my daughter for finding her way through it. I was proud of my daughter, but it also drove home the point that I just don’t fully understand how much these teachers are trudging through to bring our kids their virtual school day! I admit, I felt like a big brat. But, I’ve also learned that part of practicing compassion is to have it for yourself too. To quote Anne Lamott, “radical self-care is quantum, and it radiates out from you into the atmosphere like a little fresh air. It’s a huge gift to the world…It’s where world peace begins.” I love what she says here and I TRY (sometimes I fail) to remind myself that we all need that compassion for self, even me.

So, I explained my outburst. I explained why I need to remember compassion for others. And, in explaining this, I did find compassion for myself. My kids hugged me and, once again, I was fortified. Ready to face another day, another tech hurdle, another short tempered outburst from some member of our family. And, we would be ready to offer compassion and find perspective. Pandemic parenting (and, childhood! But, that’s another story!) is tough. But, if we can remember the power of perspective, we will find our way through.

Erin Beck Maver is a lifelong native of the Santa Cruz Mountains who now travels full time in a Fifth Wheel with her family of five! She is an advocate for heart disease, normalizing grief, and focusing on the beauty, pain, and possibility of our one wild and precious life!


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