“How much longer do we have to wear masks?”
“When can we go on vacation again?”
“I can’t wait for the Coronavirus to be over!”
Though my SBS first grader is so sweet and has coped remarkably well over the last year with all of life’s twists and turns, these are some questions I have been faced with as a parent. As a child and adolescent psychologist, I have also heard much more difficult ones. Sound familiar? It sounds familiar to Jesus too, after all he promised us that in this life we would have trouble. Who knew it would come in the form of a global pandemic and other natural disasters? However, that’s not where the story ends…Jesus went on to say in John 16:33 (NIV), “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The last year has brought with it much trouble, stress, and upended many of our lives in ways we and our children never imagined.
As a teenager, one of my father’s favorite things to tell me was that it was alright to make mistakes as long as I learned something. That was a valuable lesson that remains with me into adulthood and one that I would expand upon at the present time to include going through hard seasons. Sadly, nothing seems to build our trust in God’s faithfulness and increase our wisdom like trials and troubles. If my family and I have to go through challenges, I pray we all learn something that shapes us for years to come. Psychologists have long known that finding meaning in your pain or positive outcomes from difficult experiences is a powerful coping tool. Thus, I encourage you and your family to think about the good that has come out of the last year, the ways that God has cared for you, and write it down as a testament to God’s faithfulness. One of my favorite passages of scripture is from Deuteronomy 29:5 (NIV), “Yet the LORD said, ‘During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.’” God is faithful to care for us even during difficult times, but sometimes we overlook it or take it for granted.
Another benefit of the pandemic is that it has allowed us as parents to be honest and express that we do not have all the answers. I have spent much of the last year expressing to my children what I did know, what was in our control, and what I was not sure about. “I don’t know how long we’ll wear masks, but won’t we be excited when that day comes!” I believe the pandemic has also offered our children the chance to see firsthand (for better or worse) how we cope with life’s stressors. We have the opportunity to model self-care, creative coping skills when those we previously relied on are not presently available, acts of kindness towards others, creating new family routines, and sharing one another’s burdens. One of the many things we tried to focus on during the pandemic and especially during lockdown at our home was how to care for others. This resulted in many baked goods and meals left on our neighbors’ doorsteps. Finally, the pandemic and more time with our families provide us the chance to regularly offer and ask for forgiveness from one another, which is a vital life skill.
I believe the pandemic has also offered each of us the ability to reset. Reset our schedules, reset our priorities, and reevaluate what we would like our families to look like moving forward. As life begins to return to some sort of normalcy over the coming months, one question I encourage you to ask yourself and your family is, “What aspects of life during and before the pandemic do we want to keep the same and what should we change?” For over a decade, I have counseled and encouraged families to scale back, limit each child to one or maybe two activities at a time, and enjoy some downtime at home. This has seemed an impossible request for many over the years; however, the pandemic brought everything to a halt. Won’t it be wonderful for your child (and you) to resume extracurricular activities? Yes, but maybe fewer of them than in the past! As we re-prioritize in the coming months, research documents over and over again the importance of time spent outside and the vitamin D it provides, daily exercise, sleep, and proper nutrition. When our lives move at a frantic pace, we don’t take the time to enjoy the world around us, eat our food slowly, and take care of ourselves. Exercise is an amazing tool to help calm stress and minimize anxiety and depression—it is worth prioritizing.
In closing, my focus for 2021 personally is summed up in the words of Psalm 31 and Psalm 55, “But as for me, I trust in You.” Hasn’t that been so much of what 2020 and 2021 have been about?
Trusting…when life is out of control.
Trusting…when everything we called “normal” and “routine” has changed.
Trusting…that God can and will use all things for our good and for a purpose.
That trust and reliance only come from time with God—reading the Bible, starting our day in prayer and with a devotional, singing God’s praises, fasting, and seeking His wisdom. As Christians, one of our most powerful coping tools is trusting God, holding Him to his promises, and allowing our children to watch this transformative process in us. May you be encouraged, seek wisdom about God’s direction in your life, prioritize what’s really important, and cast your cares upon Him!