My extroverted eight-year-old who loves school, people and laughter more than anyone I know began to wither under the isolation of Covid. She started voicing fear and anxiety in ways she never had before. This was heartbreaking to me as a mom, but the impulse to rescue her from the real trials the pandemic presented was one I had to resist. To help her, we planned outside play dates when we could. But I also had to talk regularly to her about how she could honor and cope with the grief of not seeing friends as often as she once did.
What’s more, these Covid years can teach kids that they not only share in the pain and brokenness of the world but that they also have a responsibility to do what they can to alleviate it. In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida bemoaned the affect of Covid precautions in schools, saying of students, “We need to be able to let them be kids and let them act normally.”
I have heard this idea often. I understand this impulse, but it implies that to “let kids be kids” we must ignore the realities of the world, instead of teaching them to live responsibly and resiliently amid them. The failure to learn empathy and civic duty is a worse fate than having to forgo birthday parties, graduations or play dates. The problem with parents focusing on how to “get out” of Covid precautions — or the societal commitment in the part of the South where I live to alter essentially nothing about our lives during this pandemic — is that it teaches privileged kids that the problems of the world aren’t their responsibility.
Way back in March 2020, when we first had to begin wearing masks and to practice social distancing, our kids were understandably annoyed and complained about these new precautions. But the conversations these frustrations allowed us to have as family were a gift. We reminded them why we take up inconveniences and burdens for the sake of others. For a year and a half now, these practices have slowly taught our kids — through their very bodies — to love their most vulnerable neighbors.
The pandemic gave kids a chance to respond actively to the pain and suffering of the world and to work for the common good. We need to let children know that the ways they sacrificed for others is not only right but part of what it means to live well and beautifully in a hurting world.
My kids will look back on these years and remember some good times we had, some happy memories, some special rhythms and practices we picked up as a family. But they will also remember a lot of chaos, change, difficulty, frustration, loneliness and disappointment. And that’s not all bad to recall. Because, then, they may recall that the pain of the world must affect how we live our lives. They may recall that they can go through hard things and not be undone by them.