Grace and Gratitude In a Pandemic

Parents, Teachers, Employers:

We are headed into an unprecedented time in the next 6-10 months as we embark on a school year defined by a pandemic. Sure, we had a few months of emergency distance learning in the Spring but the expectations were much more relaxed than they will be in the fall. If you remember, for most students, grades didn’t matter so if jobs didn’t allow parents the flexibility to monitor and assist their child’s learning, we understood. Many employers did provide flexible options and leave for parents who needed to care for their children and we understood and had compassion for the financial impact this would have on employers and employees. We supported small businesses who were struggling to stay afloat.  Our teachers were suddenly given a matter of a few weeks to learn new technology and then translate all their materials to a distance learning format, while trying to provide equal access to education for all. This was a huge task indeed and we applauded our teachers for doing an amazing job with what they were given. We gave them the understanding and grace for the challenges they faced that impacted our students. We expressed gratitude for the long hours and dedication they put into our children’s education. Our children likewise had to adapt to learning online without as much in person professional support and those with learning and emotional challenges struggled the most. We understood that our children might fall behind and that some were not able to adapt to virtual learning and we found ways to support their learning in non-traditional ways. For others we scrapped school all together to focus on making memories and allowing more time for play.  We came together as a community in an incredible way that speaks to the power of love and generosity and it was inspiring.

I still see these things happening in many ways but I also see a community that has become understandably discouraged and increasingly fearful which leads to anger, division, and blame shifting. The teachers we were so quick to praise have been called lazy for wanting to minimize their risk to a virus that could then spread to their vulnerable loved ones. Many parents are being asked to return to the office, leaving them with the task of finding childcare in the midst of limited options and a costly and sometimes impossible financial burden. Parents working from home, teachers, included, are daunted with the realization of how challenging it will be to juggle full time hours while monitoring their children’s learning schedule. It is overwhelming and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface when you consider children with special needs, EL students whose parents speak and understand limited English and may not even be literate in their own language, children with emotional and behavioral challenges who thrive on the structure and resources in the school, and children who are experiencing abuse or neglect who will go unidentified and will suffer more trauma.

There is no easy answer for any of these things. They can’t be ignored, minimized, or dismissed. I believe to get through this period of time we will need to come together in specific ways as we did in the Spring.

  1. Acknowledge each other’s experiences even when they are different than our own. “That sounds really challenging.”
  2. Validate each other’s emotions. Grief, anger, sadness, depression, anxiety and fear are all normal, expected responses to living through a pandemic. Our children need their teachers and parents to acknowledge and validate their emotions and provide emotion coaching to give them the skills to identify and respond in healthy ways. They need access to trusted adults who can support them. Parents and caregivers can provide support and validation to each other. Validation, simply put, looks like saying “Of course you feel ________, that’s understandable.”
  3. Show each other grace. We haven’t been here ever before. Teachers are going to be teaching in entirely new ways and parents will be taking on a more active role in their child’s education. Employers will be faced with providing more flexible options and their bottom line may suffer. What we need most is to adjust our expectations and be generous in providing grace to our employees, our parents, our teachers, and our students. We need to know that some things will have to be let go. Your house may not be as clean, you may need extra time to complete a work project, your student may need an extra day or two to turn in an assignment. When we change our perspective to one of compassion and grace, it opens us up to be more creative in finding solutions and ways to join together to provide support.
  4. Make gratitude a part of your daily routine. Gratitude, such a simple practice, has been shown in multiple clinical studies to have a powerful impact on feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. When we daily count our blessings our perspective changes and we move from feeling discouraged and hopeless to feeling hopeful and motivated. When we then turn and express that gratitude to another person we spread that hope and encouragement beyond ourselves. I’d challenge us all to make it a daily practice to write down at least 3 things for which we can be grateful and then find at least 1 person to express gratitude towards. Teach your children to make this a practice. Teachers can incorporate this into their morning meetings with their students. Employers can make this a part of their weekly staff meetings. When I worked at a camp during my summer breaks from college, we had a mailbox station set up for each staff member and we would fill each other’s boxes up throughout the week with notes of gratitude and encouragement. They could brighten the most exhausting day. I still have all my notes now 20 years later and they always bring a smile to my face. Imagine if 20 years from now, we could look back at this time and see the blessings alongside the trials?

If you have thoughts to share from reading this post, I welcome you to leave them in the comments. I invite you to share ideas of how we can support each other in creative ways. My hope is that the comments shared can be bookmarked and referenced as a resource for all of us as we navigate the next phase of 2020.

Hannah Lindsay, MSW, LCSW-C provides individual and family therapy in our Sterling, VA office and virtually to those in the state of Virginia. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Hannah!