By Trish Pannuto
Anyone else getting questions from your kids about seeing friends, girlfriends, going out? This is going to be a long post. Heads up, if you think scrolling to the end will reveal the answer, it won’t. I have two thoughts on this. First, there isn’t one right answer as we’re navigating a situation we’ve never encountered before, and the answer will be different for every family. Second, I wouldn’t want this to sound like a recommendation; I wouldn’t want that responsibility.
I will offer some ideas about how to tackle this inevitable and challenging question. Let me begin by saying that I’m grateful for the mature, rational, and patient mindset of my “kids.” I don’t know that I would have handled this all with such grace at their age, 19 and 23.
Our first foray into this question came when the Governor of Maryland issued the stay at home order on March 30th. At that time, the answer was more straightforward as the state-issued order required all persons to stay at home. I actually love the concept of policy — especially one that serves me well — as I think by design it takes away the need for decision making and, in this case, puts us all in the same boat. So, whether it’s a family policy or the governor’s policy, the answer was easy, “not right now, it’s against the policy.”
Flash forward nearly 8 weeks, people are getting edgy, and “the policy” is beginning to shift here in the state of Maryland. Perhaps we’re all beginning to wonder how and when we can see friends, go to work, go to the movies, ride the metro … insert yours here.
If You Need an Answer Now, the Answer is No
When asked recently, “when can I see my girlfriend?” I was grateful for a PEP phrase that has served me well over the years, “If you need an answer right now, the answer is ‘no.’ If you can wait, I’ll think about it.”
Late Night Conversations & Thought Experiments
We had multiple conversations throughout the week surrounding this question, both as a family and one-on-one. We’ve talked about the burden of going out, potentially bringing this illness back into our home. How everything seems to take longer as there are masks and hand sanitizers involved, and that the sheer mental processing power is wearying.
We discussed the idea that every family right now is a pod of sorts and that introducing new people into your pod — whether by inadvertent contact at the store or welcoming someone into your home — introduces new germs to our carefully curated bubble.
We conducted thought experiments about what would happen if one of us were to need hospitalization and the notion that as a parent, I wouldn’t be permitted to accompany them — and vice-versa — to the hospital.
We pondered the fact that some people are carrying the illness and apparently not appearing sick; that some come through this with relatively mild illness, and others are not so lucky.
We considered that the stay at home order was designed to “flatten the curve” and mitigate the stress on the healthcare system and that eventually, somehow, we’ll have to leave our nest and re-enter a new, different, and scary world.
I shared that I’m missing my friends, too, and that it’s tiring to be the sentry, feeling (overly) responsible for keeping everyone safe, fed, and healthy.
Finally, and regrettably late, I asked the clarifying question, “What exactly are you asking for?” I had assumed he was asking to revert back to a simpler time, but possibly a socially distant visit or walk was really the ask!
It’s Not One Conversation But a Series of Conversations
If you’ve taken PEP classes, you may be familiar with this phrase, “It’s not one conversation but a series of conversations.” We use it a lot when navigating difficult subjects ranging from social media and screen time to drugs and alcohol to sex. Why? Because situations evolve, and kids and even parents grow and change.
Of course, the conversation above will differ depending on the age of your children. If you’re dealing with young children, it’s easier to have black and white answers; equivocating can cause unnecessary confusion. Slightly older kids — tweens, teens, and those in college who are home again for a while — are doing their job, pressing up against boundaries and individuating from us, when they push back on policies about staying at home. If you’ve taken a PEP class or one of our PEP Master Classes, you may remember the “Out of the Nest” exercise where we brainstorm the qualities we might like our children to have. Our goal, as you’ll recall, is to raise thinking children. Qualities like curious, questioning, independent, and self-advocating are often mentioned as ones we want our children to have when they leave the nest. Engaging them in difficult conversations as we navigate this strange time in life is an excellent place to start.
Looking for support raising those curious, questioning, and independent kids in your life? Join one of our June Master Classes! You’ll find solutions and support with the weekly online videos, live support sessions, and our signature “Try This at Home” exercises. Register today!
Parent Encouragement Program
10100 Connecticut Ave.
Kensington, MD 20895