Last week, our fifth week into this new world of unprecedented social distancing, my colleagues and I were talking (over Zoom, of course!) about blogs and what would be the most useful blog for parents of adoptees right now. My children are all in their twenties, and they have all moved back home as their colleges or graduate schools or time abroad have been curtailed, and I keep thinking about how quarantining with 20-somethings is so much different than quarantining with younger children. Yesterday, as I was finishing my oh-so-important daily walk, I saw a mom with her toddler. They yelled together, “Go!” and the child ran. Then, “Freeze!!” and she froze. Over and over and over (and over and over). I flashed back to that time when I was a mother of three young children under the age of 4, trying to find as many creative ways as I could to just get their energy out, and how exhausted I was by the end of each day. This was when we had the whole world at our fingertips, when we could go to a different playground each day if we wanted to. This mom smiled at me and laughed, “This doesn’t even begin to slow her energy level down!”
THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES OF PARENTING DURING COVID-19
So here we are. We are all soldiering through, sharing universal challenges, and each with our own unique challenges. Social media is full of great ideas and funny memes to get us through each day—I can’t imagine doing this 20 years ago, when we did not have the ability to review the news on our phones and FaceTime our loved ones. My weekly Zoom calls with my college friends are the lifeboats that help this extrovert get through isolation. There is so much great advice out there on the Internet to help parents get through each day: lower your expectations; find ways for your children to learn through day-to-day activities—bake together, plant together, read books together, and laugh together. Find ways to incorporate creative movement into your days—I love those TikTok dance videos where parents are trying to do the dances with their kids, and failing miserably!
Most importantly for us at BPAR, however, is how this “new normal” is affecting adoptees and their families. Parenting adoptees brings up its own set of unique challenges during this unprecedented time. Last Sunday, a Boston Globe headline remarked, “Coronavirus is a crash course in embracing uncertainty.” Yup. That resonated with me. We are all unsure when this will end. We are all sitting with uncertainty. We are all figuring out how to work from home, or how to be in school from home, or how to be out of work from home. Some of us are losing our jobs, or don’t know if our jobs are secure. Our kids are missing their teachers and their classmates, or they are missing graduation festivities, and their regular spring activities and sports, and they are not even sure if they will get a job or go to camp this summer, or if they will start school or college or a job in the fall. When we look at this uncertainty and loss through the lens of adoption, it is important to remember that adoption at its very core is about loss. The uncertainty and loss that adoptees are grappling with currently can trigger old, deep feelings, some of which are preverbal. It is tempting at times to minimize these losses—after all, everyone is going through tremendous uncertainty right now—but it is important to validate these feelings for our kids. It IS so disappointing to be missing out on so many things! It IS a big deal that our child is missing his or her prom, or the sleepover birthday party they were looking forward to all year. And all of this sometimes brings up sad feelings from long ago losses and unpredictable changes. It’s okay to be sad about all of this, the old and the new. Acknowledging these feelings, and even finding creative ways to honor these lost events (for example, helping your child scrapbook the past school year) can be healing.
HOW STRUCTURE CREATES A SENSE OF SAFETY
Our children look to us as role models, even more so during difficult times. They are paying attention to our anxiety and watching how we cope. Although our days have become narrower, it can be helpful to set up schedules during the week. Structure creates a sense of safety and familiarity, and is especially helpful for kids who are struggling to contain their anxiety. Many of you are parenting adoptees and trauma survivors who have experienced repeated unpredictability in their lives. These children respond especially well to consistent schedules. It is reasonable to set age and developmentally appropriate expectations and to establish formal breaks and downtime throughout the day. If you have a traumatized child who tends to get dysregulated easily, be realistic when you set the daily schedule. Pause for regular movement breaks, meals and snack time, or just to relax and refresh.
ACTIVE LISTENING AIDS PROBLEM SOLVING
Our day-to-day lives pre-Covid-19 were often so busy that we did not always get the chance to just sit and talk with our children. Now you have the opportunity to actively listen to your child. Pay attention to their words and their body language, and validate what they are saying. Even if you disagree with them, you can still validate the feelings behind their words. This is the perfect time to connect. Be approachable, hear what they are saying without judgement, and work together to improve communication and strategize solutions when difficulties arise. When children feel understood, it helps them regulate their emotions, and this shifts the conversation away from their behaviors to their feelings. Particularly with teens, who might be fighting the rules around social distancing, active listening allows you to problem solve together and helps your teen to slowly shift toward independent problem solving. Keep in mind that often what you might be seeing externally—surliness in adolescents, or behavioral dysregulation in younger children—might not indicate what is going on internally. Inside, they might be feeling stressed or overwhelmed or just confused and scared about what is happening in a world that has suddenly turned upside down.
PRACTICES TO MODEL AND SHARE
During a recent clinician meeting, my Boston Post Adoption Resources colleagues shared that many adoptees are feeling disconnected. Social distancing accentuates disconnection, and for some who struggle to stay connected in the best of times, this enforced isolation can be particularly difficult. Adoptees and their parents can benefit from a balance of self-care and creative connection with outside supports. Everyone, including teachers and other professionals, is in survival mode right now. We are all figuring out how to stay centered and connected during a time of unprecedented uncertainty and physical distance. First rule of thumb for parents: Be good to yourself. Lower expectations. Be your own cheerleader. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your children. Limit the amount of news you watch, and model self-care for your children. Try not to get caught up in the media frenzy, and be cognizant of your own escalating stress which will certainly be felt by your children. Practice mindfulness together—this is a win-win for everyone involved. Take deep breaths together, or cuddle under a weighted blanket. Maybe prioritize journaling or self-reflection, and encourage your children to do this as well. Sometimes, just quieting your mind, and practicing this with your kids—stopping the looping thoughts and being present in your body—is the best way to start or end the day. Practice being grateful, and include gratitude in your daily routine. A year or so ago, BPAR’s founder Jennifer Eckert recommended a way to start our day: List something you are grateful for and something you like about yourself, and take five deep breaths. So simple, but so powerful. I have done this every day since then, and I am so grateful that she shared this practice with me.
TAKING STOCK: ROSES, THORNS AND BUDS
When my kids were little, we would talk about roses, thorns and buds once a week at the dinner table. The rose was a wonderful thing that happened that week, the thorn was something that was not so great. The bud was something hopeful, something we were looking forward to. As they got older and began to overextend themselves at dance and gymnastics and school plays, we were rarely able to eat dinner with all five of us together. Now it is rare to even have all five of us in the same city at the same time. And yet, here we are. All of a sudden, we are all living together and eating dinner together almost every night. At first, someone was always running off after a quick dinner to a Zoom college class or to FaceTime their friends, but recently, I’ve noticed, we have been lingering. We talk about silly, unimportant things, and it feels deeply healing to me. In all of this uncertainty, I will always treasure these moments.
Dr. Barbara Nosal from Newport Healthcare asks the following question: If you thought about this crisis as a personal message from the universe, what would the message be? We are in many ways being forced to slow down. How many times have you noted in the past that you would do things if you just had the time? Some of these changes might continue even after COVID-19 isolation has been lifted.
So what can parents and adoptees do to help them through this difficult time? Be kind to yourself. Add structure to your child’s day. Remind your children that you love them—that your love is a constant they can rely upon. Remember that loss and uncertainty are triggering factors in the best of times, and find ways to validate these feelings. A year from now, we will sit at the dinner table and talk about our COVID roses and thorns and buds. We will continue to support each other over loss and uncertainty, and we will remind ourselves that in this era of the Great Pause, when in essence the world said “Freeze!” we gained insight that allowed us to “Go” again in a more healthy and connected way.
Please visit our COVID-19 support page for helpful resources for families.
Written by Erica Kramer
Boston Post Adoption Resources