Our hazardous air quality in Oregon keeps me from nature journaling outdoors. Instead, I make ink and watercolor paintings in my journal of Anna’s Hummingbirds, the tiny, jewel-like visitors viewed from my window. I admire them for their resilience and grace during these troubled times.
I can’t help but also admire the resilience and grace demonstrated by the families raising young children during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Oregon, parents who looked forward to sending their children to the few in-person classrooms available, hoping to somewhat normalize their lives, have had their hopes crushed as the hazardous air quality from multiple wildfires has required the first week of school to be held online, if not cancelled altogether. My five year-old grandson’s First Day of School picture in 2020 shows him smiling from a chair in his family’s living room. That’s it: no special clothing, no school’s arched doorway as a backdrop, to commemorate this milestone day of his young life.
This past week, I’ve talked with several young parents expressing concern about raising children in these difficult times. They wonder how their kids will be affected in the long term by online learning, a lack of socialization in groups, and dealing with an unknown future. All of them said they feel they yell at their children too much. They have been homebound and isolated together for over six months. The stress of online school, working from home, financial concerns, worries about job losses and their businesses test their patience.
As a former pediatric intensive care nurse, I feel qualified to offer words of encouragement. I have encountered many critically ill, or medically fragile children and their families, who have pulled through unexpected emergencies and trauma with surprising resiliency. Children learn a lot about how to respond to a situation by watching how their parents respond to it. And the responses do not need to be perfect to have a positive effect. There will be tears, and sometimes tempers are short. Children understand when things are hard, but if they feel loved and supported they can overcome. When it comes to getting through a difficult day, it’s important parents remember to “not let perfect get in the way of good enough.”
Although it’s purely speculation, I have a theory about this generation of children growing up in a post-pandemic world: This is the first time in history since World War II that a generation of people are growing up with a shared, world-wide experience. Children everywhere, not just the United States, share the feelings brought on by their schools being closed, being isolated from their friends, their cities on lockdown, their parents or the parents of their friends becoming unemployed or losing their businesses. Children in China, Japan, Italy, Spain, Australia, France and nearly every other country are having a shared experience of difficult times. It is true, for some people the situation is more challenging than for others, but again, this is reminiscent of veterans of WWII and the people of their communities who had an understanding of what they suffered; those returning home more broken than another were held in respect with care, because everyone understood what they had endured. The shared experience of a world war created a broader sense of compassion.
Only time will tell, but I believe parents of young children today are raising the next “Greatest Generation,” a generation that will be able to communicate globally, because they are using electronic communication, not for gaming, but for creating goals and completing tasks. They share this experience with children from other nations. They are learning that adults don’t have all of the answers, and sometimes need support and understanding too. They are learning what can be accomplished by working together to manage a common crisis by focusing on unity, not division, to see them through.
As I watch the tiny hummingbirds from my window, navigating through thick smoke to feed, I marvel at the resilience of tiny things. And even though I don’t know what the future holds, if we give ourselves a little grace our children will make it too.