Deciding to move my family halfway around the world in the middle of a global pandemic has begged some questions. How do you manage a 5 & 7 year old in a hotel quarantine for two weeks? How much Lego can you fit in a suitcase? Will Gran be able to use WhatsApp video call? Is this a midlife crisis?
On reflection, we have been lucky: we have had a choice. During this pandemic, we have heard so many stories of families separated or homes abandoned or – most sobering of all – our friends and families who have become casualties of this cruel, capricious disease. We all face immense pressure and stress in this situation. As parents, we have to make choices that will have a lasting impact on our families; to make these life-changing decisions in this context makes it so much harder.
How we respond to pressure is a conscious decision: this doesn’t mean it is an easy one.
This pressure puts everything under strain and exposes the foundations – of our marriages, of our relationships with our children, of our moral compasses. Pressure on these foundations can lead to one of two options: like freezing water in stone it can rent the cracks wider or, like weathered stone exposed to the elements, it can show ourselves, our children and the world how long lasting and secure we are.
So, how do we respond positively in these circumstances? Honestly, I don’t really know. There is no panacea; but there are a few lessons I might have learnt (although I think it is more likely that I am still learning them and will be for some time).
The first observation I have noticed is that problems in one situation don’t disappear when you move to somewhere much sweatier. It’s still your turn to do the dishes. The children still have nightmares or tantrums or fall out with friends. Patience inevitably runs thin. One thing we can control is how we interpret these events. It might seem like my daughter has waited until the night before my important early morning meeting before she has a marathon tantrum. And it might seem that the photocopier jams only when I am in a rush. It can be so easy to see unfortunate coincidences and circumstances as evidence of victimhood, of a universe bent on ill will. But just because it can feel like that, doesn’t make it true. Keeping perspective, making ourselves pause and see other reasons, other interpretations can be all we need to do to realise that it is not us against the world: it is just one of those things.
Sometimes I have seen this sentiment being translated as blind faith in the idea that everything will be ok. This is simply not the case. There are problems and we need to work hard to find the best solutions to them. I am not suggesting that thinking everything will be great will make it so – far from it. We can prime ourselves to look for the positive in situations – and this will undoubtedly help our health and our attitude – but that does not mean we should blinker ourselves to the reality of the world around us.
A second thought to share is about the little things. I knew we would miss our families and friends. We could anticipate this and we made plans (and – yes – Gran can use WhatsApp video calls). I didn’t realise I would miss the seasons so much and I didn’t realise that sunsets are over in seconds in Malaysia. I didn’t realise the shelves and shelves of cheese in UK supermarkets were quite so special. There are so many things we take for granted and don’t notice until they aren’t there. Taking a moment to relish the small things, to value those small moments, can make a huge difference to our state of mind. My daughter – for now – will still let me hold her hand. My son still wants me to play Lego. These fleeting moments will be gone one day.
One of the most important things that I have found is the importance – and challenge – of making connections with others. So many studies rate our social connectedness, our relationships with others to be so fundamental to our wellbeing and yet we are unable to meet people with frequent lockdowns and the constant ebb and flow of international communities. It can be so hard to connect with others but there are small steps we can take. My (not quite) daily runs in the darkness before dawn have led to waves and smiles with now almost familiar strangers, a few cases of mistaken identity and awe of those fellow runners able to speak in whole sentences midrun. I have rediscovered hobbies I used to enjoy and sought out others with similar interests. I have tried harder to notice those moments when children shine – online and offline – and shared these with colleagues and their parents. And – perhaps most importantly – I have asked for and offered help.
We can’t control our circumstances (even when we move halfway around the world). We can control our perspectives, intentions and reactions. We can make choices that help us and – hopefully – help our children.
Mr J French, Prep Form Tutor, Teacher of Science.