During These Difficult Times Parents Are Finding that Communication Is Key

On a recent morning, I woke up to the heartbreaking news that a family friend’s mother is in severe respiratory distress in the hospital. The family is devastated that they cannot be with their mother/grandmother in what may be the last moments of her life.

I also heard from a friend who is a mother of a teenager who is going crazy cooped up at home. This friend has been taking the shelter-in-place guidelines very seriously, and it has not been easy, especially because he has received requests to socialize. When she took her teen son out to the grocery store they saw a group of his friends getting on a bus to go somewhere together. She described how difficult it has been to hold the line with social distancing practices when other parents are being relaxed about letting their kids go out into the world and socialize.

These two bits of news have me thinking about the disconnect we all feel, and the fact that young people, who are not well-equipped to have a big picture perspective, are especially disconnected from the reality of the virus, unless we parents set the tone.

This is probably the most important parenting moment of our era.

How much are we paying attention to the doctors and nurses and other frontline health care workers who are begging for our help? And how well are we doing with our parenting responsibilities? Are we creating rules, structure and boundaries for our children around social distancing, or are we loosey-goosey, going with the path of least resistance?

Before the shelter-in-place order was enacted, I received a call from a friend who is the mother of my son’s best friend. Both of our boys were on their way home from their college campuses which had shut down due to the virus. She knew the frustration our sons would be facing — their fantastic freshman years interrupted, finding themselves isolated, stuck at home with their parents (who we all know are fine for a while, but …). My friend was proactively preparing for the pressure we would feel to let them socialize, and she wanted to make a game plan. Could they see each other at all? What about hikes? If so, would they drive together or separately? Could they meet with others or just the two of them? We made what seemed like a conservative plan at the time, but this was before the shelter-in-place — the reality has evolved and so have our family rules, as well as the local and state rules.

I was so grateful for that proactive phone call from my friend. It was a relief to be on the same page, and it helped our children be on the same page. Before they arrived, our sons had already spoken to each other about the parameters we parents had set up. They took our guidelines seriously.

We are all in this together and, as is always the case with good parenting and good community, communication is key. We can set the tone. We can create a culture of selflessness … or of disregard. Is it easy to keep kids home? Of course not. But it is exponentially easier if we are doing it together. My son’s friend’s mother’s instincts to reach out in the face of this quarantine were so appropriate, and I’ve taken her cue, reaching out to other parents. This collective consensus seems to be the key to getting everyone on board, taking the virus as seriously as it must be taken. Whether through group email threads, Zoom meetings, or just phone calls — making parental game plans together is the way to change culture.

As I write, we are praying for the life of our friends’ mother/grandmother. More and more the COVID-19 virus will affect us personally. Before long we will know people who have been severely ill, who have lost family members, friends, neighbors or colleagues, and the attitudes of the people who are not paying attention will be even more infuriating. The data shows that shelter-in-place may be working to flatten the curve. But there are still reports all over social media of young people hanging out together in public. Let’s step up as parents and give our children the opportunity to understand the reality of this crisis, and to have empathy, and to participate in saving lives.

Kirsten Jones Neff is a journalist who writes about all things North Bay, with special attention to the environment and the region’s farmers, winemakers and food artisans. She also works and teaches in school gardens. Kirsten’s poetry collection, When The House Is Quiet, was nominated for the Northern California Book Award, and three of her poems received a Pushcart nomination. She lives in Novato with her husband and three children and tries to spend as much time as possible on our local mountains, beaches and waterways. For more on her work visit KirstenJonesNeff.com.