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Parenting in a Pandemic

On Wednesday, April 29, St. Clement’s School played host to the final LINCWell Speaker event of the 2019-2020 school year. While previous talks in the annual series had been held in the School’s Powell Hall, current events required this year’s finale to pivot online. SCS parents and members of the community logged-on for the hour-long talk.

During Dr. Lisa Damour’s visit to SCS last October, the New York Times bestselling author recommended “Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults” by Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington. The New York writers, moms, and friends are the co-founders of the “Grown and Flown” website, widely regarded as the #1 site for parents of teens and young adults and Dr. Damour admitted to keeping a copy of the book “close at hand to answer parenting questions of my own.”

When LINCWell reached out to Heffernan and Harrington, it was fully expected to be an in-person visit. Instead, the authors shared that last Wednesday’s event marked their first international online appearance!

Between them, the Heffernan and Harrington families have five children including young adults and college students. As the friends struggled through the changes of growing children, they drew on each other for support and cultivated their knowledge into the successful Grown and Flown website and the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook group. In addition, the pair have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post On Parenting, The Atlantic, Forbes, and Vox.com. Heffernan is a New York Times bestselling author, and they were both named amongst the 25 women changing the world by People magazine.

Although their book doesn’t specifically address the challenges of being a parent during a Global pandemic, with the world in a state of upheaval and many children confined to home and struggling with social distancing, the advice the authors offer on many parenting challenges is arguably more valuable and relevant today than ever.

From the start of their talk right through to the questions from the SCS community at the end, Heffernan and Harrington were at pains to stress that no one should be uncomfortable with not knowing what’s going on right now. We should feel comfortable letting our children know that and treating them like the budding adults that they are.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” they explained. “Our parents never experienced anything like this. Our grandparents never experienced anything like this. There’s nothing wrong with telling our kids that and working through it together.”

Heffernan and Harrington underscored just how hard these times are for children.

“They’re angry about what they’re losing,” they said. “They’re angry that so much is being taken from them; things that they’ve looked forward to their entire lives. They’re not getting a proper prom or graduation; they’re not being feted by their entire school the way they’ve been anticipating for 17 or 18 years. They’re not having the opportunity to say a proper good-bye not just to their friends but to a stage of life that’s pretty much the only thing they’ve ever known. This creates sadness, anger, depression.”

While those emotions are completely understandable, they must not be allowed to become an excuse for lashing out at parents or other family members.

“Parents should be saying: ‘You can be angry and sad, but we must talk about it,’” they advised. “It’s important to convey to children that even adults are experiencing major disappointments now – from job losses to spoiled plans to general uncertainty – and that we’ll all work through it.”

“We should be open with our kids and say: ‘You can’t take that out on the rest of the family because we’re all in this together.’”

It’s also important during this time not to become hung-up on some of the things that might otherwise be of concern, like unusual sleep patterns or excessive time spent online.

“Times are unusual, so there are things that we shouldn’t be too worried about,” the authors said. “For years we’ve known that teens weren’t getting the sleep that they needed because their lives were so busy. Now we’re seeing just how much sleep teens really need.”

If a child has locked themselves away in their bedroom and appears only for meals, perhaps that’s what they need right now, they explained. If they’re getting their school work done, perhaps that’s the most important thing. If they’re spending what would normally be a disconcerting amount of time playing video games online with friends, perhaps that’s just the socialization they require right now.

Likewise, if families aren’t getting on that well together, we shouldn’t be unduly worried. We all have to let off steam but it’s important to try and find some common ground.

For all the worries, fears, and difficulties, there are some positives to be drawn from this experience, however.

“We get contacted all the time by parents who are saying how much they are enjoying the closeness and family time that these circumstances have created,” Heffernan and Harrington shared. “It used to be that families were so busy that they were lucky to all sit down together for one meal a week, but now there’s more time together and better time. There’s a simplicity to life at the moment – by necessity – and many parents are saying that they don’t want that to go away again.”

The current situation also provides an opportunity for children to learn first hand what it means to be a true Global Citizen.

“For the first time for many of us, we have the opportunity to not just talk the talk, but to walk the walk,” they explained. “It’s an opportunity to think of others and keep our own losses in perspective. We can be sad and disappointed by what we’re losing or missing, but we need to be aware of everyone’s struggles.”

Heffernan and Harrington summed up: “Kids may emerge from this more resilient, more compassionate. Maybe this will be the new ‘Greatest Generation’ because they suffered together and grew from it.”

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