I cried the first time I hugged a friend on the street. It felt that good.
I’ve been wondering this week about how our kids might be feeling as the culture lurches toward a new relationship with Covid 19. I wonder is it harder to look forward to the future? To trust parents, adults, public figures? I wonder if they are carrying judgments or shame about who wore a mask, hoarded toilet paper, threw a party? I wonder if permanent damage was done to their outlooks or if we’re on the verge of a summer of long hugs, music festivals and forgetting?
I needed a therapist to help me think.
Karen Moon started her professional life as an in house counselor for Merrill Lynch. When an employee had a sudden loss or the company experienced trauma (as in the Oklahoma City bombing or 9/11), Karen was sent in to help professionals process the shock and grief. After many years of that, she transitioned to private practice to meet with adolescents.
During the pandemic, she’s had a couple thousand conversations with high school and college kids. As we head into summer, she has thoughts about what we can expect of our kids and how we might help during the summer of healing that is upon us.
Before I share my notes from our conversation, I wanted to make two meta points:
1 — The range of suffering in the past year is pretty wide. For 578,000 families, the loss was permanent. Today we’re thinking about teenagers and college kids but of course, this is but one group of many we could zero in on. And, as is true of most good ideas, her observations and suggestions are applicable to many other groups as well.
2 — Not every kid hated every part of the pandemic every day. Some were relieved not have figure out who to sit with at lunch or what to wear every day. Kids who have ambivalent feelings about sports were happy to miss the season, kids who had unsatisfying social lives got a break from rejection, homebodies had more time to veg out and introverts (a hard thing to be as an adolescent) got a break.
But the great derailing messed with all of us in one way or another and there are changes to name and understand.
1. It’s not possible to process during crisis. If the worst of the pandemic is really just about over, that work is waiting for us now.
2. Comparative suffering is not helpful. The feeling is meant to be felt. In fact, it will be felt, though you might wish otherwise.
3. Kids need the adults in their life — coaches, teachers, counselors, bus drivers, and cafeteria lady, we become a safety net of sorts.
4. Unclear direction about what constitutes good civic pandemic behavior has us all turning on each other.
5. Expectation defines experience, so, let us strike this sentence from the record: “college is the best 4 years of your life.”
6. We need commutes to create transition space between home and work, between class and lunch, between friends and family.
7. To be heard is to be seen is to be known and we were meant to be known.
As Karen said: “As our children return home for the summer, we may see them falling apart. Their buckets of resilience may be empty.” They’ve lost connection, been confined to small spaces, cut all transitional time, all while managing disappointment, mistrust and a feeling of being cheated.
What should parents do? Karen and I talked this through in detail on the podcast but the net net is listen, validate and be patient. And enjoy any hugs you can get.