Four words I heard at just the right time changed it all
By Genevieve Rivera, executive director of American Society for the Positive Care of Children
I knew once my son and I both tested positive for COVID it wasn’t going to be an easy two weeks for us. My son, eager to wrap up his winter break and go back to his new friends in Kindergarten, seemed to know it too.
As a single parent, I’ve been through my fair share of stressful experiences. And as the leader of a nonprofit dedicated to positive parenting, I figured I’d have enough tools in my back pocket to help weather the storm of boredom, frustration and exhaustion. But it turned out, none of this was enough to prepare me for the mental and physical roller coaster of COVID-19.
As the fatigue and congestion set in, went away, then somehow came back again with a vengeance, my usual ability to focus on the positive deteriorated.
My mind began running with just about every piece of frustrated thinking you could imagine: This is too hard. Too challenging. I can’t be this sad, tired and exhausted and take care of my son at the same time. Everyone says to let me rest, but there’s just no way. No one can come into the house to help take the burden off, to connect with my child the way he deserves. The bond between me and my son could be breaking. I’m not keeping a positive mindset to help him get through this. It isn’t fair this is happening just days after COVID kept us from family members on Christmas. Stop being such a complainer, you’re not weak. Shake it off. Just keep cooking, cleaning, and helping with online schooling – you can do this. But what if we never actually get better? Why is this happening to us, after we took so many safety measures and lived in fear for two years… this is what we get?
As I lay on the couch with these thoughts swirling and my son eating his fourth morning of delivered breakfast, my feelings shifted fully to guilt. How could I let my son see me like this, let him hear the negative things I dared to say out loud? All of the no’s I’d given, the frustration I showed because he was bored and I was drained. I should be ashamed of myself.
But then I talked to another mom who, along with her three children, tested positive for COVID on the morning of what was to be the much-anticipated return to school after an extended holiday break. She told me that one night after the kids were in bed, she cried herself to sleep for three hours. That there was no focusing on her or her health, and she was so exhausted. As she told me this story, she said four words that really stuck with me: you are not alone. In that moment I felt solidarity. That we are all in this struggle together, experiencing what could be one of the hardest times of our lives. That it’s okay to cry, to feel depleted, to be scared and angry at the same time.
And as the clarity began to strike, I glanced at my son in the morning: so excited to go back to school that he ran away from me at the door and forgot his lunch. The pure joy on his face and excitement the night before that today he could see his friends again. After such a nasty virus, I was in awe of how unaffected he was, to witness the resiliency of children to bounce back and to be okay.
Looking back on our two weeks at home, I am now filled with an immense sense of gratitude. That we recovered, that we had friends and neighbors leaving necessities at our front door, that we were able to get through it together, that my son had a chance to help and take care of mommy, that he is healthy, that he still had his energy and appetite, that he still played all day with a wicked imagination and entertained himself through such creative and imaginative play, turning regular household items into fantasy lands, exploring his toys and games with new wonder. The resilience that he showed, and that he is.
Now, instead of dwelling far too often on the fact that my son’s earliest memories will be through the lens of this restricting pandemic, I focus on this resilience. No, these circumstances aren’t ideal. But my son has shown time and time again that his spirit and his zest for life won’t be diminished.
To any other parent going through the roller coaster of COVID – whether it’s the virus itself, another closure keeping you at home, or the mental exhaustion of it all – I hope you know you are not alone. You may be going through your darkest moments and feeling like a version of yourself you never imagined possible. But know that there will be light after the storm. That you, in whatever way you’re able to show up for your child, are enough.