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Pandemic Parenting

Hara Estroff Marano, used with permission.
Hara Estroff Marano, used with permission.

I’m an ICU nurse who has put my career on hold to help my children with homeschooling. We have three children, ages 13, 10 and 7, with learning disabilities. Our internet service is in and out all day. As a result, our kids struggle to maintain their login hours to keep up with the district’s attendance policy. I don’t know how to help them when I’m struggling to navigate multiple online learning environments. This has taken a great emotional toll on all three. They’re not sleeping well and are struggling with anxiety, depression, and major regression. Should I pull them out of the public school entirely as a temporary measure? I’m not sure there’s ever going to be a return to a normal, post-pandemic life. I don’t know how to keep us on solid ground.

It probably doesn’t help to know that your experience is the rule, not the exception. Parents everywhere are struggling, and none more than parents of children with any kind of learning disability. It can be a challenge to keep any child focused on a screen minute to minute, apart from wondering whether they are getting anything out of the experience or keeping up with their peers.

For those who have learning problems, the hurdles are that much greater, and closely monitoring three such children can be a huge stress for parents, exhausting and unsettling. Kids readily pick up on parental concerns, spoken or not, and your sense of personally falling short may be affecting your children, showing up as anxiety that disrupts their sleep. Although it is beyond your control, the unreliability of your internet connection adds to everyone’s frustration and concern, gives rise to worry of always being behind, and mires your children in a sense of failure and a host of negative feelings.

Just as likely, your children are suffering from what they can’t get from a screen—the experience of being with their peers. Children learn in multiple ways, not just from reading books and watching screens but from talking to others and observing their classmates, older students, and teachers. The social environment is a huge motivator, too, especially for children who struggle with learning conventionally. It’s also likely that they’re missing out on some physical activity they get from running around with their classmates.

You can’t make up for the social experience the pandemic is stealing from so many schoolchildren or magically cure the internet reception. But there are some small steps you can take that may yield outsize rewards. An abundance of studies show that children concentrate far better after a short break for vigorous activity, even 15 minutes of outdoor play. Finding time for a couple of breaks may seem counterintuitive when you’re feeling behind and focusing intently on the mastery of online learning, but it may actually do much to promote the achievement you and your children need. At the very least, it will relieve some of the distress everyone is feeling.

Love by the Numbers

For the last year, I have been dating, and am now living with, a man who is almost 30 years my senior. I’m in my late 20s, he’s in his mid 50s. Our circles of friends and our families, including his children, are supportive, but I have concerns about the future. Is it fair to consider having children with a man who might not see them all the way through to adulthood?

It’s the 21st century. You can expect a long chunk of good time together—decades. Still, as Hemingway said, all love ends badly. One partner always dies first. No one can presume to know which one , but we all know how to read the odds tables.

The world will point out that you’re a generation apart; deep differences will emerge in everything from partner expectations to dance moves. But shared values and interests count for a lot, as do travel styles, whether you both like the shades drawn at night, and how you handle bills. These are not generation-specific. Which is to say, you have as good a shot as anyone else.

Loving and being loved deeply is beautiful and rare. Once you’ve tasted the real thing, it’s hard to settle for less. It makes life bearable in good times and bad, both for the partners and for everyone around them. Nothing else can make you feel so psychologically safe or give you the wherewithal to focus on all else that life demands. Really, are there any more “practical” decisions?

Losing a partner hurts. Grief, by the way, doesn’t eliminate other emotions; it runs alongside them, although sometimes it overtakes them. But you can recover from losing a partner and find a new one. You can’t measure one love versus another, because each love is complete unto itself.

If you pull your punches in life, that’s one thing. If you don’t, being all in is the only way to live.