A few weeks back we dropped our grade prep off at school for her first post-COVID-19 day back. What a bizarre scene that was. Kids filing in through separate entrances, hand sanitiser stations at the ready, and those ever caring teachers ushering kids to the classroom while following those important social distancing rules.
The kids, for the most part, seemed to be managing. Taking a look around at the parents though, I saw something I was not expecting to see. There were tears and there was genuine emotion. This was different to every other school drop off I had done.
It would be easy to conceptualise this as parents simply being overwhelmed, and worried about sending their kids off into the post-lock down world. The classic over-involved and over-protective parent. Yet I see it as something different. This was an expression of emotion, and possibly relief, that we had got through something extraordinary, together. Also perhaps, a sense of grief that this is how school is going to be for the foreseeable future. Will I get to talk to my parent friends? Will I get to have that quick chat to the teacher before or after class?
This post-lock down period is not only different for the kids, it is different for us as parents as well.
Grief is a persistent and sticky psychological state. Usually associated with the loss of a loved one, yet it is a lot more than this. Grief can be applied to any form of loss where the loss in question is significant and important. This is what makes it sticky.
Many of those things that were once familiar to parents and their school experience are now out of reach, lost, at least for now. Even going into the school grounds is not possible in most schools.
Losses to our routine and personal freedoms can have a significant impact on our mental health. Those school gates, previously things that parents could pass freely through, are now (necessary) physical barriers between parents and the school.
This is a significant shift for parents. Even if your kids walk to school, or if you do ‘drop off zone’, the same principle applies because it is not just the loss of routine, but the loss of choice (i.e., that I could go into the school if I chose to).
So how do parents adjust?
- Recognise that what you feel is normal
Grief is not pathological. Grief is normal. It is our very human response to loss. Grief also has a predictable but non-linear set of stages that have been well debated but well established in the literature. We grieve something because it is significant. Embrace and own that fact. Do not push the grief away.
2. Share it
Grief can be a lonely state. People can experience loneliness without realising other people are feeling the same thing. So have the courage to share it. Name it. Label it. Tell your friend you are missing parts of the school experience, and you may just find someone else feeling the same way as you.
3. Know grief can come in disguise
Grief can manifest itself in many forms. One common form is anger. You might find yourself angrier that usual in the mornings (for example), feeling ‘ripped off’ that the things you enjoyed about your place in a school community has now shifted (for help on this, see point 5 below).
4. Be a routine scavenger
Just because some of your routine can not be the same, does not mean you can not have routine. Have some traditions during school drop off. It might be a little thing you do in the car (e.g., a phrase you say, a game you play on the way). These routines or traditions act as psychological anchor points for you and your child/children, giving a greater sense of control and certainty.
5. Look to the future
Very often with grief makes us feel that things are permanent. When it comes to the physical death of a loved one, this is certainly the case. Yet this grief is different. It is important to remember that while things will never quite be the same again, these current dynamics at school are very likely to change for the better in the future.
So if grief is a sticky psychological state, there are plenty of ways to make it less so. Next time you are hanging around those school gates, remember that if you are feeling a sense of loss, then it is normal, and that very likely, others (including teachers) are feeling the exact same way as you.