In July 2015, we received the call no parent ever wants. Our 20 year old daughter was a victim in a serious car accident. Hospitalized and barely stable with multiple injuries, she needed surgery right away. Immediately, our life became complex and simple at the same time.
We had to navigate work schedules, transportation, health insurance, and plan to get her in-person support until we could fly 3,000 miles to be with her. The next year became a blur of one stressor after another, including: financial pressures, endless medical appointments and procedures, questions of when Alex could return to college and if she could ever return to her beloved sports, and so much more.
Our lives were upside down. What was once important faded as it was all overshadowed by the crisis. Years later we found our way back to a new normal. Amazingly, Alex graduated and found her way to new passions as you can see here.
Learning to navigate crises in a healthy way is the hallmark of a strong family. The biggest lesson we learned is to focus on the most important thing right in front of you. For example, when Alex returned to school, understandably, she struggled to focus and keep up with school work. We created a motto that got her through the toughest of times: All you can do is your best in the current moment.
That motto became a defining moment because it gave us all permission to let go of things like others’ judgments, how we measure up to cultural expectations, and the idea of not being enough. Permission allowed our family to shift priorities to what mattered most: mental and physical health and unconditional love for each other and ourselves.
Permission to let go of what matters least in order to focus on what matters most is a powerful tool.
Today, I watch families and teachers struggle to make sense of the school crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. None of us, teachers and parents alike, were prepared to build the plane while we fly it. Recognizing that it’s no one’s fault, teachers, parents, and even children need permission to let go of the guilt of not being able to do it all in order to focus on what matters most.
Everyone needs permission to choose what’s right for themselves and for children in these extraordinary circumstances.
As a parent, teacher, and administrator here’s what I know for sure…
- Children can survive missing a few months of school. Their college resumes likely won’t suffer any more than other students. However, they can’t survive the trauma that comes from hating school and overwhelmed parents.
- School systems cannot penalize children for their inability to attend or complete assignments, though students can often work to improve their grades if they choose.
- It’s impossible for educators to successfully transform a system designed for in-person interactions to online learning overnight without significant training and infrastructure in place.
- It’s impossible for families to successfully homeschooling while juggling jobs, family life, financial pressures, and the weight of a pandemic.
Knowing that means…
Parents need permission to:
- decide what, how, and when their children learn
- opt out of distance learning if it’s not working
- substitute assignments with activities that work best for their kids
- communicate needs and choices to teachers without worry of judgment
Teachers need permission to:
- prioritize relationships over mandated standards
- temporarily let go of pre-pandemic requirements (most states have already relaxed these)
- choose the best way to reach and teach students without sacrificing their own families in the process
Children need permission to:
- choose what, when, and how they learn
- say no when their brains can’t focus
- not bear the burdens of a broken system
Mostly though, parents and teachers alike must let go of the false guilt of failure. The inability to meet unrealistic expectations of a hastily designed system is not failure.
You have permission to do whatever it takes to get through this crisis and feel good about the more valuable lessons children learn when you prioritize your family’s physical safety, emotional wellbeing, and relationships.
Give yourself permission to follow your instincts and love your children. That’s all that matters