Rethinking Priorities

Photo by Bich Tran on

It is time to choose next year’s classes for my three middle- and high-schoolers. Going through this process this year made me realize how much the upheaval of the last year has actually benefited me as a parent–strengthened and sensitized me, reshaped and reordered my priorities.

I was a straight-A student, and as such, parenthood is an uneasy balance of setting high expectations without placing undue burdens on my kids. I’d already been through one hard reset even before COVID.

But watching the weight of virtual schooling on my kids did what no amount of self-talk ever could. It cured me of anxiety over honors and AP classes. This year, we’re approaching the process from the perspective of “academic rigor, yes, but within reason. Mental health comes first. Way out in front.”

We’ve also reset our attitude toward activities. I had begun processing the deep breath that was the stay-at-home orders last April, when I wrote “The Freak-Out and the Grand Pause,” but I didn’t yet know how to handle it. I knew it wasn’t realistic to simply do a draconian purge of activities. The shutdown taught us that those activities were a gift and a privilege. But at the same time, I often felt stretched to the breaking point.

A year into the pandemic, life is what I call “back to normal, except with masks.” We’re crazy freaking busy again. But as things started up again, I articulated to one club leader, “We’ve always been people who were all in. If we did an activity, we were there for every event. That’s what it meant to be a good member of the group. That is not going to be us anymore. We learned that we needed some down time at home as a family, and we’re going to take it.”

I’ve had conversations on that topic with my kids, too. We haven’t exercised that privilege yet, because right now they’re all so starved for those activities and interactions, we’re taking advantage–even though it does feel overwhelming at times. This spring is going to be intense. But at any time, we could be COVID exposed and stuck at home for 10-14 days, so for now the calculation tips toward doing as much as we can.

It helps, though, knowing I have standing permission from my psyche to call it when it needs to be called.

How about you? Have things reopened where you are? How are you viewing the balance of “too much” versus “activities are a privilege we can’t take for granted”?