People say that the hardest part of running a marathon is at Mile 18. That’s when runners hit a wall, and it becomes harder and harder to maintain pace. This middle part of the marathon is the most challenging point, and even first-class runners experience difficulties and train very specifically to deal with them.
Unfortunately, nobody trained us to be COVID-marathon parents. COVID is a long-distance race with no finish line in sight and nobody cheering us on. And someone keeps altering the course — so just as we thought we were all heading in one reasonably flat and predictable direction, suddenly massive hills appear out of nowhere.
It’s a monumental drag. And we may not even be halfway through yet.
It seems important to acknowledge some of the experiences we’re hearing from parents so that we can wring our hands collectively and know that we are not alone.
For working families with kids, navigating the rough seas of online school is often a nightmare. Never mind our children’s futures and education, how are we supposed to be available to work? Each week is different from the last, and we are managing domestic disruption, the childcare challenge and cranky employers.
For many, the novelty of home life has worn off. Even if we once congratulated ourselves on the jolly evenings playing board games and the joy of enforced family time, nine months in, many of us have had enough. We are sick of living intensively together in our spaces, tired of picking up toys, endlessly emptying the dishwasher, cleaning bathrooms and trying to come up with new ways to nag our kids to put down their devices. Managing online school is next to impossible for many. Even working at home — if we can do it — has lost its sheen. Fact is, we just weren’t supposed to spend quite this much time together, and harmony depends on us all having more separation than is currently possible when there are fewer extracurricular and social options.
Then there are all the rules, which are complicated, subjective and infuriating. To travel, or not to travel? To quarantine strictly, or not? In the absence of the COVID Police, we have to set our own family standards. And when we see our friends not observing contact-traced quarantines or maybe just not playing by the COVID rules as strictly as we ourselves do, our feelings are heightened and judgmental. This is proving hard to explain to kids, too, when some of their peers are out and about, living life more normally, and we are forcing ours to stay at home and do the ‘right thing.’
Many of us are all just going through the motions. Thanksgiving, Christmas, even skiing. Many people tell us that they are so busy just getting by that it’s impossible to look forward to traditional events and activities — particularly when we can’t share them with family and friends.
Get up. Get through the day. Try to sleep. Repeat.
And finally, the biggest challenge of all: Where will this all leave us? We see dozens of families facing really severe economic hardship, food insecurity and more. Living here was hard enough before. Will working life ever return to normal? How will we get through?
This is the part of the column where we’d like to produce some words of comfort and wisdom. The difficulty is that the light at the end of the tunnel is still somewhat dim. The thing that marathoners fall back on is that they’ve coped with hardship and will do so again. Resilience. Then, they use reserves of mental strength to power themselves. For us, that means finding therapeutic things that help us stay on track. We must stay strong in our self-belief, focus on the big future and fight negative thoughts to get through the roadblocks of self-doubt. And finally — most importantly — ask for help. Call our organizations because we will connect families with kids to great local resources. We may not be able to be together in the same place at the same time, but we are still all here — together — and we are here to help.