With the COVID-19 health crisis at the forefront of the news and daily life, it can feel like there are still so many more unknowns than “knowns.” We’re already 30-some days in…How long will this go on? When do we get to go back to life as “normal”? What if someone in the family gets sick? This is new territory, and figuring it out as we go along seems to be the name of the game.
In the midst of this, parents are trying to help their kids maintain some normalcy and learn to adjust to the uncertainty as well. It’s not an easy task for any parent, but can be especially challenging for foster and adoptive families, where children have already experienced a lot of disruption and uncertainty.
Parents who have foster kids who aren’t able to see their birth parents except through a video chat…. Parents who have recently adopted children and teens who are acting out (like, really acting out), in ways that perhaps they haven’t done in months, or even years (hint: Regression in times like these is normal. And how you manage and respond to it may need to be different too.)…. Parents who have an emergency respite placement and are now caring for an anxious child while a family member recovers from the virus…. Parents who are juggling full-time parenting and working and now teaching, and just aren’t sure they’re doing any of it well (hint: unless you’re super-human, you’re not supposed to be doing all of this well!)…. Parents who keep trying to put into practice all the techniques they learned in family therapy, but feel like they’re back at square one…every day…. Parents who just feel fresh out of ideas and energy.
We see you. Many of us are having those experiences right along with you. We are feeding our kids Cheetos too, and letting them watch “Storks” for the fifteenth time. We see you. You are not alone in this.
Fortunately, there are some outstanding resources available for foster and adoptive families (truthfully, for any families!) who are navigating this uncertain time. If you’re one of those families, we hope these tips and resources provide usable insight and some new ideas for how to manage family life right now.
1. Don’t check out until you’ve checked in (safely, of course).
Humans were not meant to be isolated like this. It takes a toll – and sometimes, you don’t realize how much until someone calls to check in on you. When people get overwhelmed, they retreat, looking for safe space to check out for a while. But this week, even if you’re ready to retreat, take the time to check in with someone you haven’t talked to in a while, or you usually only chat with over social media. If you’re a fan of snail mail, there’s never been a better time to send a handwritten note.
2. Seek out human (social) connection.
Sounds counter-intuitive: How can you seek out connection while in isolation? The two are not mutually exclusive – and this may be a time when social networks can be leveraged for good. If you’re an adoptive parent and have a Facebook account, request to join the Indiana Adoption Support Group. If you’re frustrated and frazzled, head over to YouTube and check out John Kraskinski’s “Some Good News” channel, or let Olaf from Frozen take over story time.
If you’re comfortable with setting up a Facebook Messenger Kids account for your child, that can be a fun way for them to interact with their friends, while still including a fair amount of parental controls. They can send each other silly pictures, play games, and see each other (virtually) face-to-face. (Common Sense Media has a thorough overview of things to consider with Facebook Messenger Kids, so that it can be used safely.)
3. Find a routine, and then relax the rules.
Yes, we all need routine and structure in our lives. And if you have little ones (or even not-so-little ones), they’re probably craving routine even more than they know. To the best that you can, create a routine that works for your family – even if it is different (and it will be) from what your routine was before.
But, maybe this is the time to relax the rules a little. Let your kids do their chores while wearing a Halloween costume. Make every day pajama day if you have to. School-age children are going to have more screen time right now for e-learning, but it’s OK to let them have “fun” screen time too. (If you’re worried about screen time, we recommend the recent New York Times article about the “Three C’s of screen time” – child, context, and content.) Build a fort in your living room…and make sure it’s big enough for you too!
4. Show yourself a little extra grace.
The best things we parents can do for our kids – foster, adopted, biological – right now? Be present, stay healthy, stay calm. All of those may require parents to be a little more gracious with themselves too. Eat the chocolate bar you’ve squirreled away. Don’t beat yourself up if your kids’ snack consists of Girl Scout cookies some days. Hang out in the aforementioned fort. If you have to choose between doing something you’ve been putting off – like organizing the kitchen cabinets – or de-stressing by coloring, we suggest the latter! Go easy on yourself. Just as your kids need a different kind of discipline right now, you probably do too.
A few other resources that we found helpful:
- If you’re helping raise your grandkids, or are part of a multigenerational family in isolation right now, you might find the information at Generations United especially helpful.
- If you have young children, the website Why Are We All Stuck Inside is chock-full of age-appropriate information and activities to help little ones understand and adjust.
- The longer this situation goes on, the more questions your children might have. Child Trends has compiled a thorough collection of expert tips for talking with kids of all ages about the coronavirus and its impact.
- Boys Town has one of the best daily lists of family tips! You can even sign up to receive them as a daily email.
- If you’ve run out of ideas for fun activities, check out this handy collection from FosterAdopt Connect.