Neighborhood Perspective: Ripon resident shares classes from a guardian’s help group throughout the pandemic | Editorial

In a way, the pandemic parenting challenges are exactly what you would expect: active, sociable young children going crazy being at home 24/7; Grandparents disappointed to be excluded from this part of life; Parents-in-law with different standards for pandemic safety; Working full time from home with young children attending online school; COVID cases in the family; Loss of personal contact with other families.

And in a way, parenting in the pandemic is just like parenting in general, only more intense, full-time, more of a solo heavy lift.

In some ways, the pandemic has exacerbated parenting challenges that already existed: struggling marriages, children with special needs, sudden homelessness, sick parents, loved ones death, financial pressures, sleep deprivation and difficult work situations.

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As a co-moderator of a support group for parents in the pandemic, I have a front row seat for what our families see. My group includes households that are well equipped and stable in every way, as well as families that struggled and isolated long before the pandemic. A family is a large household of 10 whose house burned down a few months ago. Another struggles with a lonely single child with special needs.

Our time together is tender, fun, sometimes loud, and deeply kind and compassionate. I am amazed at the attention they pay to one another and the vulnerability and honesty they bring with them. I am impressed with their willingness to listen without judgment or assessment or advice (unless asked to).

I learned a few things about the kind of support families might need during this time.

The main lesson is that the gift of simply paying attention, of listening, is more precious than most of us can imagine. Despite the Category 4 storms that are their lives, our bi-weekly meet-ups were almost 100% attending.

A very personal lesson for me is to think about how I would have reacted to these families if, for example, they were members of my Church. I confess that a couple of families would probably have found me complicated – bottomless emergency pits. Maybe I would have found their children disgusting. I could have carefully avoided entanglement with them.

But from where I sit now, I see some things that proximity may have blinded me to. One is the importance of non judgmental listening, and how it gets easier once you start. The more I hear, the more compassion and understanding I feel. It turns out that it is NOT difficult, and it also turns out to be incredibly healing and helpful for these struggling parents.

Confession: I offered to support a group because I thought I would have done a lot after overcoming some family trauma, homeschooling my kids, and teaching high school. I thought I had all kinds of relevant experiences and wisdom. Hah! These parents don’t need or want my big basket of proud presents. You just want my ear! It’s both humiliating and a relief. Everyone can just listen and occasionally mumble “Mmm, that sounds so difficult”!

Another thing I see is how important even small gestures of loving support can be. An occasional casserole or little activity bag for the kids would really mean the world to some of these families. To know that they will not be forgotten, to know that someone cares, that someone recognizes their burdens – that in itself is a gift.

I think I may have overestimated the importance of practical help and maybe underestimated the importance of simple human solidarity.

One of the most painful parents, whose stress could not be relieved under any circumstances, made our entire group laugh until we almost peed in our pants and described the wild behavior of their extremely ADHD child in a Quaker meeting. That was a pretty cathartic moment for her. My revelation: talking about it was healing, even if it didn’t “fix” anything.

Do you even have bandwidth to support a family? If so, do it! Call them and ask how they are. Bring with a casserole. Ask about a child’s Lego creation. Offer to take the children tobogganing while the parents have some time to themselves.

If families ever needed support, it is now. If ever there was a time to invest in our children and their parents, it is now. How they get through this pandemic – whole and resilient, trusting in the goodwill of their world or isolated and bitter, feeling abandoned – is up to us all.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in starting a local support group (mine has coast-to-coast members, none on-site) I would love to work with you. Call the Ripon Community’s COVID Task Force at 920-345-2212 and leave a message for Kat Griffith.

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