“I’m worried they’re falling behind.”
The kids. In school. A common refrain these days.
But let’s step back for a moment. Let’s take a breath and settle into the depths of our own hearts. Let’s say that last part aloud and let it sit for a moment. Falling behind.
Falling behind what, exactly??
Presumably, academics. And for sure, that’s real. But honestly? I can’t allow that worry to take up space in my being right now. It’s too much. I have to trust they’ll be okay. Or my brain will explode.
Academically, they will recover what they’ve lost, they will memorize and practice and pass tests and all of that. They can ‘catch up’ on information and skills later. That is catch-up-able. Emotional wellbeing and the ability to self regulate? Not so much.
Mental health has always been my number one priority with these littles of mine (and for me too) and never before has it been so crucial. Yet still, I must remind myself again and again that is an ok place for us to be in. That ‘doing the best we can’ is enough. That I am supporting them in the best ways that I can.
Because here’s the truth – my second grader refuses to sit down and read for any lengthy amount of time. There’s a block somewhere – she just won’t do it. She will only interact with books that feel familiar to her, that have a certain feel, texture, and look to them. Does it bother me that I know she should be reading more? Of course. Am I going to fret about it right now? No.
Here’s what she can do. Stop, change her focus, connect to her joy and light herself up with wonder. She can stare out the window, ignite with inspiration, bake a new creation, find fun decorations, and turn a mundane dinner into a party. She can stand at an easel and paint, bringing forth the feelings in her being as colors on a canvas, and then step back and sigh “I feel better now.” She can notice. Not a skill our society really congratulates or deems as valuable, but something I find essential. She notices everything – no detail of her world goes by without awareness, and she takes it all to heart. And, knowing from experience, living from that space isn’t easy – no wonder she doesn’t have space in her being right now for books that take her out of her comfort zone.
Then we have my fourth grader. Ahhhh my fourth grader. Is he doing fourth grade work? I have no idea. I hear him bouncing balls off the walls and giggling to himself. Is he deeply engaged in the distributive property of multiplication word problems? Doesn’t seem to be. But did he create a family adventure board game that ended up to be quite fun? Yep. He did. Does he pore over his essays and edit and improve and hand in his highest quality work? Also nope. But does he take notes on every football game and write articles about them? Yes. Does he make us laugh multiple times a day with his naturally good humoured way of seeing the world? Does he help keep the household light with his boundless optimism? Yes and yes. So do I have mounds of energy to spend worrying about how he’s often doing a few things at once while ‘listening’ to his teacher and it rarely looks like ‘listening to his teacher’ is the number one priority? No. I don’t.
These kids are going through a moment in time that previous generations did not. They are absorbing and assimilating more life lessons in a week’s time than some kids learned in years. Their beings simply do not have the capacity to do all the things that were normal before. They can’t be expected to continue moving on a specific trajectory when every day comes with a different feeling and a different challenge. There is no trajectory right now, just one present moment after another.
If we can step back, just a pace or two, and allow them to explore the edges of their own creativity and contentment, they may use this time to discover their own truths and paths. They may find the confidence to rely on their own lantern to light their journey as they move along in their lives. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what all this is about. Not about the completion of chapter books or advance-level math. But honoring one’s self, one’s journey, and learning to trust in an inner knowing.
There never was one pathway a person should follow. But we’ve spent generations attempting to abide by the sign posts others have placed for us. And when we didn’t turn right at the light or didn’t remain at 55 mph, we decided we weren’t as good, as enough, as deserving as the person going 60 and making all the right turns. I can’t add that to the load these kids are carrying.
This time we’re in, this endless (TEN MONTHS OF ALL HOME ALL THE TIME) with how long and impossible it can feel, it does NOT need added pressure. We do not need to add stress or worry about meeting normal academic standards. The kids are doing the best they can. And the kids are all right.
So your kid isn’t learning as much as he would be in a classroom. Is he behind? No. He’s coping the best he can. And maybe, if we allow him a wide enough berth, he’s mid-discovery of a passion that will mold itself into a career that brings him joy. Maybe in the grand scheme of a lifetime he’s right on time.
Once and for all, parents, let’s release ourselves of these prescribed timelines and structures and create our own rules. Let’s stop comparisons. Let’s delete the words ‘falling behind’ from our wordbank as we navigate this new territory. Let’s make space for these kids – these brave, compassionate, incredible kids – to bloom in the gardens they are planting now.
ps – I talk a good game, but still spend a lot of time worrying and supporting them as they try new things academically this year.
pps – shout out and huge gratitude to the teachers who have been teaching them just as much about taking care of their health as much as how to subtract with regrouping – it has been an incredible thing to witness.