Sara Baird Amodio was nervously preparing for her daughters for a different kind of school year. Boulder, Colo., where she lives, had decided on a mix of in-person and virtual instruction. She was stocking up on masks for the start of the year on Aug. 20.
Then on Tuesday, the former educator got word that the public schools in her district would be online until the end of September.
“It’s changing by the moment,” Baird Amodio, 48, said. “It was clear from the notification that this was a result of them receiving a lot of pressure from parents and teachers.”
In Alexandria, Va., Allison Russell’s two children are prepping to head back to their private Catholic school five days a week at the end of August. The school is planning to split the normal classroom size in half and socially distance.
But there are still pending logistics to figure out: The school community is debating whether the kids will be required to wear masks. It’s possible that there will be two cohorts per grade: one that is masked and one that isn’t.
“We are very nervous,” Russell, 40, said. “It’s a constant stress.”
The bottom line for parents across the United States is that nothing is certain as we approach the start of the school year. As Baird Amodio’s situation shows, what’s true one day, may not be true the next.
Layered on top of all of the other unknowns of living through a pandemic, the uncertainty about school is bringing out an added layer of anxiety for parents who are already on edge.
One of the biggest challenges to finding equilibrium now is that this is a generation of parents and children are used to planning everything, Carol Bernstein, a psychiatrist and former president of the American Psychiatric Association.
“You’ve got to live one day at a time,” Bernstein said. “When I was growing up, nobody paid attention to what we were doing. These kids have had their lives planned to the hilt. Focus on what’s going on each day.”
Bernstein says a colleague prepped a Zoom talk about taking care of kids during the pandemic and was expecting 10 people. Instead, about 40 pediatricians showed up. Many started crying and were visibly upset: They were at a loss for how to take care of their own kids at this time while also trying to advise patients.
“Pandemics do crazy things to you,” she said.
Sarah Vinson, a psychiatrist in Atlanta, says parents should remember that children acting out right now is a rational response and not disordered behavior.
“Our society has never faced this before. Our families have never faced this before, our schools have never faced this before,” Vinson said. “We need to acknowledge that these feelings make sense.”
The other thing parents can do to regain some equilibrium is to guard against isolation.
“Talk to your friends and family in a similar situation,” Bernstein said. “People want to control the situation, but there’s no way to control it.”
Instead, she suggests cautiously widening your circle while keeping an eye on local cases and “learning to trust people.” Pay attention to who is wearing masks, who is social distancing and who is engaging in similar, safe behavior.
Bernstein said it’s helpful to keep the big picture in perspective.
“Nothing is going to be foolproof,” Bernstein said. “You have to balance your needs, your work needs and your kids’ needs. It’s little steps. Perfect is the enemy of good. Accept what’s going on and that we will have to change our behavior.”