By Deb Silverthorn
While parenting has always been a full-time responsibility, in the midst of COVID-19, parents have — overnight — become their children’s teachers, gym coaches, therapists and playdates. Doing all that, while making their own not-so-normal workdays happen, isn’t referenced in the typical parenting handbook.
“While very challenging, and almost surreal, this is temporary. We’re doing phone and ZOOM calls and it’s all new, all an adventure,” said JFS’ Director of Clinical Services Ariella Goldstein, whose team has never navigated tele-therapy. “We’re giving skills to our clients’ caretakers and it’s really a whole new form of teamwork. I’m touched by the passion, love and caring of our staff, our community’s teachers and our family members. This is some village.”
JFS is helping its clients maintain emotional and mental health, navigating new stressors and addressing other relationship issues exacerbated by stay safe at home conditions.
Goldstein encourages caretakers to realize how much a toddler understands, versus the comprehension of a pre-teen or older child. Discussing the crisis should be addressed to a 5-year-old with significantly less concern and direction than a teen.
“There’s nothing like one-on-one, in-person contact but we’re working as closely as possible,” said Goldstein, who is accepting applications to meet the need for qualified clinicians — the number of clients growing almost daily. “We have to prioritize the need, to soothe and to manage as best as we can.”
You can get through this
What is becoming the new normal is for many scary, difficult and seemingly beyond measure, and yet — parents are stepping up. Getting through all the needs and emotions is possible says Director of Early Childhood Education at the JCC’s Goldberg Early Childhood Center Tara Ohayon.
“There’s a difference between struggling and suffering. This may be a struggle for some but children and parents don’t need to suffer,” she said. “Virtual learning for the kids, working from home for the parents, it’s going to be hard. You have to find what works for your home. Taking deep breaths, and following your gut, is really important.”
Ohayon is speaking firsthand. Her four children, who range in age from elementary through high school are distance learning at Akiba Yavneh Academy. With the cancellations of playdates, simchas, driver’s education and the March of the Living, self-care is key.
“There’s no more important time than now to take care of yourself — to share it, to teach it and to set the example for your children,” said Ohayon. “You have to put your mind where your body is. Designate ‘worry’ time. Worrying is contagious so everyone needs to, age-appropriately, work through the moments. Then find something else to do.”
BalancedParenting.com’s Bette Alkazian says that matters of survival are different from matters of comfort. Taking care of oneself, home, health and livelihood takes precedence.
“It’s important to focus on what keeps us alive and safe and that perspective changes from what our toddlers may ‘need,’ to what we adults realize is true. That alone is a big teaching ‘moment’ that, under normal circumstances, we might bypass,” said Alkazian, a Southern California-based marriage and family therapist who, for 15 years, has focused on parent coaching, speaking and writing in addition to her private practice.
“Our parents dealt with wars, some hiding in Europe and others here with the depression and recessions,” said Alkazian. “There was no Netflix or Xbox or overnight deliveries of almost anything. This is a rough moment, but it will be a moment.”
Intention, to get through the days, schedules, connecting with family and friends and being creative and physical, should lead. Stretching the body is as important as the academic stretching of the minds.
Rhonda Adams, who for almost 30 years has helped Dallas-area children get their bodies moving with spirit and ruach, is leading the charge for healthy fun from home. Unable to be in the gym, she is providing daily workouts through YouTube and Facebook.
“I’m not a video star but we need to move around, now even more. Be sure you’re laughing because those muscles need exercising too.” said Adams whose coaching crew, in non-quarantine times, leads classes at Akiba Academy, da Vinci School, Levine Academy, Meadowbrook School, PISD Aftercare and Temple Emanu-El in addition to those at the Plano PowerKids gym.
From cheerleading and team workouts, toddler and tween fun to programs for adults, Adams, like all small-business owners, is revamping her format so she can return when the crisis is over.
“I haven’t been out of a gym in 27 years and March and April carries us through quieter times. We appreciate those who are allowing us to keep their registration as credit for the future. There will be a future,” said Adams, who had hundreds of spring and Passover break campers booked — those camps now canceled. “My kids are my tech experts and we’re posting new classes every day. Coach Rhonda’s team is here and, believe me, as soon as it’s safe to open, we will. We miss y’all bunches.”
Be predictable, but flexible
Time to worry, to exercise, to breathe and to study, say all the experts, is essential. Akiba Yavneh Academy’s Early Childhood Education Director Jordana Bernstein, says to stick to the predictable, and allow flexibility to rule.
“While in normal times, our kids are in school between four and eight hours — at home learning doesn’t need to be. Get online, do the ‘have to,’ and allow your kids, and yourself to feel accomplished, not overwhelmed,” said Bernstein, whose own children range from middle-school to a married daughter in Israel.
Goldstein says JFS has heard, from more than one client that that have realized their own talents and found their own strengths.
“Whatever it takes to make this experience meaningful is what we can do,” said Goldstein. “Our clinicians, teachers and parents are all tremendously inspiring. We can, and we will, handle this together.”
By Deb Silverthorn