I am a planner.
I make to-do lists as I fall asleep and my calendar is the first thing I look at when I wake up in the mornings. But this year, COVID-19 has made it impossible to plan and nothing has brought that into sharper perspective than the start of a new school year.
As a mom, the start of the school year is always a time for starting fresh—the school supply runs to Target, the new clothes, and new routines. The early bedtimes and frantic mornings. It all feels like a new beginning. Even when I didn’t have school age children I could feel it, the transition to something new. The pandemic however, has had an unsettling effect on the start of the school year for parents and students alike. As school districts’ plans seem to be changing every day, it puts a whole new meaning to the transition this time of year signifies. Parents and students are having to let go of expectations for what this school year will bring.
We have to be willing to embrace this season rife with change, or at least accept it. But how, exactly, do we do that? It may be easier said than done, but I promise, it is possible.
Finding Peace When Plans Change
When our own school district’s plans changed at the last minute, I found myself struggling with the sudden switch. I knew I had to make peace with the decision I was now facing. I needed to let go of the picture in my mind of how things were supposed to be happening, and embrace instead the hectic reality we’re all living in. But how?
When I feel the tangles of unease creeping, I turn inward. I turn to the mindfulness skills I have built over the years. Instead of ruminating on what I can no longer control, I need to accept the moment as is, allow myself to feel my feelings, then focus my attention on the things I can control and the things I need.
We may not all be grappling with the same decisions this year, but all of us are dealing with some kind of uncertainty or change engulfing our word. We all need more practice accepting what is, experiencing our emotions, and focusing on what we need to move forward. Whether you’re in the trenches of newborn motherhood, navigating virtual or homeschool for the first time, or fighting a toddler who refuses to nap, here’s how you can look inward to find peace—even when the world around you is anything but peaceful.
Accept the Moment and Release Expectations
I am not the only parent unhappy with the choices I face, but I cannot change the decisions my school district made. Before I can move on, I have to accept this moment as it is.
Research shows that acceptance in times of turmoil can significantly lower stress levels. In order to make peace with this school year, I have to let go of all the pretty pictures in my head of what this year was going to look like. We will never live a full life holding onto our pictures of what was supposed to happen. Only by accepting what is happening—without judgement—can we fully experience it. I know whatever my children’s year looks like, I want to be fully present for it.
“Only by accepting what is happening—without judgement—can we fully experience it.”
Allow Yourself to Feel All the Feelings
When paired with acceptance, allowing ourselves the time and space to truly experience our feelings is a powerful vehicle for moving through them and letting them go.
Letting go of the happy visions of schooling my children at home is not easy. It hurts, and my go-to when things hurt is to stay busy. Instead, what I need to do is just stop and give myself the space and time to acknowledge the loss I am suffering.
I am sad the time spent with my children all day is coming to an end. I’m scared I’m not making the right decision. I’m scared I’m not keeping my family safe. I’m scared about the judgement of other parents, friends, and family members for our decisions. But you know what else I experience when I let myself actually feel?
I feel excited for my daughter to get to see her teacher and classmates face-to-face. I feel a weight lifted with one less child at home. I feel confident I am making the right decision for my family and my daughter, even if that looks different from what other families are choosing.
The hard truth is, when we attempt to escape painful or difficult emotions, we only make things harder for ourselves. Instead, by allowing our feelings the space they require, we can move through them and more easily let them go.
Acknowledge Your Needs
When faced with things you can’t control, it’s much more productive to spend time and energy focusing on what you can control. In my case, for instance, I cannot change the fact that I’m faced with a difficult decision, but I can control how I communicate with my children about school.
I can control the atmosphere in our home and I can control the way we prepare for school. I can teach my child that when life throws us a curveball, we can adapt and overcome. When I spend my energy focusing on what should be happening, I am not paying attention to what I need in this moment, or to what my children need.
I deserve to set aside the time to figure out what can make this time more comfortable. What will help me move through this season with more joy? What can I do to show myself—and my children—compassion?
“I deserve to set aside the time to figure out what can make this time more comfortable. What will help me move through this season with more joy? What can I do to show myself—and my children—compassion?”
In our case, I decided to take my daughter shopping to buy school supplies. We had a great time picking out the colorful notebooks, folders, and pencil boxes.
By accepting what was happening this school year, allowing myself to feel both the sadness and the excitement that decision has brought, and running a simple errand to gather the supplies we needed, I found myself in a completely different headspace.
I’m ready to tackle whatever this year brings.
And even if the plan changes (again) at the last possible second, I know that I’ll be just fine—because if this entire experience has taught me anything, it’s that we can gain the skills we need to make it through to the other side. We can find our own peace within ourselves, even when the world can’t provide it to us.