So many decisions and so little time: Support for families as the school year begins

By Leah Persky, PhD & Certified Family Life Educator • Family Life Education Manager

As I look back to March, at the beginning of the pandemic, it really hits me just how many challenging and different kinds of decisions parents and families have had to make over the past six months. When you become a parent, you expect that there will be challenging decisions that must be made about the well-being, education, interests, and development of your child/children. But, the decision on whether children should go back to school or college amid the pandemic seems like a heightened version of such a decision.

No matter what age child or children you have, there are decisions this fall that seem to pit physical health against mental health or the well-being of one family member over another. We do not need to frame this decision in this way. We also have imperfect information about exactly how the virus will act and how sick one might be if they contract it. In economic terms, no optimal decisions are available under these circumstances. Taking the most conservative or safest option is also not always a possibility.

So how can parents and families approach this very challenging situation? Unfortunately there are no easy answers or decisions. Here are a few themes that I have been trying to integrate into my own family’s decision and also sharing with parents I speak to as a parent coach.

• Have compassion on yourself and your loved ones. We don’t know when the pandemic will be over, and we have all already demonstrated our strength and love for our families. Take a moment to take stock of just how much you have accomplished over the past months! It is probably pretty impressive!

We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We must again extend this compassion and empathy to ourselves, our partners, children and neighbors. We must choose empathy and kindness as a way to sustain our well-being as individuals, families and communities. Choose love, empathy and kindness – starting with yourself.  Go ahead treat yourself to something nice to say thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. Engaging in self-care is a necessary component of staying healthy, strong, and grounded.

• Take a holistic view. Continue to remind yourself that this is one moment in time. While the pandemic seems like it has lasted for such a long time and we don’t know when it will end; IT WILL END. At some point, maybe in six months or a year, we will slowly venture back to the way things used to be, and appreciate the normalcy so much more. 

In terms of a holistic view, also keep in mind the well-being of your family unit. Much focus has been on children, and for good reason, but we must also think about what our family unit most needs. It helps to write this out if you are struggling to identify these needs. Parents and other family members also have needs that are equally important. Think about what decisions will best serve the family, keeping in mind the emotional, physical, social, and financial aspects of the family unit as a whole. Embracing this holistic view may be helpful to more clearly identify and strategize needs for the fall and beyond.

Reach out for support when you need it. As part of your decision-making process this fall, take a moment to check in and take stock of how you and your loved ones are feeling. What kind of supports might you need? This might be as simple as taking some down time, connecting with friends, spending time outdoors, or in other self-care practices. Or it may be that more supports are needed. Making the many decisions we have all been faced with lately can cause confusion, exhaustion, anxiety and fear. So many people are experiencing this now; we are all in this together.

JFCS is here to help. JFCS counselors are available to work with all ages through virtual appointments. Family Life Education is providing free parent coaching services with a certified family life educator. To access these and other services, please see our website and fill out an interest form here: https://www.jfcsmpls.org/covid-19-resources/

JFCS strives to meet the changing needs of the community. We would love to hear from you. What needs can we help meet? What are the specific challenges you and your neighbors are facing? Please reach out and let me know. I would love to hear from you – email me at lpersky@jfcsmpls.org

In compassion, support and kindness,

Leah