For an extroverted, enneagram 7 personality like myself, this social distancing and quarantine business feels challenging. I’ve always considered myself a get-outta-the-house mom instead of a stay-at-home mom, but aside from the occasional (and careful) walk outside, we are all a bit confined, aren’t we?
Yet strangely, the recent turn of events has not unsettled me. I find myself paying attention to the news and wanting to stay informed but not anxious or fearful. In asking myself why it is that I don’t seem particularly affected by the world being turned upside, it occurred to me just the other day, “Oh yeah…I’ve been through this before."
No, I haven’t experienced a pandemic.
But I am all too familiar with being forced to exist in a place of disappointment, unmet expectations, and grave uncertainty (and yes, I even have experience with social distancing…we can DO this!).
In January of 2014, my world was turned upside down within a matter of days: my firstborn son was diagnosed with cancer at six months of age. There was an instant flood of emotions and feelings that came with this news…pain, confusion, fear, uncertainty of the future, grief, and loss of what we knew to be normal, just to name a few. It was all so overwhelming. As with any grief and loss, my husband and I experienced varying degrees of denial, anger, deep sadness, and intense questioning of God and our faith.
There came a point at which I knew I had to make a choice: I could get lost in my feelings and let life as I knew it unravel, OR I could continue to wrestle with and process all of the emotions while simultaneously accepting that life would be different. It was in this season of my life that the phrase “new normal” permanently lodged itself into my existence. I found myself asking lots of big-picture questions in order to determine what new normal should be…
What is most important in my life?
What do I put my hope and trust in?
Where do I find rest?
My husband and I had to recalibrate our priorities in determining our new normal. Our work schedules drastically changed. We spent a week at a time in the hospital while our son got rounds of chemotherapy. When he was home from the hospital, we had to keep him away from most of our loved ones because his immune system was too weak. We spent a great deal of time in prayer and worship and seeking the LORD. We spent many hours writing together about our experiences and what we felt like the LORD was saying to us in that season. Slowly but surely, a new normal began to surface that was both difficult and profoundly sweet.
It feels now like I am back in that place of figuring out what “new normal” will look like, only this time it’s not just me…it’s all of us. Whether we’re thinking about it in these terms or not, we are all experiencing a measure of loss right now. Loss of the familiar, loss of normalcy, loss of routine. Plans we didn’t want to cancel, decisions we never imagined we’d have to make, responsibilities we did not expect to bear. It is all so overwhelming, isn’t it? The good news is, we can find a “new normal.” It might take some time to establish, but we will all get there.
Reflecting on my own experience of having life turned upside down and establishing a new normal, here are some practical things we can do to move ourselves and our families forward…
Every one of my son’s seven chemotherapy cycles required me to spend at least five nights straight in the hospital with him. I quickly determined how I wanted my hospital room space oriented—the first day of every cycle, whatever room we were placed in, I would move the few pieces of standard furniture around a certain way to my liking. I put my belongings in the same place in each room and I knew which items I wanted to bring with me for each stay.
The same is now true for our homes. Your home has likely become an office space and a schooling space. Find a set up that works well for you and your family. Maybe that’s having a designated table, desk, or working surface for everyone to be gathered together. Maybe it’s finding individual spots for each of your people. It may take a bit of trial and error, but find what works considering your available space and family dynamics and this may help everyone feel a bit more settled.
Each day of our in-patient hospital stays, I determined to make things as routine and predictable as possible. I got up and ready for the day before my son woke up, spoke with the healthcare providers each morning to get updates and find out what was on the day’s agenda, and tried to keep my son’s sleep and eating consistent each day.
Obviously each parent’s personality and family dynamic in general is incredibly unique, but I believe that some semblance of pattern, routine, or rhythm is helpful for us as parents and our kids to stay healthy (and sane). Consider establishing a daily schedule that fits your family….it could be regimented and time-based, or fluid and task-oriented. Involve your kids in the development process so that they feel a sense of say in what’s happening. Write it on a poster or dry erase board so that everyone can refer to it throughout the day. (There are lots of examples floating around online, like this modifiable daily schedule.) Establishing a new routine will likely take some time and may also need to be revisited and revamped periodically for fine-tuning.
The most obvious goal I had in the midst of my son’s chemo treatment was to simply make it through all seven rounds, but there were also smaller goals that I set to keep us moving toward something. We made it a point to play outside (a safe distance from others) regularly when home between cycles, take regular trips to the zoo, and try new foods each period of time at home.
Similarly, I think we all have the primary goal of simply making it through this season of quarantine and social distancing. Setting personal and family goals will help us accomplish that greater goal and give us something to work toward. Consider the following examples...
Daily goal ideas:
- Something physical
- Something mental
- Something spiritual
- Something musical
- Something helpful to others
- Something unique
- Something outdoors
Weekly goal ideas:
- Cook one new recipe together as a family
- Have a game night
- Read an entire book
Being temporary residents of the 12th floor (Oncology) at Nationwide Children’s Hospital was not how I envisioned spending the first year of my son’s life; I initially hated the space and wanted to hide in our room. But I began to realize that there were lots of other people there in similar (or often worse) situations. Children that had been in-patient for months without having once been home. Families from across the country staying in Columbus just so their child could receive top-notch medical care, completely separated from their extended network of loved ones. Parents floating between staying in their child’s room and living across the street at the Ronald McDonald House. Engaging with others, hearing their stories, and entering into their suffering drew me out of my own tendency toward self-pity. The simple act of thinking of others produced in me a deeper sense of humility, gratitude, and freedom.
I believe the same is true now. It may take a little extra effort and creativity given the current restrictions, but now is a wonderful opportunity to let Christ’s light shine through us in serving others. Buying groceries or essential items for those who are struggling to make ends meet, donating money to support those experiencing financial crisis, or writing letters to residents of homes for the elderly that are now more isolated than ever are a few simple ways to help us parents and our kids look beyond ourselves during this time.
I wish I could say I mastered the art of finding “new normal” so that this time around will be smooth sailing. In reality, it still feels a bit overwhelming and frustrating, but I take great comfort in knowing that God holds our every moment. He is with us in all the emotions and in all the practicalities. He is our fortress, strong tower, and resting place. He will see us through it all.