Rachel Anderson on Families Keep Going, in Pandemic and Health

Rachel Anderson is a resident fellow with the Families Valued initiative at the Center for Public Justice.

The spring semester ended with my elementary school children waving to a computer, offering their goodbyes and “I miss yous” to faces on a screen. The present-tense-ness of the farewell struck me particularly hard: It wasn’t “I will miss you.” Children have been missing their teachers and classmates for months.

Over the past couple weeks, state and local education departments began releasing plans for fall schooling. These disclosures are as much information as indicators of what is unknown. Some states intend schools to reopen full time while asking students to wear masks and practice social distancing. Others combine rotating periods of in-person learning with days of distance education while offering optional full-time distance learning.

Even for schools and childcare centers that fully reopen, the spread of the virus in the meantime may change those plans. The American Enterprise Institute expects COVID-19 to disrupt school life throughout 2020, with the possibility of rolling closures triggered by new waves of infections or local outbreaks. The same stop-and-start reality will also be true for childcare providers and those who provide care for disabled or elderly people in communal settings. With so many unknowns, families find themselves in a holding pattern, missing teachers, classmates, and friends for an indefinite period of time.

It’s easy to resent the ways COVID-19 precautions have affected the places we love and rely on and dismiss them as the product of insensitive bureaucrats or biased media. But demanding that schools and childcare reopen as usual, virus be damned, displaces risk onto other people and families, including the many teachers who worry about the health implications of in-classroom learning.

We also may be tempted to resign to a state of frazzled helplessness. The flood of content about the burden of being a parent in the COVID-era conveys a narrative of being constantly overwhelmed. We hear about parents who have given up on distance-schooling, lost track of screen time limits, or reverted to mainly eating carbs for dinner. To be sure, caregiver burnout is real, and these narratives can rightly give families permission to experience exhaustion and grieve the loss of normalcy. But, placed on repeat, they can function like a pandemic version of the “wine mom” meme, training our focus on immediate discomforts while, ultimately, enervating the family and enshrining habits that are unhealthy and unsustainable.

In reality, God designed and entrusted families with the care of their members, in sickness and in health. Families honor the sacredness of life in all of its vulnerability and precarity (Ps. 68:6). Yes, there is brokenness in family life. But God also equips many families with resilience, adaptability, and love for just such a time as this.

The COVID-19 pandemic places heavy responsibilities on all of us. Families have a unique and crucial role. The place where we begin and are first formed, families are also a residual home base when other institutions close and a guardian of the sanctity of life. Families watch out for elders and those with special needs; ask difficult questions of nursing homes or care facilities; and gather and remember when it is time grieve.

Rather than deny or resent the responsibilities God has for families during COVID-19, we have the chance to identify practical ways to support families in rising to these tasks. If families are frazzled, it is often because they are too isolated and without enough support.

The first support for families is straightforward encouragement, particularly from the church. All the exhaustion, anxiety, and uncertainty that pastors feel right now—families experience those, too. A weekly note from a pastor to parents and caregivers in the congregation may go a long way in making God’s love and presence known through the layers of isolation imposed by COVID-19. Offering online storytime for children provides caregivers with an assist and reminds children that they are part of a loving church community.

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Source: Christianity Today