Most of my conversations with my friends, co-workers and family members lately are centred around the big decision parents are facing in this COVID19 pandemic.
Reading is so 2019: Sound Cloud Audio version available at the end this post
2020 is more than an anomaly in many ways. Who could have ever imagined that we would be working from home full time and that schools would be closed for the most part. While we are worried about September I realized that our personal anxiety level is not as high as most of the parents in my circle. I realized that we had already gone through this a few months ago and that helped. If we were going from total shut down in March to schools being fully open in September, I would have felt the same way as most of you do. My husband and I both have public health backgrounds, so we have been experiencing this pandemic both as parents and as health professionals even though we are not actively working in the field.
COVID-19 in Quebec was quite different from the rest of Canada. Our spring break was the first between March 2nd to 6th, 2020. Like the rest of the world we were all in a bubble of oblivion. A lot of families travelled out of Canada during this time, and soon after they came back the covid19 cases began to rise. Ontario's spring break was scheduled for March 16-20 and BC's spring break from March 16-27.
On March 13 we learned that school would be closed for that day and that we would receive further instructions after. Later on that Friday the 13th, we learned that school would be closed for a week and eventually it was closed indefinitely. In May, the cases were still high. Quebec had the highest number of cases in Canada and the outlook was bleak.
There were 2 knowns that were emerging from the pandemic: most cases were with the elderly population and were in long-term care homes and Montreal was the epicentre of the pandemic in Quebec. You can see from the graph above that the Quebec curve peaked mid-May, 2020. At this point, the provincial government decided to begin a gradual re-openning. It not only sounded absurd, it evoked a visceral reaction from us as parents. How were we to send our kids to daycare/school while it was still too unsafe for us to go out and work in our offices. The first wave of schools opened on May 11. We did what most parents are doing - we spoke with friends and family. We also consulted with our family doctor because me and my kids have pre-existing respiratory conditions. Her advice was don't go in the first wave - let the dust settle and then send the kids out there when you're comfortable. I thought I would never be comfortable.
Three weeks later though, we could see that the pandemic was wearing heavily on our kids. For us, we were still socializing albeit through screens with our workmates - they didn't have that. Yes they are fortunate to have each other as siblings, but we could see their mental health tanking really fast. So when we learned that the kids daycare was open at 30% capacity we decided to send them in mid-June. The cases in Quebec were also declining which gave us some more reassurance. We sent our grade 1er to school. He was so happy to be with his friends and we did not regret the decision.
So I want to share some lessons we learned from our experience in Quebec. I hope this helps you navigate this uncertain season.
1. Your concerns are valid
Back to school during a regular time is stressful for many families and kids. Transitioning from the mostly laid-back schedule of summer to drop offs, pick-ups, lunches, homework and everything is tough. Doing ALL that DURING a pandemic is even harder. So be kind with yourselves. You're doing the best you can.
2. There is no wrong option
None of us has been through a pandemic before and none of us have had to face the decision on whether to send our children back to school or whether to keep them home en masse. Just because your neighbour or your friend is sending their kids to school doesn't mean you should or shouldn't. The thing is, the parent who sends their kids to school is right and the parent who chooses to keep their child at home is also right. Every family is going through a different set of unique circumstances and so its all murky and grey.
There is no WRONG option for whether or not to send your kids back to school - Career Slay Mama
3. There is a RIGHT option for your family
And you get to decide what that option looks like. For us it was mental health at the end of the day that swayed our decision but our health status is what made us decide not to send our kids off in the beginning. Whatever you choose, it is what makes sense for you and even if you're not convicted, you are doing the best by your family and that's more than anyone can ask of you during this time. If you choose to send your kids to school/daycare because you have to work full-time and its impossible for you to do so with them at home, that is the right option for your family. If you choose to cut back your hours so you can have time to to juggle your responsibilities that is also the right option for your family.
4. Be ready to walk the kids through the rollercoaster
Mr 7 was excited to go back to school and spend time with his friends. He thought that it was going to be same old routine he was used to. However, it was quite different. Because of the phased opening of school, there wasn't enough room in his class so he had to go to a different class and after a couple of days he wanted to stay home. We strongly encouraged him to keep going because we knew that September would come and he would need to adjust. Two weeks in, and he was comfortable with the changes. All this to say that you need to be ready to take your kids through the ups and downs because they will need you as they navigate these unchartered waters.
5. It is ok to change your mind
You may begin convicted of one option - online learning or homeschooling or sending kid to school/daycare. Prepare to give yourself grace to change your mind. Because we have NO IDEA how the fall is going to play out with both covid19 and the flu season. Dont feel wedded to your decision indefinitely. If October comes and you choose to pull your kids from school or send them to school, that's OK. Keeping the kids home initially was what we needed to do FOR US. We eventually sent the twins to daycare and they have been so happy to play with other friends. Despite the ups and downs, going to school cheered up the big boy.
6. COVID19 is here to stay, for now
When my husband first said to me from his Public health background, as a mom I didn't want to hear this. It is tough to accept BUT it means that we have to go from denial to acceptance and use that acceptance to keep cautious. Truth is, as long as there is no effective medicine, and though many clinical trials and research are underway in order to get a vaccine that may get rid of the virus: we have to live with it, for now. This means we are going to have to get used to changing our habits - we have already done that with wearing masks - be cautious about your social bubble, maintain social distancing continuing with washing of hands. Because the virus was unknown at the beginning of the pandemic, it created alot of chaos. Since then, governments have been able to put in place measures in that have reduced the spread of the virus. And we have seen how this has played out in countries that were effective and acted early vs those that did not.
7. The kids will be fine.
I was really pissed when the Director of Public Health in Quebec and even my husband kept saying kids are resilient and that they will be fine. Because as a mother I needed more reassurance than a cliche. I needed facts. I needed research. I'm putting on my PhD in Population Health hat right now: and I am telling you dear moms and dads that the kids WILL be fine. More than anecdotes, take a look at the Quebec data above and the Ontario data below - both sources are from the Quebec and Ontario governments. You can get a data summary of COVID19 cases in Canada here, and this includes links to provincial data and you and consult your own countries public health data. You can see for the most part that as far as Canada the curves have been flattened and although covid19 is still around, the situation is not the same as it was early spring or even mid-summer. Will there be a spike in the fall? We don't know. We do know that we are much more prepared as a country than we were in March and that is another source of reassurance.
8. Release this school year to God in prayer
At the end of the day we need to trust God through the process. Let us pray for guidance and wisdom on what to do and which option to choose for our families based on our unique circumstances. Let us ask God to protect our children as a shield even as they go into this new school year. Let us ask that the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding guards our hearts and our minds as this new season begins. Let us pray for the teachers as well, because they are parents and they are concerned about their wellbeing of their students as well as their own children. Let as pray God's protection over all of them.
God's got this!