Parents across Canada and beyond are having to make the decision of whether to send their kids back to school, or keep them at home for some type of home schooling option.
If you already have a firm decision in mind, this post probably isn't for you.
But if you're like so many parents right now who are overwhelmed with this seemingly simple question - please know you are not alone - and for most parents, this question is not as simple as it seems.
As a parent, you are being forced to choose between education and safety, between mental health and physical health, between your income and your children's care. These are anything but simple decisions.
And here's the short answer to the question "Should you send your kids back to school this fall?"
I don't know.
But don't click the back button just yet... Hear me out.
Because despite what some hard advocates or judge-y parents may say, there is no right or wrong. There is only the best decision for your kids, you, and your family. And if you don't already know what that best decision is for your situation, let me help guide you.
Listen to your Gut
As a parent, I bet you already have a little pull in one or the other direction. Maybe it's so slight that you haven't even realized it, or maybe it's glaring you in the face but you're too worried about whether it's the right or the wrong decision that you're completely ignoring it.
When it comes to our kids, we as parents have an internal sense of what they need to be happy and healthy.
So take some time - like 1 minute - and really think about your options. Is there one that brings up a lot of negative thoughts and emotions, or one that brings up more of a sense of calm and peace? Is there one that just feels better to you, even though you really can't pinpoint why, and even if everyone else around you is telling you different?
Let me be clear - when it comes to decision-making, in and of itself, our gut instinct isn't always enough to make those difficult decisions, but it certainly can act as a guide to really get a sense of what feels "right" for your child, yourself, and your family.
Go Back to Your Beliefs and Values
At your very core, what do you believe to be true? What do you value when it comes to this decision? What are you willing to compromise on and what are you not?
Because whatever decision you make, you want to make sure it's closest in alignment with your core beliefs and values and those of your immediate family.
I can not say this firmly enough - DO NOT compromise your own beliefs and values because your best friend, or your child's best friend's parents are making a decision one way or the other.
And CERTAINLY don't do so because you just read some article about how your child's education will be compromised forever and their privacy completely invaded if they do their schooling from home, or some random Facebook post about how your child will be abducted - or at the very least - forever traumatized if they go to school wearing a mask.
Now this last point may be a little cheeky, but don't get me wrong here... Of COURSE you need to consider your child's education, your family's privacy, and your child's safety and mental health - these are top priorities for all families I would hope.
Just keep in mind this little aside:
The goal of media is simple - induce fear, create conflict, gain attention, sell more. And the more extreme, the better. It doesn't matter which side of this decision you're leaning toward - the goal is to induce fear at all levels, for all decisions you could possibly make.
Instead of focusing on the extremes of what COULD happen, focus on your own beliefs and values, and the facts. Take these things into consideration, but don't compromise your own decisions based on media articles and opinion papers.
Keep Your Reality In Mind
For some families, going back to school will compromise physical and/or mental health of the child or one or more members of the family. For other families, NOT going back to school will compromise those same things.
I've said it before, and I will say it again - while we are all going through a pandemic at the same time, we are all going through it with our own circumstances.
We are not, as the slogan goes "in this together" in the sense that we're all coming from the same place and circumstances. However, I do hope we can all be "in this together" from the perspective that we can be empathetic, compassionate, and respectful of the different situations we each find ourselves in through the pandemic and support one another as HUMANS to make the best decisions we each need to make for ourselves and our families.
So what is your reality? Be realistic about your family situation. If you have children or other family members who would be at higher risk if your children went back to school - make sure you consider that.
And if you are a single parent or in a family where both parents need to return to work outside of the home - consider that.
If you have both of the above that really makes things a lot more complex - consider that.
What works for one child or family and will be the best decision for them, may not be the best decision for you... and that's okay.
Weigh Your Options
Really sit down and consider the pros and cons of all decisions.
What are the benefits to your child going back to school? What are the challenges or risks?
What are the benefits to your child staying home and doing schooling - in whatever form that may be? What are the challenges or risks?
I'm a big fan of writing things down. It can often bring a lot of clarity to what seems to be (as all of our jumbled thoughts are swirling around in our head) a very overwhelming and difficult decision to make.
Who knows - you may just get this down and realize the answer is simple for you... or you may still have to spend some time digging a little deeper. Or, you may just find that your decision is more difficult than you realized.
Whatever the case is for you, take your time and weigh your options out.
Get Your Child's Input
If you're still undecided, ask your child how they're feeling about back to school. Don't tell them it's all their decision (it's not), but let them know you're still undecided and would love to hear their thoughts on it.
No matter what your child's age is, I bet they have an opinion. So why not hear what they have to say? Their thoughts may just surprise you and make your decision so much easier... or maybe not.
But either way, don't you think it's a good idea to understand how they feel about it anyways?
Make a Decision
One of the most freeing things about decision making is often just making a decision. Not knowing, or not deciding, leaves our mental bandwidth tied up in this thought process.
Maybe you've experienced this before - you had such a tough decision to make. It took all of your focus. All of your energy. It sucked away your positive emotions and spit out all the negative. Until, one day... you made your decision. And it was like, all at once, the wave of overwhelm and chaos and that unsettled feeling was just lifted away.
I know I've experienced this before. And you know what?
I don't think it was so much the actual decision I chose that lifted all those heavy thoughts and feelings as it was the fact that I had just finally made a decision and moved on, freeing up my focus and time and energy to spend elsewhere.
So... take your time. Don't rush the process. But ultimately, you have to make a decision either way. So set a deadline for yourself, put in the thinking time, and decide.
Own Your Decision
One of the worst things you can do is make a decision, and feel guilty or bad about it. Listen, mama (or dad... if you are a father reading this) - YOU are smart. You are capable. You only have your child and your family's best interests at heart.
You made a decision because you believe it to be the best for your child, for you, and for your family. So own that! Be confident in your decision. Because you know what? A) Your decision is not set in stone - you can shift if you need to down the road, and B) NO ONE knows what the future holds.
Regardless of whether you decide to send your child back to school this fall or not, there could be things that come up that make you feel like maybe you didn't make the best decision after all. Don't dwell on the what-ifs. It sucks the life right out of you, and all it does is increase your feelings of unease, stress, and anxiety.
Instead, focus on the present. At this moment, this is the best decision for your child, you, and your family. Down the road, maybe it will no longer be the best decision, and you can always cross that metaphorical bridge when you get there.
Remember, our kids feed off of our vibes and our emotions. If you're anxious, guilt-ridden, uncertain, and overwhelmed, your kids will be too. They'll be fearful of either decision which only leads to negative outcomes.
So prepare your child for the best outcome, regardless of what decision you make, by being confident, demonstrating through your emotions and your behaviours that you've got them, that you're confident, and that you know regardless of what comes, that you can help navigate your family through this, and your kids will follow your lead.
Talk To Your Kids
Let your kids know what you have decided and why. Maybe they'll be thrilled. Maybe they won't. That's okay - they're entitled to their opinion and their own emotions and thoughts about it. At the end of the day, you get to make the adult decisions.
Talk matter-of-factly. The more hesitant and anxious and tentative you are, the more your kids will be as well. Use language of confidence and positivity, not fear and anxiety. Instead of saying things like "all the kids will be wearing masks and staying away from each other - it's going to be scary and strange" say something like "you'll notice the kids and Teachers wearing masks - just like when we go to Wal-Mart" or "some of the rules might be a bit different than you're used to at school, but it's important you follow them so the Teachers can make sure everyone stays healthy".
Or instead of saying "it's going to be really hard to learn from home, but we have to because you can't go to school right now" say something like "it will take some getting used to, but I know you can do this, and your Teachers and I will be there to help and help you along the way."
I hope this helps.
If you're still stuck after this, go back to your gut.
If you have more specific concerns about health, mental health, safety, etc., then consult the professionals. Maybe you need to talk to your child's school? Or your child's doctor or specialist? Or your child's mental health professional? Don't be afraid to consult with other people who know your child and your family well, and can help you if you need additional advice or support.
At the end of the day, whatever decision you make IS the best decision.