Our kids are stressed out

I guess this is turning into a bit of a series. I keep getting emails… since many fall along similar themes, let’s discuss.

The basic idea coming through the mail is that Mom feels bad because she didn’t heed my toddler advice, and now she is worried that her child is not disciplined. He comes home, maybe from school or an outside event for homeschoolers, acting grumpy and not showing an obedient spirit. I will mainly talk about school, but some of the factors apply to homeschoolers as well when they have an unusually long day out and about.

Auntie Leila is all for obedience, but please remember that a child out in the world is really under stress. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing. And now, in many places, children are not able to act normally, even when the old normal was already pretty darned restricted. Even before lockdowns and pandemic regulations, children were already not allowed much in the way of recess at school, and just what we call here at the Manse “getting your ya-yas out.”

But now it’s truly grievous. Children are kept apart, which is incomprehensible to them. Masks are making them miserable and often sick. Most of all, they certainly get the impression from the world that they are unclean and sources of contagion. This summer I encountered many masked children out in the wilderness (in 100° heat) with unmasked parents. I get the supposed logic; so do they: it’s that they are the problem and are putting everyone at risk.

I’m sure the teachers aren’t handling super well the mental strain of relating to many young people whose faces are covered, not to mention the staffing shortages that are making everyone testy. You don’t think children sense the general anxiety?

Even in the best of circumstances, and especially when we are talking about boys, the schoolchild has spent all day away from home, holding it together internally. He has to cope with people he doesn’t necessarily mesh with and lots of noise and other stimuli. Even the smells are a challenge.

In his mind, home is the refuge where his inner sense of having been tested continually, which he could never put into words, is understood. At home he feels can totally relax and not have to be on alert for crazy, seemingly random adult standards. At home things smell right and there is peace.

Some of that conflict is necessary; our responsibility is to help the child gradually let go of the idea that he can go on totally abandoning himself to his animal nature or the infant nature that we all subconsciously long for — to have our every need taken care of without having to do anything, like a little baby.

But an essential part of what the child feels is true; we should respect his trust and not make arrival at home the time to rectify all the problems. At re-entry, the child should find a mother who is understanding and sympathetic at a basic level, a mother with a little pity for her child along with her plans for his betterment. So she should make home welcoming, nice smelling, and orderly. And she herself should be the welcome.

Trust me when I tell you that I was not the best at this. I often put my adult anxieties on my children and neglected to make that effort to see things from their point of view. I hope that you can learn from my immaturity. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m impatient when I’ve not been doing my own duty, am truly overcommitted, or am not realizing that everyone makes mistakes and I could show them the grace I’d like for myself.

So the key learning here is that when he comes home, you really need to greet him with a smile and a hug. Smile at him before he smiles at you. Really write this down on your to-do list: Smile at him when he comes in or gets in the car. Hug him. Every single day. When your 5- or 8- or 11-year-old becomes an adolescent you probably will need to pull back a little, so get the hugs in now.

Say his name with love and a nice little exclamation point. You know, everyone loves hearing his own name said with affection! Don’t just emit a weak “hi,” moving on to demands. Say, “Tommy! Hi!” Hide every feeling of irritation and exasperation for at least let’s say a quarter of an hour, no matter how grouchy and positively disheveled he may appear, so that his first encounter with you is one that ratifies the inner happiness he feels at coming home.

Remember, a lot of what you are seeing is attitude because children often put on an especially pitiful demeanor for their mothers. Don’t react to attitude but meet it with genuine cheerfulness and even a sense of humor if you can muster it. Ruffle his hair. After decompression, address any issues and give any orders calmly and in a pleasant tone of voice.

In order to achieve or even have a slim chance at approximating this peaceful situation, front-end your housework. Yes, children need to do chores at home, but make sure your chores are done so that they aren’t working in disorder, and give them a chance to switch gears. After all, it’s hardly fair to ask a mere child to be more in control of life than you are yourself!

Supper needs to be thought through/defrosted/prepped by 10 am so that at 4:30 pm you aren’t losing your cool because your offspring are so incapable of planning ahead. So yes, this means spending your morning preparing for your evening.

Give your arriving child a chance to wash up without hurrying him. If he’s been wearing a mask (I hope not!), make sure he washes his face. After he has changed his clothes, offer a snack (it can be very simple — bread and butter with a glass of milk is nice, as are graham crackers with cream cheese — no need to Pinterest it up). Let him flop a bit.

Cultivate this important skill: don’t demand responses from him right way. Don’t ask him how his day was! “How was your day?” is one of the most taxing questions for anyone to answer at the best of times; it’s particularly difficult for a person who has been drained of all survival energy units in every way.

In a bit, if he hasn’t contentedly run outside to frolic, you can say something like, “Did you talk to anyone interesting today?” Or, “Did you have time to play with your friends?” Try to remember what was said yesterday and ask a follow-up on the specifics. Or if you keep a wise silence, you might find that he opens up unexpectedly, and tells you things about his day that you were unaware of.

Mainly I want to say, don’t waste time lamenting the past and your various failures. I am sure you did better than you think, because it is human nature to regret what went before, and also, God wants us to be humble.

Just begin again now. It’s never too late to try to be understanding, to have insight into what those we love are possibly struggling with, and to express a little more affection, even as you strive to instill good habits of obedience and discipline in the troops at home.

Lots of love and a big hug!

bits & pieces

  • Speaking of podcasts at the Center, I forgot to share with you the one that he did with moi! If you want to hear the two of us talking about my book, newly printed in its 2nd edition, of God Has No Grandchildren, here you go:
  • You can find all the podcasts on the site, and other cultural nuggets, here.
  • The Milgram Experiment. Worth reading; shocking. That reminds me of an article I have posted not too long ago, but is also worth revisiting: Stella Morabito’s 2015 essay, How to Escape Mass Delusion. Spoiler: avoiding it all comes back to personal relationships and being willing to say what you really think to your friends.

from the archives

  • A friend who lives in another part of the country told me she chanced to meet someone in another town over from her, who mentioned the blog — and thus they discovered a mutual interest. We like to think that we can be a meeting point and jumping off platform for your St. Gregory Pocket (whatever you want to call it! But St. Gregory is a good patron for this enterprise). Get together to discuss a post, stay together to build a community for your children.

liturgical living

St. Finbarr. Upcoming: Michaelmas (and all the archangels’ feasts!), September 29! Roast a goose if you have one, and perhaps make a honey cake!

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