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IN THE FAMILY WAY

Parents share lessons from a year unlike any other

Some years take. Some years give. This one did both.

As the sun sets on 2020, parents reflect on the year and the lessons it has taught them.
As the sun sets on 2020, parents reflect on the year and the lessons it has taught them.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

This year has been piercingly difficult for most of us in ways ranging from soul-shatteringly epic to mundanely depleting. Death. Sickness. Uncertainty. Isolation. Unpredictability. Stir-craziness mixed with the bone-deep fatigue that springs from endless days of amorphous sameness.

As parents, we’ve cared for kids in close quarters — and our own parents, often from afar. We’ve tried to work while serving as supplemental tutors, counselors, and IT gurus. We have sworn at Google Classroom. We have cursed Zoom. We have vowed to never, ever take teachers for granted again. We’ve worried about our jobs, our health, our security, our safety.

We’ve also watched certain relationships and routines recede, perhaps those based on ease and proximity. The daily rhythms of life faded and morphed. Our circles often became smaller; our waistlines sometimes got bigger.

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But there were glimmers of happiness, too: more time for stuff that really mattered. Perspective. Gratitude. Reframed expectations. Hope?

Heather Hopp-Bruce

I launched this newsletter to talk about the issues that so many of us were dealing with in captivity, from substance use to money management to screen time to solitude, grief, and resilience. As we close out the year, I wanted to turn the tables a bit and ask fellow parents what this year has taught.

As for me, as a wise old woman of 41— who definitely looks every year of my age after zero visits to my hair dresser (I miss you, Kerry) and way too many to the fridge?

I’ve learned that true colors come to light in the darkness. I’ve watched as my community and friends have stood up for causes they believed in, donated to businesses they felt compelled to support, and rallied around the sick and hurting. I’ve also realized that some connections fray without sustenance and that desperation is too often the engine of hate.

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I’ve remembered that life — and luck — is fragile. It’s often irrational, too, and when it comes right down to it, all that we have are what’s right in front of us and what’s deep within us: our souls, our values, and our families.

Most of all, I hope this year has allowed us to be vulnerable. To share when we’re hurting, depressed, or lonely. To shake off self-absorption and to step beyond our comfort zones. To realize that there is no shame: in being hungry, in being sick, in feeling inadequate or lost. To remember our shared humanity.

But enough from me. How about you? What has this year taught?

“That I don’t give myself enough credit after surviving COVID-19 for almost three months with three children as a single mom.” – April Golden-Shea

“My family has learned that life can be much simpler than it had been. We find simple pleasures in exploring parts of our state — the visual details, the smells. And we’re thankful that we have this opportunity to re-evaluate what’s important.” – Amy Robins Garbis

“That, even in adulthood, you feel like you’re in high school with ‘podded families.’” – Sarah Sekine Feller

“I’ve learned that I need to be able to ebb and flow with how my kids are feeling. That might mean cutting them some slack one day and keeping them on task on another day. My parenting style has never been one-size-fits-all with my kids, but this pandemic has only crystallized how important it is for me to see them as individuals.” – Eric Berman

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“That volunteering has saved me in every conceivable way.” – Julie Lucey

“I have learned that I crumble without external structures.” – Susan Anderson Garcia

“I appreciate that I’m not constantly comparing myself to others (and feeling like I come up short), because there’s not the constant level of activity or achievements which are usually happening. I hope I can continue this practice of not comparing, as it gives me more peace.” – Roslyn Fitzgerald

“I will never take seeing a full, smiling face for granted again. The eyes can show a lot of emotion, but so much is hidden behind masks.” – Alysia Tardelli Rourke

“As a parent, I’ve learned that the measure of success is not in achievements. Sometimes it’s survival. … Success is maintaining a safe home where my kids can feel accepted and loved, as we all try to survive this hard year. There is time for reevaluating and setting goals when the crisis is over.” – Terese Holt

“My lesson learned (or emphasized?) from this year is that you can’t compartmentalize yourself. Being a parent and being a worker are intertwined. … In a former pre-COVID life, I would feel embarrassed (as though I were failing at work) when I had to leave early to pick up a sick kid or take a phone call from my child’s teacher. Now, it’s clearer to me that expecting work and family to stay separate is not only unrealistic but unhealthy.” – Mallory Rohrig

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“That for most people, the pandemic reinforced already held beliefs.” – Paul Morgan

“One lesson that is often internally known is that our kids come before ourselves. However, this year I feel like we’ve really had to live up to that. I’ve had to put my own college grades and aspirations aside in order to help my kindergartener through her homework and starting school during the strangest time of our lives.” – Karlie McDaniel Le

“I lost my job to COVID-19 in March and have been stay-at-home-momming since then (not many job prospects in the event industry these days). I have been a career woman since college, and my profession was very much ‘me’ before COVID. I was depressed throughout March and April after losing my job, but now I’m loving the simple life of crafts and science experiments and hiking and spending actual quality time with my kid. … I still miss working, but it definitely doesn’t feel engrained in my personality like it did before.” – Catalina Rojo Ianetta

“That we should all be pushing back more on companies, policies, and general expectations to protect family time and life over work and deliverables.” – Kat Mundorf Johnston

“I’ve learned the importance of neighborhood and how it almost seemed irrelevant until a crisis. Our son’s second birthday was a Facebook Live production. And instead of having a handful of people over, we had 100! What could have felt lonely and sad became a beautiful day of connecting. We put a sign out front saying honk or wave. Neighbors we had never met prior dropped notes and cards in our box, stood outside and sang to him, and blew him kisses. We were so touched — we cried happy tears. Several months later, we still wave or chat regularly with neighboring folks, most of whom I had never met before COVID.” – Michele Aron

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“I have learned that, having metastatic breast cancer and facing a pandemic, what’s really important are people: how we treat people, how we talk with people, and how we should appreciate people. They can be taken in a moment’s notice.” – Lisa Wolfson Caggiano


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.