Monsters of Hope: Parenting in a Pandemic and Beyond

We Need the Hope of Our Children Right Now

Sarah Condon / 3.23.20

We are entering week two of quarantinacation with our two young children, and it is hard. Initially I over-functioned. I spent an obscene amount of money on books and art kits. I set up a printer so we could have actual math worksheets. I yelled the “F” word while trying to set up the printer. I am certain my children heard me.

I believe I was trying to set up a kind of buffer between us. Like, if I just throw enough stuff at you, maybe I won’t have to relent to the relentlessness of nonstop parenting. Maybe, just maybe, I can build a wall of Lego kits and unicorn erasers between us.

But that would be to miss the gift. Their mere presence is a weird blessing. And I’m coming around to the idea that I would not want it any other way.

There is no way to be lonely with small children around. And I am keenly aware of people who live alone right now. I wish I could conjure a tender-hearted child to come and keep them company. Seriously.

Our kindergarten-aged daughter will come to me randomly throughout the day and say, “Mama, let’s go up to my room, sit on my bed, and make lists of the things we love.” I did it, and I actually felt better. She’s a cross between a good therapist and the annoying girl at my childhood sleepovers who wanted everyone to be her friend. Either way, I’ll take it.

Our son is loud and funny and insistent. To call him “all boy” would be to miss the nuance of his personality. He is a problem-solver and a helper in ways that I would have never known were it not for this crisis. And he has gone from putting up with his baby sister to utterly adoring her. Because he is old enough to grasp the idea that she is really his sole playmate for a time.

And the thing about time is that we have not said much. As school gets pushed back, I will mention it to them. But I do not want them to become overwhelmed by the situation. Because I believe their obliviousness will save us.

We do not have the news constantly going in the background. We listen to it after they go to sleep. We do not talk about the number of sick or dying. We know it is coming to us. In Italy, there are coffins stacked in churches. As people in ministry, we know the dark path that this thing is bound to take.

But our children do not. And thank God for that.

I think in 2020 we have this need to explain everything to them. Because we are all (allegedly) self-actualized people, we should all bring our children into the honesty of the hour. But to do that would be to take away their greatest gift to us. Children will trust hope if you offer it to them. They will lean into it and give it back to you tenfold. Why take away that blessed exchange?

I think about the way people used to give children the smallest amount of information they could. Just enough to fit into their tiny hearts. I keep thinking of Janusz Korczak. I’ve written about him before, but it bears repeating. When his Jewish orphans were to be taken to the Nazi extermination camps, he told them to dress in their best clothing because they were going on holiday. That is how you parent in an absolute crisis. You lie if you have to.

You tell them it will be a few weeks, even if it might be a few months. You tell them that cookies for breakfast are perfectly acceptable on a Tuesday. You tell them that you will not get sick.

And you can do these things because it is good for your children. But I would suggest that ultimately you do them because it is good for you. You need little monsters of hope around you, crying about a bouncy ball popping at 2pm in the middle of a pandemic. You need them to remind you that the bouncy ball popping is the most important thing happening for them. And so for a moment, perhaps it can be the most important thing happening for you. And you can find your rest there.