LET ME OUT OF HERE!

I have a problem. For the first time since launching this blog, I am starting a post with no clear ending in sight. No clever title (yet), no poignant vignette. I’m only about 85% certain about the point I’m trying to make. I’m writing this post to help me gain clarity about a problem that is brewing in my household.

Governor Wolf is set to begin to loosen the pandemic restrictions he first put into place in mid-March. As of now, the date has been set for June 4th, one week away. My young adult children deserve the highest of accolades for the ways in which they have endured the stay-at-home order thus far. They’ve helped around the house with tasks from cleaning toilets to pulling weeds, they’ve not objected to sit-down family meals every single night with all the prep and clean-up such meals entail, and they’ve maintained a mostly cheerful attitude while doing it all. In fact, all the extra family time is a part of COVID-19 that I will miss. I am truly and deeply grateful for all of this.

And, here is what is about to happen: a drum beat of “Let me out of here!” My son, who is very serious about health and fitness, has been missing the gym terribly. My daughter, who is very serious about a boy who lives an hour away in another state, has been missing said boy fiercely. Neither has pushed against the stay-at-home order because my husband and I raised them to be good citizens, to follow (most) rules, and to care about the well-being of others. AND, once the restrictions are loosened and gyms open up and non-essential travel is permitted, we all face some tough choices. Scientists are still saying that it is safest to stay at home and that opening up too fast will lead to a second surge of coronavirus cases. Elected officials are understandably responding to pressure to open up the economy. My husband and I are very fortunate; we could continue to stay home without any significant impact on our livelihoods. My daughter’s small business, on the other hand, was completely obliterated by the pandemic. My son’s summer job is likely not going to happen. They’ll be fine; we can support them, but that is privilege not every family enjoys.

So, how as a family do we navigate what’s ahead? I don’t have the answer, but I do have a guiding principle. A guiding principle that is so important that I am going to enlarge, bold, italicize, capitalize and brighten it with some color. Here it is:

In order to solve a PROBLEM COLLABORATIVELY, WE MUST FIRST FIND OUR SHARED GOALS.

I have written about this principle before. You can read more here. The idea is that problems are best solved by teams working towards a desired outcome. My family will not be successful navigating this next phase of the pandemic if we fall into the trap of parents vs. son or parents vs. daughter. If we can all zoom out from the specifics (the gym, the boyfriend) and find our shared goal(s), then we can all be on the same team working towards mutually desired outcomes. (Already, I feel much better about the “problem” the family is facing.)

So, what is/are the shared goal(s) in this situation? Imagining the conversation with the family, here’s what I think will emerge:

  1. We all want everyone to be safe and healthy.
  2. We all want our son to be able to resume working out in a gym.
  3. We all want our daughter to see her boyfriend.

Identifying the shared goals will allow us to focus on achieving them collaboratively rather than pitting us against one another in a gym-no gym or boyfriend-no boyfriend battle. Again, imagining the conversation, here are some components of the solutions that may emerge:

  • Ackowledging that the actions of every member of the family can either put us all at risk or minimize our risk.
  • Agreeing that we will continue to follow the guidelines of the CDC regarding social distancing, hand-washing, and wearing masks.
  • Researching the local gym to see what safety measures it will be putting into place and deciding together whether they are stringent enough.
  • Choosing a day with good weather so that the boyfriend visit can take place outside.

I’m sure there will be many more good ideas, because that’s what happens when everyone is working together rather than at cross-purposes.

To be honest, I wish my son didn’t want to return to the gym and that my daughter didn’t want to visit her boyfriend. Life inside our little cocoon has felt pretty safe at a time when the world outside has felt really scary. I trust, though, that if we work together to plan our next steps, we will come up with a good plan that honors our primary shared goal of keeping everyone safe and healthy.

Hope this approach can help your family too. Stay well, friends, stay well.

About Dr. Sayers

I am a child psychologist and mother of two. This blog is about the lessons we, as parents, can learn about parenting from the things that child clients have told me over my 20 years in private practice. I continue to work with children and families at Southampton Psychiatric Associates (www.southamptonpsychiatric.com) which serves Bucks, eastern Montgomery, and northeast Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania. In addition, I train psychology graduate students and psychiatry residents at Temple University.
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