How to focus on what you’d like ‘normal’ to be, instead of what it is

History shows us that in the aftermath of a crisis, life does not change radically, it actually accelerates. Changes that previously may have taken a long time come faster. In a recent article, historian Yuval Noah Harari said that we’ve pressed the fast-forward button; “Suddenly changes that would in pre-corona times have generated years of debate, dissent, hesitation, opposition, and delay turn out to be possible overnight.”

The international lock-down has been challenging for all of us and we may not be breathing a collective sigh of relief yet. There’s a lot of uncertainty ahead as places open up slowly. Dealing with this pandemic has given us the opportunity to grow as families. We’ve learned to cope with adversity and that’s one of the most powerful forces in life.  Adversity teaches us how to handle obstacles so we can achieve success and build resilience. We learn from the discomfort. It draws out our strengths and builds character. In learning, that’s called desirable difficulty — engaging in activities that are hard to do but, because we desire to learn them, we’re willing to put in the effort. 

Moving forward, let’s choose to focus on what the new normal should be, not what it will be. Do you want to continue to engage with your kid for extended periods of time, maybe not in lockdown, but for fuller days?  What about a pivot in how they learn? Build in more real-world learning situations? Maybe take more time to just play and have fun?  Here’s how to get started.

We developed systems when we went into isolation, now take some time to review, revise, and refresh previous plans to prepare for what’s next. Sit down together to plan for life in the post-isolation world by using these strategies. Here are some suggestions for charting the course for your family’s approach to the shift we’re experiencing. 

1. Check yourself: Take a personal inventory

Reflect on these questions as a family to evaluate the impact of COVID-19:

  • What have we learned about ourselves, our community, and our society?
  • What have we observed about each other during stay-at-home?
  • How has this experience changed us?
  • How do we want to be in our new normal?

If your biggest take-away is that you found strength, one of the responses to coping with adversity, talk to your kids about where they’ve been strong and what they’ve learned from that. Is it in sticking to a schedule? Getting school work completed on time? Pitching in and helping around the house? As they point out their strengths talk about how to use those in the future. 

2. Refresh: Write a new family mission statement

You’ve overcome adversity and that builds character. It speaks into who we are becoming and gives us the opportunity to build confidence. Use this knowledge and the lessons you’ve learned to craft a new family mission statement for how to move forward. 

  • Who are we as a family now?
  • What do we care about now?
  • What do we believe?
  • How do we want to treat each other?

Your new statement may not change much from the old one, especially if you found your north star, that guiding principle that informs how you want to live as a family regardless of circumstances. Review what you’ve previously written to confirm this is still true. 

3. Embrace uncertainty: it is what it is

Now that you know what matters to your family, figuring out what to do in the face of uncertainty will come more naturally. Decisions about shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders are region-specific and subject to change depending on whether local curves are flattening or not. Not knowing what’s ahead can heighten levels of worry and stress. Don’t allow this uncertainty to rob you of enjoyment in the present. Instead accept that things are a bit uncertain right now, so be prepared to shift plans. Multiple path planning lowers anxiety for adults and can even build confidence in kids. When you have a back-up plan it’s easier to pick yourself up and move on with life.

4. Reframe the situation: find the silver lining

Cognitive reframing is the act of finding a more positive interpretation of a situation to change the way you look at it. Reframing doesn’t deny the challenge of the moment, it shifts the view. It’s an opportunity to discover a silver lining. Review what’s happened these past few months and record the silver lining moments. Even if you’ve failed at a few things, your list of silver linings and successes  is probably pretty long. Talk about these and ask your kids to consider how they can use these small wins to propel more successes in the future. Keep a running list and use it as a reminder when they face new hurdles.

5. Act with kindness and empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and experience how others feel and respond with understanding. Well-known lecturer and author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers, Brené Brown, explains it this way: “Empathy is feeling with people. It’s when someone is in a deep hole and they shout out from the bottom, ‘I’m stuck. It’s dark. I’m overwhelmed;’ and we respond by climbing down and telling them, ‘I know what it’s like down there and you’re not alone.’”

Empathy is at the heart of what it means to be human and is the foundation for acting ethically, building good relationships, loving well, and living successful lives. It is one of the 16 Habits of Success that Prepared Parent’s tips and tools are rooted in. As with any habit we wish our kids to adopt, it is imperative that parents model it for them.  

Most of all, instead of letting changing circumstances control who you are as a family, a more focused parenting approach will allow your kids to come out of this stronger, more resilient, and more prepared for whatever life throws at them.

The new normal should not be about going back to normal