My mom told me she had to make one of the hardest decisions she's ever made this week. She's 88 and a mother of six, so she's certainly had many tough decisions on her plate, but she truly felt that she'd never searched her soul more deeply. My dad, also 88, has severe dementia, and the two of them were quarantined in their apartment at an assisted living facility from February through early July. They could not leave their small two-bedroom apartment; meals were brought to them, their laundry was done for them, temperature checks every day by staff in full PPE. I thank the heavens that they are in a well-run complex that went into complete lockdown; COVID did eventually find a weakness somewhere but nowhere near the devastation that occurred at other senior complexes. But my dad declined precipitously, with no way to attend his memory care day program, no way to exercise, and very little to engage him. In July, my mom made the difficult decision to move him into the live-in memory care unit where he could be fully engaged in the memory care activities.
The move has been hard on both of them, and she's been wrestling with her decision. The first time she visited with him (sitting 6 feet apart, with masks), he was morose and didn't know who she was. But when they speak on the phone, he knows her and asks to come home. She's talked to many staff members about the daily activities, and they report that he's engaged and participating in all kinds of stimulating activities, coordinated by the memory care staff. At home during lockdown, he sat in his chair all day and watched her (he's unable to follow a TV show or read or do puzzles anymore). But she misses him so much. She wants to hug him and sit with him and hold his hand. She decided last week that she would bring him back to their apartment. But she wasn't sure.
We spoke on the phone yesterday and we went over pros and cons and tried to nail down all the aspects of this decision. What is best for him? What is best for her? How do you balance those? Which is more important? She wished that God would tell her what to do. She cried.
When I visited with her in the afternoon (masks on, 6 feet apart, air hugs), she was a different person. She was able to visit with my dad -- with full PPE -- and give him a hug. He was more engaged, knew her, and physically he has regained so much strength due to the memory care unit activities. All of her knowledge-gathering and deep-thinking crystallized (perhaps God spoke after all), and she realized that she had to do what was best for him. Bringing him home to sit in their apartment, even if they could hold hands and hug without PPE, would not help him thrive. She will miss him but his health and mental well-being are more critical. She can figure out ways to compensate for not having him close -- more PPE visits, more phone calls.
I share all of this because we as parents are in the same boat with the decision we have to make about school. Most local towns have created a hybrid option with children in school part of the week in smaller groups. Committees have worked hard to problem-solve meals at school, changing classrooms, and dozens more dilemmas. But school will look radically different, with masks, separate desks, little interaction between kids and teachers, and bare classrooms. Full remote learning is an option too. And now is the time that schools are asking us to decide -- will our children go to hybrid or fully remote? This may be the hardest decision you've ever made as a parent, so far.
Maybe the key question is "Which option will help my child thrive?"
But there are many forms of thriving. We think of our kids as thriving when they are fully engaged at school, socializing, able to access the curriculum, healthy, exploring interests, and living in a stable home. Which school option will lead to those outcomes? We also need to remember that most children are resilient and able to adjust and compensate over time for change. Many of our children have years of schooling ahead of them when they can -- and will -- catch up.
Will my child thrive:
- If his teacher and classmates must stay 6 feet away?
- If she can't read the expressions on her teacher's and friends' faces due to masks?
- If he has to manage independent learning work at home?
- If she learns some days at school, with distancing and masks, and some days online?
- If he's learning in a Zoom meeting with a teacher and other children also online?
- If he, through no fault of his own, brings COVID home to the family?
- If she's grouped with a few other local families for at-home learning, to facilitate child care?
- If this school year is perhaps somewhat of a "miss" and he has to catch up next year (along with tens of millions of other school children)?
- If her classroom has no books, no toys, no group seating area?
- If you (or your partner, if you have one) have to change jobs, schedules, take a pay cut, temporarily step off a career path, or live off savings in order to make remote learning and child care work?
- If his special education aide has to work with him online instead of in-person (6 feet away, with masks)?
- If she has to take responsibility to help watch over and manage younger siblings during remote learning?
- If he can only connect with friends online?
- If she rarely leaves home?
There's so much to consider. Perhaps these questions will help you crystallize which school option is less awful (because neither of them are ideal, when all we want is for everything to go back to normal) and which will be better for your child. Also consider what new measures you can put in place to help fix the still-awful parts. For instance, if you choose remote schooling and worry your child is becoming home-bound, make a plan for regular trips into nature, zoom calls with friends, or a small pod of playmates, and make them happen. If your child struggles with independent learning, make sure you're set up to view the daily updates from your child's online learning system (on Google Classroom, ask to be set up as a guardian so you receive daily assignment updates) and make a daily plan to review schoolwork together, and stick to it.
My hope is that your decision becomes clear to you and feels right.
I'm sure I missed many questions on this list due to my particular family's perspective. If you would like to suggest other questions for the list, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add them!