This afternoon my partner is on a call with a colleague having a moment of real talk about how all of us working parents are functioning during the pandemic. “There’s just not enough time,” I can hear one of them saying. “How are people even doing this any longer?” says the other. He walked down for that call after a few minutes of real talk in our shared work-from-home office about the balance we are attempting to strike between being loving, responsible parents and being engaged, proactive employees.
For context, we are American. Our children are 8, 8, and 6. They were 7, 7 and 5 at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. They haven’t been to school or group care outside of our home since March 15, 2019. We have been doing this for 10 months now with no functional end in sight.
We are amongst the luckiest of the lucky ones – I’m experienced as an educator, psychotherapist, and organizational leader. We had the material resources, the working knowledge, and the professional skills in our household to recruit a teacher, literally build-out a school space with high-volume ventilation within our home, and recruit a small number of other families into a “learning pod” complete with Covid-19 safety practices. And yet…
On a walk with a pod-mate parent recently, her reflection was, “The pandemic has changed my children.”
That moment was like a bell ringing. It was the title of a book most parents could write AND we are still very much at the beginning of that story. My mind keeps going back to all the work that child development pioneers produced over the past 100 years. The international social fall-out from World War II sparked a wave of research, investment, and innovation in child development and child welfare that we are still benefiting from today. That crisis taught communities in the most excruciating way that providing food and shelter were not enough to grow a healthy child. The term ‘failure to thrive’ was coined in that era to describe children whose physical needs were met, but who were deteriorating nonetheless, from lack of social connection.
When Brazelton & Greenspan compiled their decades of work into The Irreducible Needs of Children twenty years ago they were continuing in that line of inquiry. What did they find? That children need six things to flourish:
- Ongoing Nurturing Relationships
- Physical Protection, Safety and Regulation
- Experiences Tailored to Individual Difference
- Developmentally Appropriate Experiences
- Limit Setting, Structure and Expectations
- Stable, Supportive Communities and Cultural Continuity
As a working parent in 2021 I look at that list and my heart drops like a rock. I’m not enough people to provide for my children’s needs all on my own. I’m not enough people to create stability in an ocean of global political and biological uncertainty. I need a village. My children need a village. Necessity being the mother of invention: we continue to innovate in ‘how’ to make a village. We’ve taken childcare and education and arts access virtual.
But innovation wasn’t the only ingredient to recovering economic and political stability after WWII. Then, just as now, innovation required investment, social awareness, and collective commitment. Decision makers at every level, in private and public sector organizations need to realize that supporting the needs of children and their families is an irreducible need of the future we are creating together.
Our grandchildren will live together in a society with the offspring of neglected families. So will yours.
– T. Berry Brazelton