The strap line for Pjs parent and toddler group is “Learning together, Growing together” and it seems somehow more poignant as we face the day to day impact of the CoVid19 pandemic. Suddenly our society has become fractured – we are definitely not all in the same boat – some parents are key workers and are maintaining a job whilst maybe also living apart from their family to keep them safe; others may feel their civil liberties are under threat as they stay day after day in an apartment without an outside space. There seems to be plenty of opportunity to be ‘in a very dark place’ yet it has been humbling to see just how our community responds when the chips are down.
Learning together and growing together is epitomised in Vicki McLeods’ Facebook group “Majorca Mallorca, At Home Together”. Vicki has facilitated a platform not just for people to reduce boredom or monotony – but a really active, vibrant learning community, growing together through these challenging times. I personally would like to thank Vicki for her initiative and the sheer number of voluntary hours she is giving to the project. But the project would not have worked, of course, unless others stepped up to the plate. In this article I want to explore, as parents, how we can use this “unwelcome visitor” of a pandemic to our advantage – how can we grow as individuals and families through this, together?
I came across a journal entry I had written 3 years ago “life is often disjointed; with scuppered plans; and then re-invented in the light of experience”. Many of us are distressed by the events surrounding us at the moment because we had so many plans. We reflected over Easter that ‘we would have been visiting family’; ‘going to the beach’ etc. These reflections are fine and healthy if we do not hold on to them for too long – our best health comes when we can sit lightly on our regrets ‘letting them go’.
The pandemic, whilst unwelcome, is an excellent example of how we may all feel the false sense of security in the permanent. We quite rightly plan our lives and the lives of our children; but it is as if we have perfect control over everything. When huge environmental changes such as being locked down occur quickly as with this pandemic we are bound to be thrown into flux. Some personalities will rise to the occasion straight away – just peruse Vicki’s FB group to see excellent examples. Others will retreat, turn in on themselves and find it very challenging to accept the help of friends/neighbours. (Martin Bell’s Fb page Open Mind is a supportive source for mental well-being). As I have written before any response is OK. But Briefly…….. At some point, as in the Pj’s strap line, we need to embrace this experience to learn and grow, together.
Vicki invited those of us who work in the well-being community to answer some questions about our response to the pandemic. One of my answers was that I firmly believe that we hold all the resources necessary to live life to the full. Another quote from my journal was “the only safety is within”. So how can we as parents, learn and grow whilst simultaneously teaching our children how to discover that safety? Especially in a time that presents very real threat and our children may be directly experiencing the illness or death of a loved one. These are not ‘easy’ times, they require us to face some very hard issues as a family. The flip side of this is that for some of us the rarity of this particular crisis may force us to rethink our life – our safety, our values, how we ‘turn up’ in life if you like.
Oshan Jarow writes: “Where does one look when looking for life? Even when acknowledging that looking misses the point, I often can't help but feel it's somewhere other than here, or something other than this”. This reminds us that we can easily be drawn to ‘other’ – but the reality is that this is our life, today, now. No amount of wishing or trying to create a different life in these extraordinary circumstances will change that. I think that Oshan is guiding us towards the notion shared by many mindfulness writers and philosophers that whilst we are busy looking, we are in fact missing this moment, this life.
In this life, moment by moment we are all facing different challenges – some are practical (convergent) problems that we and our children can creatively solve. But many are what philosophers call divergent problems. Oshan quotes “Schumacher asserts that divergent problems are those that correlate to inner experience, and that the way to properly face them is through an intensified application of self-awareness, where "self-awareness plays its proper role".
Self-reflection is where transformation occurs. It is our unique interpretation of experiences that makes us who we are. For the divergent problems Jung writes “we don’t so much solve our problems as we out grow them. We add capacities and experiences that eventually make us bigger than the problems”. It is through community, like Vicki’s Fb group; like Pj’s parent and toddler group that we add capacities and experiences. Let’s remind our children of that. At a time when we are separated from our family and friends, embrace the ingenuity, creativity and hard work of others and engage, invite the unwelcome visitor into our homes as an experience where we learn and grow together and outgrow the challenges. Together we are bigger than the problems facing us.