In August of 2020, I wrote a blog about the decision to keep my then 3-year-old twins enrolled in childcare at the early stages of the pandemic. I would have thought 18 months into the pandemic the issues related to schooling would be much easier and my own anxiety level would be lower. If anything, it has only gotten harder, and my anxiety related to my children’s health and safety has gotten worse.

This is primarily due to the Delta Variant. Per the Centers for Disease Control, the Variant is more than two time as contagious. With the original strain, if I was positive, I would likely pass it along to two people. With the variant, it is more like five, some research says eight.

So, what is a parent to do? My now 4-year-olds have been continuously attending childcare, which has allowed my husband and I to continue to work full-time. They love school and we made the decision to send them back in person to start Pre-K4 this week. But it is hard. Really hard. I looked back at the advice I gave a year ago to see if it might still be of benefit or comfort this school year.

Be Flexible

With community numbers rising again and in person school starting back, being flexible remains key. I have shifted my mindset at this point to not if someone in my family will get COVID, but when. I have a plan A, B and C lined up if we need to work from home or pull the kids out of childcare. My anxiety is largely fueled by those things that are out of my control. Running through different scenarios and being prepared for them helps with that.

Be Charitable

I thought the wide availability of vaccines would help with the political divide that has come to be associated with the pandemic. Nope – it made it worse. Masks and vaccines have become a hot button topic, dividing co-workers, friends, and families.

Personally, I believe in the science behind the vaccine and my family members that are eligible are vaccinated. I send my kids to school in a mask. I feel I am making the best decision for my children balancing their physical and mental health. Other families feel differently.

Honestly, this is an area I have struggled with over the last year. I have always believed, and tried to teach the kids, that you don’t know someone else’s story, therefore you can’t judge the choices that they make. My struggle is that with this decision, it impacts my kids.

An individual’s choice not to vaccinate, mask, or send their kids to school in masks, puts my kids at risk for COVID exposure. Being charitable to that choice is challenging when it has such a profound and close impact on my life. But I do my best. I try to educate and not judge. I try to counter misinformation with information garnered from credible sources. I seek out consultation and guidance from reliable sources when I am unsure.

Be Observant

Last year I discussed being observant to any changes in your child’s behavior. While this is still extremely important, I would replace this item for Be Communicative this year. Kids hear what is going on and have questions. Unanswered questions are a breeding ground for anxiety. Spark the conversation with your kids, don’t wait for them to come with you.

My struggle is straddling the line between sharing enough information and creating anxiety in the kids. At their age, they know that there is a virus and that it is transmitted in the air. They know that masks help to keep the virus from getting into their nose and mouth. I sometimes spontaneously ask them on the way home if they have any questions, fears, or other feelings about the virus. If they were older, it would be a much more detailed conversation about the long-term effects of the virus and my thoughts about the vaccine. Find your child’s level of comfort and understanding.

Be Kind

I still have my kids repeat our daily mantra at school drop off every morning: Listen, Learn Something, Have Fun, Be Kind. I follow up with asking them which of these is most important, which is of course, Be Kind. Always, to everyone.

We have all suffered loss over the last 18 months. We remain deep within a shared traumatic experience. I have known people who have been hospitalized and some who died. Many of us have. We have missed birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, proms, graduations, and countless other events. All of this creates grief.

Grief manifests differently in all of us. Some retreat inside themselves, while others lash out. I try to remember that when I see news stories about parents ripping the mask off a teacher, or customers screaming at employees about their mask requirement. Nothing will be gained by me screaming back. All that does is add my hurt and grief on top of an already overwhelming powder keg.

I have personally struggled with this in our current environment where the mask and vaccination issues have become so politicized. There are days my compassion wears thin. But I take a deep breath and remind myself that my children are watching what I do and listening to what I say. I have a responsibility to role model kindness and compassion, even when it is difficult to do so.

We have been through a lot and have more down the road before us. For now, I will continue to send my kids to school every day with a hug, kiss, and prayer for their safety. Will I cry on the way to work sometimes… probably? But on those days, I will make an extra effort to be kind to those around me. That is how we will get through this thing together.