By Melinda Wenner Bradley
For the past six months, I’ve worked from home with my three children around me. My kids are older; this summer the youngest turned thirteen. And while I’ve been able to focus on my own work and called on very little to support their online learning last spring or this fall, their need for emotional and spiritual support has been present and often intense. One of the things I’ve discovered about parenting is that my growing children don’t need less of my care; they need it in different ways.
What do older youth and teens need? Like younger children, normalcy and routine, alongside spaces where they can just be with peers and trusted adult presences. Sometimes it helps to offer young people their own space to process before bringing concerns forward. Coping with COVID-19: A Work Book for Kids and Teens is designed with writing and drawing prompts to help children and teens communicate and cope with their feelings and emotions regarding the pandemic. There are several books for younger children to help parents and caregivers discuss COVID-19 and its continued impact on our daily lives this fall. One of my favorites is Sacred Spaces by Mehgan Rohrer, about how we are loving our neighbor through our actions. These three titles can be downloaded to explore together at home:
- Masks, Masks, Masks by Drs. Michelle and Benjamin Lemelman
- Matilda + Theo looking after our lost and found things in the time of Coronavirus by the Australian Childhood Foundation
- When the Coronavirus Came to Our City by Stephanie Kraus and Samantha Watson
There may be a time in coming days when, in our experience as a meeting, or as a family, or as friends and neighbors, there is a child or young person dealing with loss. A study conducted by a Penn State associate sociology professor and other researchers concluded that every COVID-19 death leaves an average of nine survivors who have lost a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse or child. Some of the more difficult conversations I’ve had in the past months with my own children have been about death. My college-aged child remarked during a conversation one day, “Death feels closer,”and has expressed anxiety about family and friends getting sick. A younger sibling has shown up at my bedside unable to sleep, and shared their deep uneasiness about the inevitability of death. “Darn existential questions!,” he tried to joke through tears.*
As a parent, I hold my children close and provide what comfort I can. I’m glad for the Godly Play stories they heard and wondered about as younger children, which gave them images and language for big questions about the Divine and created spaces to come close to those existential questions like death and aloneness. Thinking about how we talk about death and helping children develop a vocabulary for loss and grief is pastoral care preparation we can also do across ages in meeting communities. There are excellent books for children through adolescents for talking about death and dying that could be recommended to a family in need of support. A lovely, gentle book for younger children is The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup and another, Death is Stupid by Anastasia Higginbotham (author of The Ordinary Terrible Things series) is a thoughtful and refreshingly candid exploration of a child’s experience.
There have been moments during these months when it felt like we recaptured some of the feeling of when my children were small and home together every day. There is an intimacy in depending on one another so completely for care and fellowship, as well as spiritual nurture. There is wonder and connection in moments I’m not looking for. The time with them feels precious and fleeting all over again, even though I know they would rather be at school and with their friends. They sometimes tease me with the language from Godly Play stories, “God came close to them, and they came close to God,” but all teasing has an element of truth, and I am comforted that this image is present for them in this time.
*My children gave their permission to be quoted in this piece.
Melinda Wenner Bradley is a member of West Chester Meeting (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) and currently nurtures the spiritual lives of children as a Godly Play trainer for Faith & Play Stories and as Philadelphia YM’s Youth Engagement Coordinator.