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What History Can Tell Us about Raising Children at Home during a Pandemic

Living through a pandemic is tough for anyone. But it’s especially challenging if you’re raising kids. Many parents must now deal with the triple burden of earning a living at home, caring for their children, and overseeing their online education.

Certainly, there are still bright spots amid times of uncertainty like this. We get to spend more time with our children. Observing the necessary precautions, we can still go out with them and even look stylish wearing a Liberty-printed mask. There is room for some light-hearted fun despite the pressures of living today.

It’s often said that our current situation is unprecedented. Yet history suggests otherwise. Though our particular circumstances are unique, many families have successfully raised their children through pandemics. These lessons can help see yours through the age of Covid-19.

You have agency

The pandemic historian Charles Rosenberg devoted particular focus to the cholera outbreaks of 1833, 1845, and 1866. From these studies, he observed certain characteristics they had in common and likened the unfolding of a pandemic to play.

Pandemics usually have four acts. The first involves progressive acknowledgment and delayed acceptance of the threat. The second is the launching of explanations, both scientific and moral, to help deal with the situation. Third comes the rousing of the public into response, which is a give-and-take between leadership and the people. Finally, the pandemic ambiguously subsides and prompts retrospection.

Thinking about the current situation in this light can put even a global crisis into perspective and give us hope that it, too, shall pass. But it also tends to make us feel powerless. If events are going to play out according to some script, what can we do about anything?

The lesson here is actually one of agency. You have the power to act and influence outcomes. Interventions aren’t futile. Pandemics end by some combination of societal action and the exhaustion of susceptible victims.

Choose to act in accordance with the given rules for public health and safety, and encourage your kids to do the same. Go above and beyond, and you add a further layer of risk mitigation to your family’s protection. It won’t be just a vaccine that saves us. Everyone’s effort counts towards containing the spread of the coronavirus and eventually reaching a point of inflection.

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Self-care is vital

The 1918 outbreak of Spanish flu has often been cited as the most immediate comparison to the current situation. In particular, the matter of education offers an insight to parents today.

While most schools across the country were closed, those in New York City, Chicago, and New Haven, Connecticut, remained open. The decision was made in consideration of the fact that urban school hygiene in those areas had improved significantly.

Instead of sending students home where they would receive ineffectual medical care, they could stay at school and be under the constant observation of qualified persons. This actually gave students of those times a higher degree of safety while continuing their education.

A century later, of course, parents are much more knowledgeable. We still don’t match the expertise of professional school nurses and teachers. But we are competent enough to play a vital role in our children’s health and education, especially as schools close once again.

However, that doesn’t happen if you don’t take care of yourself. Self-care is your first duty. You need to manage your energy, listen to your body, and relax. Find some way to exercise, stay in touch with your support network, and eat healthily.

Write about it

There has been widespread and growing concern about the pandemic’s effects on our mental health. We’re living through a period of prolonged anxiety with a lack of opportunities to socialize or take action. It can affect anyone negatively.

Younger generations may be digital natives and well-versed in social media or other forms of online communication. But using these tools doesn’t necessarily equate to a proper act of self-expression.

History tells us that during a pandemic, people wrote a lot. They kept diaries and journals and wrote letters to distant friends and relatives. They talked about their everyday lives, even mundane events and feelings, and even shared some gossip.

Encourage your children to write. There are no rules, except to make the writing natural and not forced. Writing with intent about these times we live in is an outlet for feelings we struggle to express otherwise. It can be a prompt for self-reflection and even inspiration, turning what might be a mental health challenge into a source of growth.

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