It started out more as on omission of the truth.
Because my children are young, ages 4 and 1, and I’m blessed to be at home with them full time, it didn’t seem necessary to say anything. Even our son, who usually attended two mornings of preschool per week, didn’t seem to notice our change of pace at first. But when he finally realized he was spending WAY more time at home than usual, I decided to lie.
I lied to protect his innocence.
Like so many other parents, I believe I’m doing the right thing for my child. I choose to shelter my child at home without knowledge of the virus, because the alternative seems incredibly stressful and unnecessary for a child to hear.
At first it was a halfway decent answer — just a little white lie to buy me time to figure out what to say to my son about our world coming to a halt over a global pandemic. “Spring break” is what I called it. After that seemed to appease him, it became our simple, go-to answer, along with “spring cleaning.” “Everyone is taking time to rest after winter and prepare for summer,” we’d say.
And for all he could observe, it was true. We, like so many others, have been busy cleaning our home, working on long-avoided house projects, and clocking hours upon hours in the yard, landscaping and gardening. So spring break and spring cleaning have made sense to his young and developing mind.
Everything now seems like it is in limbo. We are all anxious to see how things progress, when we will feel safe again and things will resume and places reopen. If there will be a cure, a vaccine, an end. What I keep thinking is, If I don’t feel prepared to understand how life is changing, how can I expect my child to?
Parenting expert Kim John Payne encourages parents to act as filters to the adult world for their children. In his book “Simplicity Parenting” he states that children are unable to fully understand the context of our adult issues, and parents should reserve these conversations for times when children are not present. “Not only do they lack context for the information, they lack the foundation that childhood slowly provides. The foundation of years of relatively safe observation, interaction, and exploration. Too much information does not ‘prepare’ a child for a complicated world, it paralyzes them.” Payne goes on to encourage parents to ask themselves before sharing anything with their children, “Is it necessary?”
Most of what I found online echoed this advice. The consensus amongst the Mayo Clinic, the CDC, and PBS is clear: Remain calm and reassuring, pay attention to what children may see or hear regarding the virus, practice safety with germs as a family, and provide them with age-appropriate information.
“Keeping your own anxiety in check is key,” wrote Jessica Grose in the New York Times. She encouraged gauging what your children know of the virus before telling them what you know, speaking to them about it at an age-appropriate level, encouraging good hygiene, and also remaining positive whenever possible. What stood out to me the most was a quote she included from Abi Gewirtz, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Minnesota: “If your child is under 6 and has not heard about the virus yet, you may not want to bring it up, as it may introduce unnecessary anxiety.”
So, yes, I’ve lied about the existence of the coronavirus to my child. And I’m proud of it.
It is my job as a parent to ensure my child’s safety and wellbeing. By staying home and practicing social distancing, I am keeping him safe. By avoiding telling him the ins and outs of the virus, as well as my own anxieties surrounding it, I am protecting his mental wellbeing.
I want my son to look back on this time and know nothing different. He was home. He was safe. He was loved. And we were happy.
He will eventually face hardships or experience difficult things in the world. And my hope is that when that day comes, the foundation and security of his happy childhood will provide the solid foundation to face those challenges. I’d rather he look back on this time of life and remember it fondly. We’ve spent more time resting instead of rushing. More time exploring on walks around our neighborhood instead of driving in our car for errands. More time gardening and baking instead of attending playdates and toddler tumbling.
It’s not all bad living a slower pace at home with our kids, and that’s important to remember as a parent leading a child through this strange phase of life. These are trying times for us all, but the best thing we can do for our children is to keep them home, in a safe and grounded environment, in order to prepare them for a strong future.