A parent’s guilt – the other pandemic

The Alper Family

RACHEL SPEZIA, Special to the Jewish Light

Virtual learning versus in-person learning. Continuing to fully shelter in place versus expanding the bubble.” Get the COVID-19 vaccination as early as possible versus wait for more research to be done. These are just a few examples of decisions families have had to make in the past year.

A majority of people would agree that there isn’t a one size fits all solution to any of these choices and that families should simply do what is right for them. But there is another issue that families have to deal with: guilt.

Recently, I was chatting with my friend Kerri Alper, an educator at the Linda Rotskoff Early Childhood Center at B’nai Amoona and the mother of three teenagers, about mom guilt in the age of COVID. Thats when I realized that it’s almost its own pandemic.

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Kerri, who belongs to both B’nai Amoona and United Hebrew, said she’s no stranger to mom guilt. Even before the pandemic, issues such as missing sign-up deadlines for her children’s extracurricular activities or not being able to be present for school conferences would bring up feelings of guilt.

Since COVID, Kerri’s guilt has not only shifted, but also has been magnified. Like many parents, she and her husband, Craig, had to grapple with the choice of virtual or in-person classes for their children: Zander, 18, Carli, 14, and Sadie, 13. Kerri remembers the heaviness in her heart knowing that choosing virtual classes could be a strain on the mental health of her children, but in-person classes could be putting them in physical danger.

Kerri’s daughters celebrated their bat mitzvahs last year. She recalls the guilt she felt knowing that the big ceremony and exciting party her girls had envisioned for their big day was pared down to a service in her synagogue’s parking lot with a drive-through parade. Despite the circumstances, it was beautiful, but still a shadow of what her daughters were looking forward to, she said.

As the world begins to reopen, the Alpers are still staying within their household unit and haven’t participated in any indoor public outings. They’ve had difficult family conversations, often tinged with a bit of guilt, about their choice to continue to politely decline invitations to social gatherings. Kerri feels that her children understand but knows that social media posts showing social gatherings their children’s friends are enjoying have not been helpful with this discussion.

What is most interesting to me is that while Kerri was speaking, I realized that her guilt is a complete mirror opposite of the guilt that I feel over decisions that my husband and I have made for our family.

My 3-year-old son, for example, gets classroom anxiety and avoids interactions with peers. It wasn’t too long ago that his occupational therapist recommended that we offer him more opportunities to engage with others in order to work on his goals.

My son’s peer avoidance started long before the pandemic, but COVID has definitely taken us back a couple of steps. So at the recommendation of his OT, we’ve become fairly open to going to places where he can interact with others as long as we are comfortable with their safety standards and protocols. Still, it doesn’t escape me that there could be consequences to this choice, and I carry a lot of guilt about it.

But as Kerri reminded me: “We don’t know what’s going on with other families, we can only control what we do and our responses. We have to stay in our own lanes.”

And when it comes to guilt, she added, it helps to permit yourself to feel less guilty about things that used to bother you, such as excess screen time and ice cream before dinner.

Rachel Spezia is the communications coordinator at Congregation B’nai Amoona. She and her husband, James, have a son named Wolfie, 3. They are members of B’nai Amoona.