When it comes to everyday parental disagreements about what kids are and are not allowed to do, it's not uncommon for one side to end up backing down just to break the tension. But those compromises aren't so easy to make when the issue at hand is one both parents feel passionately about — like whether or not to send their kids to school in the midst of a pandemic. If you're like a lot of families right now, you're in this very situation. So what should you do if you don't agree with your partner about school this fall? It could be one of the most difficult decisions you ever make as parents.
To reiterate what you already know, there's no parenting book on pandemics, and that's exactly why this topic is so heated. Licensed psychotherapist Kellie Wicklund MA, LPC tells Romper in an email that she's "definitely hearing about [school decisions] all day" from her patients because it's "1000% the moment's conundrum." It doesn't help that there are no answers to so many of the questions parents have right now. Licensed professional counselor Kirsten Brunner LPC agrees, adding that not knowing what to expect this fall only complicates communication for parents. "Unfortunately, in many states and communities, the situation and guidelines are continually changing," Brunner says, so it feels impossible to feel confident in any decision you make.
As you debate sending your kids to school, remember that all parents (including your partner) want their children to be safe this fall. Even if you have opposing opinions, each of you is "likely making a valid point and not intentionally trying to put [your] children in harm's way," clinical psychologist Venus Mahmoodi, Ph.D., tells Romper in an email. In fact, Dr. Mahmoodi says each partner should acknowledge and validate the fact that you're both doing your best to come up with a way to keep your kid safe and healthy so neither one of you feels like the bad guy.
Once you understand that you're both coming from a place of love, "gather the most current information before [you] enter the conversation" so you're both up to date with the situation and are working with the same information, says Brunner, and be physically prepared for your talk, too. "Make sure you and your partner have their basic needs met before attempting these big conversations," says Dr. Mahmoodi. "Arguments tend to escalate faster when there are other stressors or distractions." So if either one of you is overtired, hungry, or super stressed about work, pick another time to chat.
When you finally go head to head, remember that even if your line of thinking seems obvious to you, it's important to explain the reason behind your opinion. "One partner might be extremely worried about the family finances, and might feel like sending the kids back to school is the only way to catch up financially," says Brunner. "The other partner might be incredibly worried about the physical health and safety of their family, and can't imagine sending them to a campus." When you understand each other's points of view, you'll be much more likely to successfully "work toward a compromise that will address both parents' sources of anxiety," Brunner adds.
If you're struggling to see eye to eye, Dr. Mahmoodi suggests making a list of pros and cons with your partner to help you decide — but keep your cool when debating the merits of each point. "Once someone reaches the point of explosion, there is no productive conversation that comes out of the discussion," says Dr. Mahmoodi, "If you notice your emotions are becoming stronger and more intense, hit the pause button."
Ultimately, "giving each other plenty of grace and patience" as you work through this unbelievably stressful issue with your partner is the goal, says Brunner. You'll both need to be realistic about the risks and rewards of all your options in order to come to a healthy decision. "Families need to do what's right for them, inside the logistics of what their lives demand," says Wicklund. This could mean coming to the realization that your ideal choice doesn't actually work with your family's circumstances.
Whatever you and your partner decide to do, "keep in mind that most decisions are not permanent," says Brunner, "and be ready to adjust [your] decision depending on how your child is doing and how your community is coping with COVID." What's best for the family today might not be the best thing two months from now, so being flexible throughout will make the situation a little easier to manage.
Brunner's best advice for parents? "Approach the many decisions you have to make with a spirit of adventure, flexibility, and humor." After all, you're both still stuck socially distancing with each other... and you just might end up homeschooling together this fall. Staying on the same page is going to be essential, to say the least.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.