Caring for Ourselves

There is no question that I am a worrier by nature.  My dad was a world class worrier and I, like it or not, have the same distinction.  In fact, my husband says he doesn’t have to worry about anything—he has me to do it all for him.  That is not far from the truth.  When I think about it, it seems to me that this tendency was likely always there but it didn’t really surface until my oldest son was born.  I vividly recall one of our first outings when he was a year old.  We were visiting family and we had built-in babysitters who encouraged us to have a night out, something we really had not done.  We went to a club to hear some music and I found myself in the midst of a crowd, an experience I’d had in that very same place, more than once, in previous years.  But this night was quite different for me.  I could not clearly see an exit, I felt trapped in the crowd and all I could think about was who would care for Jason if something happened.  I pushed my way through the crowd and sat outside on the step, waiting until the concert was over and the rest of our party came out.

I had someone other than myself to be responsible for and that became the most important thing in my life.  To this day, my worries are not about me as much as they are about the people I care about—my family, our friends, my colleagues and staff, the elders with whom I am privileged to work.  COVID certainly added to the worry list for all of us, especially those of us who work with older adults.  Not only are they worries that are still present but I think that the way we look at the world is forever changed.  So many things we took for granted, relied on and believed in have been turned upside down. And I am afraid that is where they are going to stay.

This past weekend I had the joy of being with my son, daughter-in-law and their two amazing children We are very blessed because we see them often and, in truth, I miss them the minute they, or we, walk out the door, depending on who is visiting whom.  We love to plan what they kids call “sleepovers,” weekends where they can stay with us and we, as obliging grandparents, do our best to spoil them!  I was talking to my grandson, who is 8, about scheduling our next weekend together.  My daughter-in-law mentioned that we could extend the weekend into a Friday or a Monday because the kids get “mental health days” every semester.

In truth, I think we all need mental health days from time to time, a chance to just refresh and walk away from our many obligations for a day.  But elementary school kids?  It gave me a moment of reflect on how much the COVID experience has impacted not just our lives, but the lives of children as well.  Going back to school is masks, constant reminders about safety, quarantines when a classmate is exposed—it ups the pressure on the parents, for sure, but on the children as well.

I think about my own childhood, and my children’s childhoods, and the images and memories are those of a carefree time.  School was a fact of life but it was routine.  And difficult times, for the most part, were within our family—a loved one becoming ill, a relative passing away—but nothing that affected us on a sweeping scale.  Even on 9/11, as I raced home from work to be there for my youngest son, horrified and shaken by these acts of terrorism and concerned how he would react, I did not have the feeling I have now—of the need to be hyper-vigilant every day, in every setting, and to teach our children to be the same.

It seems to me that this is yet another way in which COVID has caused significant and long term collateral damage—introducing fear and anxiety to our children, damaging the “givens” that childhood should contain and making worry a part of their vocabulary, a part of their behavior set and, far too early, a part of their lives.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is chair-elect of LeadingAge and past chair of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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