Countless clients tell me every day that they could not spend time with family because misinformation has divided them. During the past holiday, my family was not immune from this either. My family has been on the same page with COVID-19, vaccinations, protocols, and leadership response through the whole pandemic so far. As time has gone on, cracks in the family foundation have begun to show, and “pandemic fatigue” has set in. Now enter the kids in masks at school debate.
Currently, in my family, there are only a few children of school age and, through marriage, an elementary school teacher. During Christmas dinner this year, my youngest niece and mother of the youngest child in the family reached her limit fighting her son to keep his mask on at school. At the dinner table, the topic of children and masks presented itself. My niece directed the comment “masking kids are preventing them from learning” at our resident teacher. The teacher responded that she “is just doing her job” and following directions from the school. As you can imagine, the evening went downhill from there and resulted in a family divided.
During the summer of 2020 and 2021, numerous headlines of disgruntled parents storming school board meetings across the country over school mask mandates. Parents feel the powers at be are not listening to their concerns. These parents have taken to school board meetings in an attempt to be heard and voice their concerns on mask mandates. Some parents feel requiring children to wear masks inhibits educational learning, causes social delays, as well as medical illnesses. The parents also argue that studies show kids are experiencing increased anxiety and depression from all-day mask-wearing. These studies have not been verified or peer-reviewed but continue to be circulated.
One can only imagine teachers’ struggle with the school mask mandates. Teachers are also asked to wear masks all day. In a poll taken as schools were set to reopen for the 2020/2021 school year, teacher morale was at 31%. 32% of teachers consider resigning altogether due to pandemic challenges. These teachers are experiencing challenges teaching in a mask. They are struggling to speak loud enough for students to hear them. They leave the classroom exhausted, dehydrated, and hoarse. It sounds like both teachers and students have similar experiences wearing a mask at school.
A Google search of “families divided 2021” revealed an entire first-page results of articles dedicated to families torn apart over the pandemic and political issues. An article published by The Intelligencer exemplifies families who no longer speak to one another over the COVID-19 vaccine. Families are more divided than ever over politics and refuse family members to participate in Thanksgiving festivities if their political views differ from the host. Lastly, there are numerous articles regarding mask-wearing at schools dividing families as well. My hope is when we are on the other side of the pandemic, these families will find a way to accept their differences and remember that family comes first.
Compassion may be the answer to bridge the gap between parents and schools or school boards. It can bring about social connections between people. Compassion also promotes empathy and a higher interpersonal self-orientation. This concept brings to mind Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the pinnacle need being “self-actualization.” Compassion is said to be linked to an increase in happiness, and, according to Maslow, true happiness is felt when a person reaches self-actualization. It would seem that compassion is the key ingredient in this equation.
Compassion may have been the answer that prevented my family from being torn apart. My niece has every right to have her feelings, but in no way should she have taken them out on her sister-in-law. My niece could have had some compassion for the family teacher, understanding her position too. In turn, the family teacher could have had compassion for a parents’ frustration when children are boycotting masks. Unfortunately, the rest of the family is left to mediate the situation and now working hard to mend the relationship. We are a “family first” minded group and will overcome this. I also hope my family experience will remind others we are not created the same and embrace differences.