As a California native, I was always taught that when an earthquake happens, you stand in the doorway until it stops.
My parents prepared us for the “big one” by saying that if it happened, we’d all meet under the load-bearing living room door until we could safely get outside. I was twelve years old when my eyes popped open at two in the morning to a jiggling, rolling sensation in the bed beneath me. I jumped to my feet, and with knees bent to absorb the waves that rippled through the floor of our house, I scrambled to that doorway. One by one, my wide-eyed, pajama-wearing brothers and parents lurched into view and joined me under the arch. We looked into each other’s faces, holding onto the thick pine frame, and we said nothing.
We just waited for the shaking to stop.
28 years later, I find myself standing in another doorway with my husband and my kids, waiting for things to feel normal again. While this doorway is metaphorical, it’s just as disorienting. This doorway is a liminal space.
Liminal space is the expanse between one reality or time of life and the next. Oftentimes, people encounter liminal spaces in their lives when they lose a loved one, when they change jobs or cities, when they retire, or when their kids leave the house. A liminal space is when we know we’re not in one set of circumstances any longer. Things definitely look different; they are not what they used to be or what we’re used to. But we also know we haven’t quite landed in the next iteration of our life or experience yet. We’re in transition. We are standing in a doorway, between one thing and the next.
What’s unique about this liminal space is that, unlike retirement or a cross-country move, it’s happening to all of us at the same time. It was unexpected. And we’ve been standing in this doorway with our families and a whole world of strangers, without knowing what the future is going to look like for a lot longer than transitions usually last.
You’ve been living, maybe working, maybe parenting, and probably supporting people that you care about:
- In an incredibly tumultuous world where a pandemic has thrown the human race on its heels. Within a political and social environment that is very divisive and volatile. During a race revolution in our country. During environmental concerns that have both disrupted our lives and sense of safety, and that have posed an existential threat to ourselves and our families.
- Amidst uncertainty and change at work. For some, workspaces and workflow have been upended. Others have lost jobs or lost business. Some are sharing space and work hours with kids, roommates, or partners.
- With personal uncertainty and change. Access to self care methods like social interaction, physical outlets, and changes of scenery haven’t been available in the ways we’re used to. Many of us have experienced changes to our personal relationships and settings, caring for children or others in new ways and blurring the boundaries between our home and work lives.
And yet, you’re here. You show up for your family, for your friends, for your work. And so do our kids. All of this ambiguity requires new things from us, and all of us—kids and adults alike—are at different levels of skill and comfort at dealing with change.
Here are some of the things that change requires of us:
- Change requires us to work harder at balance and self-care. Even good change is usually hard in some ways.
- Change requires us to shift gears, often without having all of the information we want or are used to.
- Change requires us to make decisions and act without the whole picture.
- Change requires us to experience risk and uncertainty.
- Change requires us to plan for the future, but remain in the present.
These things that are required of us are also required of our kids, for whom the experiences of change, disappointment, and thwarted expectations may feel especially profound. Here are some things we can do to support our kids through the newness:
Make Space for Big Feelings
Make space for grief or worry when your kids share them.
When our kids come to us to share that they miss their friends or that they’re feeling scared or confused, it’s important to teach them how to navigate those moments.
Here are some things we can say and do:
Stop what we are doing, put our arm around them, and show them they are important.
Use words to validate their feelings. Try something like, “It can be so hard to miss our friends and wonder when we’ll see them again. I hear that you’re missing them. Thank you for telling me about it. What is that like?”
Make space for feelings when your kids don’t share them.
Sometimes I notice my daughter getting quiet, looking out the window somberly, or laughing less. It might be that she’s just tired, or it might be that she’s got those big feelings to process.
Here are some things we might say and do in these moments:
Stop what we are doing and put our arm around them—yep, again. Show them we’re there.
Use questions to help them identify their feelings. If you’re not sure where they’re coming from, try something broad, like, “What are you thinking about?” If it’s pretty clear to you that they’re processing something more specific, try zooming in with something more precise, like, “How did it feel to see friends together without masks when we’re still wearing them?”
Help them learn how to process.
We might say something like: “When I have a big feeling, I know it’s there to tell me something. So I get quiet, and get curious, and try to let it be there. That way it can tell me what it needs to, and then I can decide what to do.”
Understanding Change & Stability
Help them know that change is constant.
Some kids might be experiencing change for the first time in a big way, which means this is a great time to teach our kids that the change is normal, and we can always depend on things changing. We can say out loud that change is usually hard in some ways, and that talking about it helps.
Remind them about the things that are stable.
Maybe that’s you. Maybe it’s grandparents or one set of friends, or the place you live, or the things you eat. They will follow your lead, so if you talk about gratitude for the things that are stable, they will feel their steadiness more, too.
Help kids focus on what’s in their control.
Maybe that’s picking what they wear each day, or picking what they have for breakfast. Maybe it’s choosing what to do for playtime, or choosing books to read at night. We can emphasize choices, and moments when we say “yes” to our kids, so that they feel bigger and more important.
Remind them that one thing that never changes, is you.
Every night when I put my kids to bed, I focus on how much I love them, and then say it. Usually I tell them I love them exactly as they are, I’m grateful for the time we had together that day, and that I can’t wait to see them when they wake up. That feels real for me, that’s my style. What’s yours?
Focus on the Good
Assume the best intentions, out loud.
We’re all under a lot of pressure with no emotional, physical or logistical capacity to spare. This can lead people to assign blame, make assumptions, and take offense more easily than usual. This is understandable, and we can anticipate it in ourselves and work on that. We can work to model assuming the best intentions in others, practicing empathy and speaking our curiosity about what life is like for them, out loud. It’s good for our kids to see, hear, and learn from that modeling, but it’s also good for the world (and really good for us too).
Help them focus on the present and the world around them.
I do this every day with my kids by just speaking my gratitude out loud, and I often hear them saying it too. “This is such a beautiful night, and I’m so glad I’m here with you,” or, “I love the temperature of the air right now,” or “Did you see the moon?” Kids learn from the small moments just as much as they do from the big ones.
Remind them of good things coming in the future.
This won’t last forever. It’s good to remind them of that and of all of the things they love waiting around the bend, like friends, trips, loved ones—or just walking around with no mask, and the sun shining on your face.
It’s a lot right now, and yet you’re here. Doing your best, day after day. I see you.
Sarah McDonald is Galileo’s VP of Southern California Operations. When she’s not heading up camp operations, Sarah loves to write, paint, and adventure with her fam.