In November 2017, Smithsonian, focused a significant portion of its monthly publication on “The Next Pandemic: 1918—2018.” The by-line stated, “Inside the devastating influenza outbreak 100 years ago—and how scientists are trying to stop it from happening again.”
I “rediscovered” this publication in a pile of magazine as I spent time spring cleaning recently. How ironic, I thought, to find this magazine here and now. I didn’t read it when it came to me two years ago; I did read it now. I read “Journal of the Plague Year” by John M. Barry and learned how the 1918 pandemic likely began in Haskell County, Kansas. I studied the grim statistics, who survived and who did not. I discovered a list of books written during that era, describing the difficulties and the death. I learned about ordinary people trying to make sense of a silent killer they didn’t understand.
In some odd way, I found it comforting—not because of anything positive that occurred. Rather, I found it comforting because, as horrible as it was, most people survived to tell stories of the 1918 Pandemic, also known as the “Spanish Flu.” It made me think, we will survive all this. Most of us will live to tell our children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren about the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. The question is, “What stories will we tell? What stories will be told about us? And, what will we wish we had done, that we didn’t?”
What Stories Will We Tell?
In the fall of 2004, Kelly Valdivia moved into her college dorm room with her twin sister, Erin. One month after her parents dropped them off, Kelly began to experience sharp pains in her head. In the introduction to her master’s thesis Kelly tells the story like this.
At first the pain came when I was running or physically exerting myself, but eventually startled me when I was just sitting down. I went to the doctor who sent me back to my dorm with medicine for migraines, but the headaches kept getting worse. I soon developed a fever, which climbed so high that I fell unconscious. Erin called the ambulance which took us both to the hospital. As soon as our parents were notified they left their home and drove two hours, not knowing what to expect when they arrived.
When the results of a very cloudy spinal tap came back, the doctors informed Erin and my parents that I was infected with bacterial meningitis. The bacteria (staphylococcus aureus) had been spreading from my pituitary gland to my spinal cord for about one month. The doctors said it was one of the worst cases they had seen. They flushed me with antibiotics and waited for me to come back to consciousness. Four hours later, to Erin and my parents’ relief, I opened my eyes.
The summer before moving to college, I had surgery to drain a cyst from my pituitary gland. A tiny leak in the surgical area allowed bacteria to escape. The headaches that I experienced were a result of this leakage. I ended up having to stay in the hospital for two months, forcing me to withdraw from my first semester of college and separating me from my twin sister, who had to finish out the semester on her own. This was the first time we had ever been separated.
During those two months, I continued to experience painful spinal headaches. To avoid doing the same surgery and developing more scar tissue, the doctors implanted a spinal drain into my back, in an attempt to deplete the bacteria. After that effort failed, the doctors had no choice but to redo the original surgery that had caused the bacterial meningitis in the first place. Fortunately, the surgery went smoothly the second time. Shortly after, I was released from the hospital. Right before I was released, a nurse inserted a PICC line (a long-term IV that ran from my upper arm to a capillary in my right lung, which administered heavy antibiotics) into my arm, which was to remain in place for two weeks. It had now been eight weeks since I had been rushed to the hospital.
During this short amount of time, my family had experienced an enormous amount of stress. All summer, my parents had been preparing themselves to become empty-nesters. They did not expect that two months later their ill daughter would be back at the house needing around-the-clock care. My older sister, Lauren, who was two hours away attending her third year of college and playing soccer, sacrificed several important games, against the advice of her coach, and spent a great deal of money on gas driving home to help my parents care for me. Erin’s expectations of her first semester in college dramatically changed. After I was forced to withdraw, another roommate was positioned in my place and Erin was left on her own, without her best friend and sister by her side. Meanwhile, I was trying to cope with the fact that I was sitting at home, two hours away from the college I should have been attending having antibiotics pumped into my arm, through a PICC line while Erin was off starting her life.
Like most all of us today, Kelly’s world and that of her entire family changed dramatically overnight. Somethings were still the same, but most activities could not be done in the same way or time frame. Everyone had to adjust and it wasn’t easy. Nevertheless, just six years later in 2010, as part of the requirements necessary to complete her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, Kelly chose to write about “Resilience Factors of Families Coping with Chronic Acute Illness.” Today, ten years later, Kelly is Dr. Kelly Clements.
Most of us have heard stories about folks who have turned tragedy into a triumph of some sort. We may even have stories ourselves. In most cases, those stories occurred when the struggles and difficulties were isolated. Today, all of us are forced to deal with the pandemic—some with more challenging circumstances than others. Everyone will have the opportunity to tell a story. What story will you choose to tell given we don’t know how long quarantine measures will last and we are uncertain about what the future will be like when the pandemic is over? We’re worried about the health and well-being of ourselves and others, but you can choose to tell your own story about this season.
3 Questions to Ask Yourselves and Your Family:
In coming weeks we'll be considering:
What Stories Will Be Told About Us? & What Will We Regret Not Doing?
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this Family Resilience episode, where we talk to Dr. Kelly Clements about her experience and the implications for families today.
Dr. Jennifer Baker, Founder & Executive Director of Good Dads, is a clinical psychologist and family therapist with nearly 30 years of practice helping individuals, couples and families. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She may be reached for question or comment at email@example.com.
“It’s good. You’ll like it.”
“Yuck. No I won’t.”
“How do you know you won’t like it if you haven’t tried it?”
“It looks gross.”
“Well, it’s not, and your mother worked really hard at making a nice dinner for us, so eat it!”
“I can’t. I’ll throw up!”
“No you won’t – and you’re not getting up from this table until you’ve eaten it, young lady, so you’d better get started now!”
And so the lines are drawn, and the battle begins . . .
Sound familiar? I don’t know any father who hasn’t played out the above scenario in some form or another with his kids, and it can be a very frustrating experience on both sides.
Granted, if our children’s biggest struggle is with trying new food at dinner, they’re probably not going to be emotionally crippled for life. On the other hand, if they are paralyzed with fear about trying anything new, they could miss out on a great deal of the joy and adventure of living.
So what can we do as fathers to help our children overcome their fears and welcome new experiences in life?
We can proactively address four underlying beliefs that hold our kids back, and we can build a set of beliefs into the foundation of their character that will help them embrace the new rather than fear it.
4 Limiting Beliefs That Hold Kids Back
Belief #1: Inability (“I can’t do it”)
Kids sometimes think that because they haven’t done something before, that means they can’t do it. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of independence in our children by giving them small things to do from a very young age. We can encourage their natural inclination to want to “do it myself”, then congratulate them on their successes, and not criticize when the finished product is less than perfect.
My 8-year-old daughter Charissa and I were building Lego houses together a few months ago. After a while, I saw how I could “improve” part of her design. I started rebuilding a stairway so it would be more sturdy and, in my opinion, more aesthetically pleasing. My daughter saw what I was doing and said seven words that had me scrambling to put things back the way I found them. She looked at me with her big eyes and just said, “I worked really hard on that, Daddy.” I’m grateful she spoke up and helped me realize that despite my good intentions, I was sending her a message that she wasn’t good enough. I pray I never make that mistake again.
Belief #2: Incompetence (“I won’t be good at it”)
Even when a child realizes they have the ability to do something new, they may not have the assurance they can do it well. For some kids, that’s a show-stopper. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of confidence in our children by giving sincere praise for their accomplishments. By celebrating their achievements with them, our children grow more self-assured and more eager to try something new.
Charissa is learning how to play basketball, and before her first game, she was terrified she would make a mistake and be embarrassed in front of everyone. Fortunately, she has a great coach. He made a concerted effort to give positive feedback for every good move on the court, and by the time the game was over, Charissa’s main comment was, “That was fun!” I want to be an encouraging coach for her as well, so every new experience she has will end with the same feeling.
Belief #3: Insecurity (“I’m not safe”)
If children don’t feel safe, they have a difficult time taking risks with new situations. Kids need to know they are loved and protected unconditionally. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of security in our children by showing them how important they are to us and by providing them with a stable environment. We do this by spending time with them, enjoying them, and listening carefully to how they feel.
When Charissa was six years old, I took her to a local Daddy-Daughter Dance. I left the house early and purchased a white rose, then drove back home and rang the front doorbell. When my wife opened the door, I saw Charissa all dressed up with her face just beaming at me, and it brought tears to my eyes. I knew I’d done something right. I’d added to Charissa’s foundational beliefs about her value, her security and her confidence. I’d let her know she was loved.
Belief #4: Inadequacy (“If I fail, I’m a failure”)
If children get their sense of worth out of succeeding in what they do, then when they don’t succeed, their sense of worth plummets. Rather than take that risk, some kids just avoid trying anything new. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of strength in our children that helps them cope with the inevitable mistakes and missteps of life. We do this verbally by letting them know it’s okay to make mistakes, and by not criticizing, teasing, or disapproving when they mess up. We also strengthen our kids by modeling the process for them. We can do new things together with them, and when it doesn’t go as planned, let them know it’s ok, help them think through a solution, and show them we’re still having fun.
I decided that for my daughter’s birthday this year, I was going to build a cake for her in the shape of a castle. I’d never done anything like this before, but how hard could it be? At one point in the process, Charissa saw the cake, and although she was polite, I could tell she had some doubts about how it was going to turn out. So did I. When her mother called to reassure Charissa that it couldn’t be that bad, her response was, “Oh but Mom, you can’t see it.” Well, I modeled some perseverance and determination that day. After adding about 30 reinforcing skewers, a Rice Krispy retaining wall around the whole cake, and even a few nails pounded into the foundation, it turned out all right. Charissa loved it, and I think she learned a valuable lesson about how to accept mistakes and push on through.
Every child is different, and some will be more intimidated by new things than others, and that’s okay. But all will benefit from having a solid foundation based on these four core beliefs replacing the limiting beliefs outlined above:
As good dads, our influence over our children in these four areas is greater than that of anyone else. As we teach, encourage, support, and model these foundational beliefs for our kids, we will reap the reward of watching them grow and enjoy all the new experiences life has to offer.
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this Building Leadership Traits podcast where we discover ways we as dads can help prepare our Generation Z kids to be future leaders -- including the importance of letting your kids fail.
Steve Moser is the father of four and the husband of Mindy. He lives with his wife and his youngest child, Charissa, in Springfield, MO where he serves as the Parish Life Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church. He can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have been parenting for even a minute, your world has been bombarded with all sorts of advice on what you should do. Good dads know that they are to model love, laughter, and good work ethics. Not only do good dads know these are essential, but we strive to show them to the best of our ability. When one or all of these things seem to take hold in one of our kids, we celebrate. We are thrilled, even a little proud that we could play such a positive role in their overall development as a human being.
But, what about the things we should be doing that aren’t so “good looking” on the surface? Sometimes, dads need to be willing to be what the world might deem “unattractively transparent” so that kids can learn some pretty deep life lessons. It is with this mindset that I think of three things in particular that our kids should see us doing, but often some things that make us feel pretty uncomfortable.
As parents, especially dads, we can have this innate desire to be seen as “superheroes” in the eyes of our young. Always the one with the great advice, the right answer, the solution to any and all problems. Always the one to swoop in and make things look easy. But, is that real life? And, more importantly, will our kids always be in situations where someone else will save the day? Struggle is part of life…real life…any life. If our kids never see us struggle, they will never have the opportunity to see us persevere. The ability to persevere in spite of challenging circumstances is a much-needed skill in order to be successful, but many young people lack it. It’s okay to let your kids see you struggle, as long as they see you persevere through it.
Yup. I said it. Kids should see their dads cry. They also should see them laugh. Maybe not every second of every day, but crying and laughing are part of the emotional coping process. Now, you may not be the crying type and I can’t say I have cried that many times in front of my boys over the past almost 30 years, but they have certainly seen the eyes water on a few occasions. It isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of life. Let the kids know your emotional lights are on, somebody is home, and that somebody knows how to cope with the heartache and joy this life presents.
I will be the first to admit it, before my wife and kids can… I have a hard time saying I am wrong. But, admit I must, for wrong I often am. If you look around, ours is a culture in which many have a hard time conceding fault. Taking responsibility is not something humans tend to want to do. It's critical for our sons and daughters to witness us not only making mistakes, but also owning up to them. We must exhibit the humility necessary to say, “I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me so that we can continue to live and love and work together?” Can you imagine if every person on social media possessed this skill? Our world would forever be changed. And in a good way. Dads, this kind of behavior gives our kids an example and experience to be the kind of adult people that will be skilled to develop deep relationships.
So, as you ponder the things to let your kids see… and not see… remember to let them see you struggle, cry, and apologize. This just might lead to kids who can readily persevere, cope, and humbly get along with everyone else on the planet.
Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at email@example.com