Living in a pandemic is something none of us thought we would see in our lifetime. Raising small children in a pandemic? I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Figuring out how to help my kids keep in touch with the people they love — without physically being in touch — seemed impossible. Children thrive on connection and communication, not to mention all the energy we need them to burn off before bedtime. As a parent, it’s my job to meet their needs, but no one told me that we wouldn’t have grandparents, cousins, friends or even school to help us get by. Their mental health was suffering, but technology and our devices ended up being a saviour in our house, and I don’t just mean big bad “screen time”.
Our province has been through a few different lockdowns, and a few stages of them as well. This means that we don’t have our usual outlets and resources to help our children get by. My daughter was a mere seven months old when the pandemic started. It got to the point where if we were out for a walk the sight of other people would frighten her, simply because she wasn’t used to it. My son was five at the time, and he craved attention, attention I couldn’t always give when I was on my own with a small baby. Yes, we turned to our devices on our darkest days, but we also found a lot of great ways to use our tablets, Nintendo Switch, and Facebook to help keep us connected.
Online schooling is the big new change, but it introduced us to video chat apps like Google Classroom and Zoom. While in-school learning wasn’t an option, these kept our kids in touch with their teachers and classmates. The video chats let them keep up to date on birthdays, new toys and lost teeth! It helped my son see that everyone was living the way we are, and we all miss each other. Some days it was a fight to get him involved, but a lot of the time he just really wanted to hear their voices and see their faces like a normal day. We even adapted Zoom to our parental lives. There was definitely more than one Cards Against Humanity Zoom call. It kept us together when it wasn’t safe to visit. I even got to wish my sister-in-law well on her new baby at her virtual baby shower, something I would have missed out on without technology.
It’s been a year of being in and out of lockdown. Anyone with small kids knows just how fast they learn, change and grow. It was killing our parents to miss out on so much with the little ones. Yes, teenagers can shoot Grandma a text on their cell phones, but our kindergarteners aren’t usually able to communicate as consistently. We started using video chat apps like FaceTime and texting on Facebook Messenger. My son is six and can, for the most part, read and write. He has been able to create chat rooms on his phone to keep in touch with his friends and family, send funny (monitored) pictures and play games with the people he otherwise would be missing. We started a family group chat, so I could share pictures, videos and stories of the kids, and us, to keep our parents involved. We also do regular video calls. It’s gotten to the point where when my daughter hears the video chat ring, she comes running down the hall yelling “HI!”. She recognizes Grandma, Nana and Papa on the other side of the cell phone, and it melts their hearts.
One of the less obvious ways we have kept connected are video games. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a huge deal at the beginning of the pandemic. It had me hooked from day one, and most of my family followed suit. We even started a group chat on Facebook Messenger to keep everyone up to date on daily in-game tasks and items. All of our kids played, as well as our husbands, friends and cousins. My family raises their kids like a village, so to spend three solid months last year away from my niece and nephew was heartbreaking. I can remember them dropping off groceries, everyone yelling and waving from the car, and I would just sob as I walked back upstairs. They’re just like my own kids, and it hurt not to be able to hug and hold them. I ended up spending a lot of time running around our islands with them both. I even hired my niece to be my gardener, so she would have to visit with me every day. Just that little bit of connection made us feel closer.
Video games are no stranger to bringing people together. I have close friends that I met online playing World of Warcraft. I’ve known them longer than most of the other people in my life. Our family keeps this tradition alive with Fortnite. My son’s father doesn’t live with us, so usually once a day they will spend at least an hour online playing games together. Voice chat lets them connect, talk about their day, and even lets dad remind him that he needs to give mom a break sometimes. The ability to sit down and play a game with someone, and be able to hear them like they are right beside you opens up a whole different experience to gaming and connecting with other people. Among Us is another game we all play together, but may use something like Discord to voice chat. It’s just not the same when you text.
The seemingly never ending pandemic has changed all of our lives in many ways. With the help of video chat, messaging and video games we have done our absolute best to keep our kids in touch with the people that would normally influence them daily. I’m excited to see how that develops over time, and how our kids learn to use those same games and technologies outside the pandemic, whenever we get there. Their mental health is always a concern, but these different outlets definitely help lessen the blow.