As the country begins to reopen and we all adjust to a new normal, only you get to decide what works best for your family.

By Melissa Mills
May 21, 2020
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We've been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders for weeks now, but with the number of cases starting to decline, some states are beginning to reopen slowly. Donning masks and following social distancing guidelines, people are beginning to reenter the world little by little.

Some states, like Florida, are getting back to normal quicker than harder-hit areas like New York and New Jersey, but people across the country are eager to get back out into the world. But when, exactly, is the right time to flip the switch and allow your family to start to resume activities and socialize a bit more?

The anxiety you've been feeling during the pandemic doesn't just go away because the government says beaches and stores can open back up. Some friends and family might be ready to get back to normal straight away, but only you can decide what's best for your family.

My husband, 20-month-old son, and I live in New Jersey, not far from New York City. My in-laws live in South Carolina, where things have reopened and things are looking a lot like they did pre-pandemic. However, we're all thinking about what to do about the trip to Hilton Head we had planned for later in the summer. I don't feel comfortable flying, but the idea of a long car ride with a toddler doesn't sound great either. Will rest stops be open? Would we be relying on drive-throughs for food on our trip? What will hotels be like? My son is too young to wear a face mask and wants to play with every other kid he sees—will I be chasing him around the beach to make sure he stays within our circle? There are still so many unknowns, and I'm not quite sure what the right answer is yet.

Luckily, my family and friends are understanding. We're all figuring it out together. But all parents are going to start getting invitations (or their kids will) and feel the pressure to accept, even if they're not ready. Parents have been stressed trying to keep their homes clean and stocked with toilet paper while adjusting to their kids' virtual learning—they don't need the added pressure to socialize or participate in certain activities if it doesn't feel right yet. At the end of the day, you have to decide what feels most comfortable for your family and weigh the risks before making any decisions. Remember: Saying "no" is an option.

The Next Steps Are a Personal Decision for Every Family

"Uncharted times warrant uncharted responses," says Paige Bellenbaum, LMSW, founding director and chief external relations officer at The Motherhood Center in New York City. "We are all allowed to, entitled to, and are given permission to respond to what’s next in the way that feels right to us and our family. And it might look different from family to family, and that’s OK. If you don’t feel comfortable going back out into the world like your best friend or your neighbor does, that is your prerogative. We can give ourselves, and others, the space to manage this experience of 'getting back to normal' at our own pace."

On the other hand, parents who do feel ready to plan a weekend visit with the grandparents, or have a picnic in the park with their kids, are feeling the judgment of others saying it's too soon, especially from people in areas where restrictions might still be stricter. As locations around the country are going to reopen at vastly different rates, all you can do is follow expert health advice to keep your family—and your neighbors—safe. To help, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released resources to support the government's plan to reopen, as well as specific recommendations for summer campsschools, and restaurants and bars.

"[This week] I ran three support groups for new and expecting mothers and the number one topic of discussion was this very one," says Bellenbaum. "Parents are at their wit's end. They have had it, plain and simple. They are feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and under-supported. They miss what was, and struggle with the uncertainty of what will be."

It's more than OK to take things at your own pace, and here are some tips to get through whatever situation you might find yourself in.

How to Deal With Coronavirus Anxiety and Peer Pressure

"If ever there was a time to take our mental health seriously, it's now," notes Bellenbaum. "We are all going to have some level of anxiety returning to the world."

So how exactly do we deal with that anxiety and navigate what's safe for our family? "Stick with the facts. We can visit trustworthy entities, like the CDC, as they prepare us to reenter," says Bellenbaum. As long as you're following national and local public health safety advice, you don't need to answer to anyone's opinions about what's right for you and your children. But you can arm yourself with the facts to feel more in control.

On that note, staying off of social media can help ensure that your family decisions aren't exposing yourselves to the judgment of others who might not know the whole scope of your situation. Instead, opt to talk to family or friends you trust about how you're feeling. "In the long run, you will feel better knowing that you acted on your own beliefs, rather than pressured by others’ opinions," says Andrea Tesher, Psy.D., of the Lukin Center in New Jersey.

If you're really feeling the effects of anxiety, you can "access support and treatment via support groups, therapy, and even medication to help manage anxiety and/or sadness," says Bellenbaum. There's no reason to cope alone, and an expert might be able to help you come up with a solution.

How to Deal With Pandemic Mom Shaming

"As moms, we are constantly faced with making personal decisions about what is best for our families," says Dr. Tesher. "Should I only buy organic? How much screen time do I allow? Do I let my child go on that playdate? There will always be people with opposing views to yours, and your choices may not please everyone. Despite this, you will likely feel best and most confident by being true to your values and natural reactions." Ultimately, it's up to you to weigh the pros and cons, benefits and risks, and make decisions based on your values and beliefs.

"I want to encourage all the mamas out there to please stop worrying about the other person’s feelings and focus on your own," says Bellenbaum. "The other person that you are worried about (and you are lovely for doing so) didn’t spend nine months growing your baby inside of them; they didn’t experience what it was like to bring your baby into the world. So quite frankly, in a compassionate way—they don’t really get to have an opinion! It’s your call, as much as you might be questioning your choices and decisions right now as this is all so new to you, but trust your gut. If you are having a feeling or reaction it's most likely for a reason."

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