Reflections on Being a “Pandemic Parent”
Updated: Sep 1, 2022
Photograph by Poloma A.
Back to School Again for the First Time
It’s that time of year again when my small New Jersey town is abuzz with anticipation for the back-to-school season. This past weekend, my little family bade farewell to summer by attending a pool party birthday celebration for a neighbor. Between informal lifeguarding and providing endless snacks to our children, we parents snagged a chance to catch up on the latest in neighborhood news.
Our children, ranging from toddlers to early elementary schoolers, have had a distinctly different start to life than what we had pictured for them. Dubbed pandemic babies, their early lives were spent largely at home, with many fewer playdates and visits from grandparents than we would have liked. Many of us are sending our little ones to school this fall, some for the first time, with both a sigh of relief and bated breath. We’re gushing excitedly over their new sequined mermaid backpacks while inwardly hoping that our children are prepared to socialize and learn.
Our typical back-to-school worries have been compounded by the pandemic. Not only are we hoping that our children will be able to make friends, follow directions, and use a new bathroom without incident, but we’re viewing these concerns through the lens of pandemic parenting, in which critical resources like community and alternative childcare were unavailable for a time, and we don’t yet know the impact this absence will have on our children’s long-term development.
Back at the pool, we laughed as my own 2-year-old pandemic baby insisted on carrying around two mega super soakers nearly her own size. We chatted about the implications of our school district’s No Redshirting policy and the best early intervention resources for language delays, swapped potty training advice, and discussed how to coax along picky eaters (as all of our children enjoyed crayon-shaped popsicles on the steps of the pool, of course). Our common experience as pandemic parents has provided some sense of grounding amidst these floating and swirling back-to-school uncertainties.
Over the past two years, I have been fortunate and grateful to be surrounded by a top-notch team here at Bennett whose advice, reassurance, and good humor has also grounded and guided me throughout new parenthood, and especially now, as my little one is starting her first year of preschool.
For any other parent also feeling the stress of sending their child to school for the first time this year, here are a few short and sweet bits of encouragement I’ve gleaned from my time at Bennett:
· Children are resilient and adaptable. In my role here at Bennett, I’ve had the honor of seeing families relocate to all sorts of far-flung places, and under all sorts of complicating circumstances, and yet they land safe and sound at the very best fit school for them. We’ve seen children adapt to new cultures and locations and thrive as they gain incredible new life experiences. The success of these families reminds me that children are resilient and adaptable, which helps put things in perspective considering I’m only sending my child to school a few blocks away. New experiences can be uncertain and stressful, yes, but they also offer a great opportunity for shaping young minds.
· Children are individuals. Part of the Bennett philosophy is that there is no such thing as a one size fits all solution. What works for one child may not be right for another. Especially with young children, we know that it is normal for children to develop different skills at different rates. One child might be ready to swim without water wings, while another might stick to dry land for a while longer. As parents, we follow our child’s lead and make the best decision for them as individuals. While my daughter is ready to start a “2s” preschool program this year, other parents in our circle with children her age are waiting another year before starting school, while others are pursuing half-time programs, or Mommy and Me tumbling classes. All of these routes are great options depending on the child’s individual needs, skills, and readiness.
· Plans can and will change. There is no direct path from preschool to the Ivy Leagues. As good parents, we want what’s best for our children both in the short-term and long-term. However, as my fellow pandemic parents and I have quickly learned, this means learning how to pivot as circumstances change, and understanding that there is more than one route to success. While we might start the school year off with Plan A, it may turn out that Plan B is a better fit for our family. By being attuned to our children, communicating with their teachers, and having an open mind as they start the school year, we will be well-equipped and ready to adapt the plan as needed, and by doing this, we will best prepare our children for long term success.
Towards the end of the party, my little daughter marched decidedly towards the diving board, donned in her Nemo-themed puddle jumper and purple sunglasses. Standing on the edge of the diving board, she looked down at her dad in the pool, ready to catch her, and looked back at me, searching for permission and encouragement. With both of us cheering, “You can do it! "Go, go, go!” and with a tiny nudge, she jumped! She emerged from the water, sputtering and smiling. What a perfect image to start the new school year, and best wishes to all of us as we dive in together.
By Hannah Buzzelli
Hannah joined the Bennett Operations team in 2019 where she made herself indispensable, providing cheerful expertise in process refinement and handling many tasks simultaneously with quiet confidence. Hannah’s focus has been on connecting the personal and logistical sides of providing our services into a seamless process. In 2022, Hannah began a new, additional endeavor at Bennett as Scholarship Programs Manager, in which Bennett oversees and facilitates the selection, onboarding, and monitoring of corporate scholarship recipients.
Hannah grew up on a farm in Maryland and graduated from Pennsylvania’s Grove City College with a degree in Sociology and minors in Mathematics, Physics, and Family Studies. After graduation, she served as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Philadelphia, doing street outreach with a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending chronic homelessness. Hannah stayed on with the organization for six more years, wearing many hats, spearheading a new client intake process, and gathering a collection of unique stories and experiences.
Hannah and her husband live with their daughter in Collingswood, NJ and spend their free time fixing up their old house, making homemade pico-de-gallo, and enjoying time as a family.
Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.