Parenting Tipsocial distancingteens and tweens

Navigating Friendships During Trauma

Navigating Friendships During Trauma

I have four beautiful children. Each one engages the world with their own, unique personality. I have introverts and extroverts. I have one who is best friends with everyone she meets and one who has a few select, close friends.

When our family experienced extreme trauma, crisis, and isolation four years ago due to cancer treatment, I did not realize how deeply friendships could be affected. I did not realize how much of a game changer trauma can be.

We had to move five hundred miles away so my daughter could receive the care she needed at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. My husband and I made the decision to pack up our family and move to Memphis so we could be together during that difficult time. We looked at the situation and decided it would be better to be together in a foreign land than to be split up. We left our community, our friends, our jobs, and our homeschool classes behind, expecting it all to be there when we returned.

If you have watched the show, Stranger Things, you will grasp this analogy. When we returned, I felt like we were in the upside down. We were in familiar territory, but yet not. The places and things and people we left were still there when we returned, but somehow everything was different. Only… it wasn’t everything… it was us. We were the walking wounded. We had been stripped down and laid bare by trauma. The Lord was healing us. He was giving us balm for our souls… but there is no overnight fix for trauma.

Experiencing pain, death of a loved one, a difficult pregnancy, a move, a sick child… a worldwide pandemic… should give pause. We cannot just rush through and hope for life to “go back to normal.” It will not go back to normal because you are changed. We came back from cancer treatment and I realized that new friendships had been formed while we were gone. My children’s friends had moved on and made new memories without them. And that was ok. It was a totally natural thing to have happen. I, however, returned broken and panic stricken… and not the extroverted, fun and confident person I had once been. I no longer knew how to engage groups of people without making it weird.

I’m not even kidding. I remember being at our town’s Christmas parade and being introduced to someone. I said to her, “I’m sorry. I’m socially awkward and don’t really know how to have light and fluffy conversation. If you need to talk about hard things or suffering, I’m your girl!” … You can imagine the look on her face.

Why am I sharing this? We are in a unique position of all experiencing trauma, simultaneously. We are not all experiencing it the same way, but we are all in it … in some form or another. We will come out of this quarantine, but normal will change. We will not ever go back to the days before…. at least not as we knew them. Everything will be overshadowed by COVID-19. I’m not saying that in a way to create fear… but in a reality kind of way. For a time, anyone who coughs in public will receive dirty looks. People will likely continue to wear masks. Those with immune compromised children will be even more hypervigilant than before. We will question all decisions involving crowds of people. Our decisions and thoughts and actions will now be filtered through the lens of COVID-19.

Healing will come, but it will take time and it will look different in different people. Eventually the wounds will heal… your guard will relax. You will smile and laugh and grocery shop with ease. But there will be scars.

Your friend group (and your child’s friend group) dynamic may change. The natural leaders may step back. The quiet ones may step up. Change may happen….. but so will healing… in time.

Here are some ways I think you can prepare your kids to re-enter the world and have grace on themselves and their friends.

  1. Be patient. Your friends may not be ready to re-engage right when you are. And… that is ok. Give them space. Keep inviting them without expectation. Let them know you are still here and love them. Be patient with your friend’s parents. Respect their decisions if they aren’t ready for their kids to go out in groups yet.
  2. Be aware. We all have experienced COVID-19 in some form or fashion. By the end of this, most of us will know someone or be someone who was personally affected and infected. Be aware that your friends have been hearing bits of information and processing in their own way. They may be cavalier… or they may be afraid. Be aware that we have all experienced the effects of this quarantine and bear some scars.
  3. If the friendship is important to you, be a friend for the long game. Your friend might never be the same…. so be willing to love them where they are and get to know them all over again. Engage your friends in ways that you can right now. If zoom is all you’ve got… use zoom! Text, call, drive by and wave, write a letter, play video games together. Be a voice that helps bring your friend up and out of sadness or depression. Don’t give up! If your children are young, set up virtual play dates for them! We started using Facebook messenger kids for my younger children. A friend of mine set up a Lego Club Facebook group where kids can be challenged and post their creations and interact with each other virtually. We did a drive by birthday party for a sweet little friend. Sometimes a car full of children will end up in our driveway… they stay in their car… we stay a safe distance a way and we talk and play for a bit.
  4. Give grace. For the most part, we have been quarantined for forty plus days with our families. Our worlds have become quite small and maybe we have forgotten the social niceties of the world at large. Most of us will emerge with some bit of social awkwardness. When zoom is over and we are face to face again… we may have to relearn making eye contact and natural flow of conversation. Give yourself and your friends grace.
  5. It’s ok to not be ok. Healing takes time. I was in a lay counseling class once at a church… simply meaning teaching people who are not professional counselors how to counsel. I remember reading that a miscarriage takes something like 6-9 months to grieve. I don’t know where they got their numbers, but when I experienced a miscarriage a couple of years later I found comfort in the fact that I didn’t have to be ok right away. They had different timelines for different degrees of trauma… but guess what y’all. This pandemic is a new thing. Yes… there have been pandemics before…but not in the age of technology where the world has become smaller and flatter and we all know what everyone is doing. This is an unfounded and uncertain time and we have no timeline for the healing or grieving process that will come. I’m not saying to wallow in self pity and depression…. but I am saying… don’t be surprised to find out that you have been deeply impacted. Your kids have been deeply impacted. Your friends and your kid’s friends have been forever impacted. We are living through an event that will be taught in future history classes. It’s ok to soak that in. I have since learned through experience that there is actually no timeline for grief… it can surprise you years down the road. But so can joy.

Trauma changes us. I do not have a degree in counseling or work with people who have experienced trauma. My husband does… and he is really good at it. But I do have my personal experiences. I know what it feels like to have the rug pulled out from under you… to have normal life changed in an instant. When we came back from my daughter’s cancer treatment, I desperately looked for the normal. I kept saying, “When will normal return?”. It took time… probably two years on the other side for me to realize that normal as I knew it was over. There was a new normal. A new pattern. A new lens through which to view life. New memories to be made.

The one constant… the one thing that did not change was the Lord. He has not changed through any of it. He is the same today as he was yesterday and will be forever more. I learned more of him. I clung to him. He is the constant, the anchor, the steady. I lost a lot when life halted and changed planes. I am still realizing the depths of the losses. But I did not lose Him. He promises to not leave us or forsake us. When we experience panic and anxiety in our home, we have the affected person slow down and think about things that are true…. starting small (like you have brown hair… you are wearing a long sleeve shirt, etc.) and moving to the more abstract (still true)… God is real. God is true. God is here and loves you. So… let’s look for the truths. Let’s take one day at a time. And let’s be hopeful for the days to come.

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