One mother’s thoughts on COVID-19 policies and children
My oldest son Tomislav was born nearly 12 weeks premature. It was a scary yet happy time; my husband was in the midst of his residency and we were so excited to become parents. We learned a lot about parenthood during those precious 65 days in the NICU, but perhaps the most valuable thing we learned was that a parent is a child’s greatest advocate. Flash forward today, that premature baby is now in grade 2 and has a little brother in senior kindergarten. My youngest son has never experienced a normal school year and my oldest only remembers a little bit of how school used to be like. Recently, our boys have disclosed to us how they really felt about the school closures and mandatory masking and they told us it makes them feel sad. As we comfort them, we say the same thing we always do: we tell them its not forever and it’s just temporary. But they have started to realize that there is no end in sight, because we have been saying this for months now and nothing is changing.
The last two years have definitely been extremely trying for many families; but I personally had a hard time coming to terms with COVID policies pertaining to children. I was initially supportive of the first shut down as we knew very little about the virus at the time. But as time passed and more data was coming out even as early as summer of 2020, sending kids back to the classroom was the right choice. When school was announced to return in September of 2020, we were elated and pleased with the recommendations made by Sick Kids Hospital. Yet, a social media campaign to link the recommendations as “conservative” coupled with the hashtags #unsafeschools and #unsafeSeptember tarnished any possibility of giving our children any sense of normality.
I remember listening into a meeting of my children’s school board decision to mandate masks in the summer of 2020. The whole experience left me extremely disillusioned as the trustees were very dismissive of the concerns presented by multiple parents made in regards to masking of children. The board went ahead with their decision without any debate or consideration of the concerns presented by the parents. In a nutshell, the whole experience left a bitter taste in my mouth. Public opinion was clearly being driven by these hashtags on Twitter during that time. Marshall McLuhan has always said, “the medium is the message” and social media has definitely formulated most of the policies made pertaining to children’s education during the pandemic.
Not only has it shaped the current narrative, it has negatively labelled our children as “grandma killers” and “germ factories.”
Parenting 101 teaches us that how we treat children today formulates their future. Parents, early childhood educators, therapists and pediatricians all know this. When we label our children as “bad” then they will only believe that they are “bad.” My questions is, if we know this is wrong, then why did we let this happen?
Now for transparency’s sake, I am vaccinated. I have no political affiliations and generally speaking I am pretty apolitical. It’s sad that I even have to disclose this; because in the summer of 2020 when I questioned whether these policies were at all beneficial towards children; people would sort of give me a stare. My fear of being labelled a “COVID denier,” a “conspiracy theorist,” or a “Trumpian” made me feel as if my concerns regarding school closures and masking kindergartners weren’t valid.
Yet, as a parent to a child who had a speech delay, I was very concerned on how masking would impact a small child’s ability to learn how to read, speak other languages and communicate. How is this okay with anyone? Especially now that we have vaccinations, therapeutics and tons and tons of data, there is no reason that we are continuing these draconian policies on small children. To date, there have been no concrete studies that have demonstrated any benefits of masking small children, yet there are some known negative outcomes.
In terms of actual COVID-19, multiple studies have confirmed that in fact, children are not drivers of the disease, ranging from JAMA Pediatrics to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Many jurisdictions around the world have demonstrated that they have been able to successfully keep schools open with less mitigation strategies than Ontario for example. When we travelled to Croatia this summer we had a layover in Amsterdam and we noticed that children weren’t in masks. We found out that masks were only mandated for children 12 and up. How is it okay for school children in Ohio to go to school normally, yet children in Toronto have to face the wall when they eat lunch?
The reality is; we have to let kids be kids again. I want to ask – is anyone concerned about the impact long-term masking has on children? Is anyone concerned about the messaging surrounding children and COVID? Many parents have disclosed to me that their children are now more anxious; that they are afraid to show their faces; and that overall that they have lost any sense of glimmer and hope. I understand that during this crisis we need to protect our most vulnerable, but my question is, who is protecting our kids? It appears that there is no one.
That’s where we as parents’ step in.
I will no longer stay silent. Instead, I would like to initiate a conversation regarding these policies because I cannot in good conscious let my children suffer anymore at the expense of COVID zero advocates anymore.
I refuse for my children to carry the burden of improving our health care system.
Instead, I am doing all what I can to provide my children a loving, nurturing and normal environment at all costs, because in my eyes, they are the true heroes of this pandemic.
The children deserve normalcy above everyone else because they have taken on such a heavy burden, yet paid a very heavy price for it.
It should have never been their job to protect society, rather, it is our responsibility to take care of our children. That is why I became a parent after all.
I am tired of people comparing this to war because the difference with the pandemic and a war is that with war, the threat was imminent, with the pandemic, we have data and knowledge. I refuse for people to continue dismiss my concerns as a parent for the well-being of my children. I am tired of hearing that they are resilient. The children are starting to break. Enough is enough.
As parents, we need to stand up and speak up for our children; to talk to their teachers; to talk to the school boards and let them know that the concerns are here and they are real. Psychologists have been waving the red flag for months now. Even the Ontario Science Table acknowledged the negative impacts of masking in their return to school recommendations this past September. My question is why are we ignoring these concerns and using the same strategies that we did in 2020?
The bottom line is: we cannot claim to be mental health advocates yet turn a blind eye to what is happening to our school children. I for one will not let it go and from the bottom of my heart, the politicization of our children must end.
Because the greatest thing a parent can do is after all, is advocate for their child.