How to be Thankful when the World is Scary

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As an entrepreneur, actor, and solo parent, having to suddenly homeschool his kid wasn’t the easiest transition for Jonas Chartock, but finding time every night for him and his son to say what they’re thankful for has helped ease stress for them both. “It’s something that I want to model for him so that he is able to use it as a counter to some of the anxiety and stress that that comes up.”  

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[00:06] Hi, this is Jonas. And you’re listening to Good Kids. When I heard that there was a decent shot that school would be shut down for some period of time, I didn’t think it would be necessarily for very long, which now seems to be essentially not the case. I thought about the fact that, you know, I have a flexible schedule. I’m an entrepreneur and a consultant and an actor, all of which are generally flexible in terms of their responsibilities. And I thought that it would be similar to perhaps the way weekends are, which is, as a solo parent, hard enough to begin with. But I thought, you know, I’d be able to manage for some period of time.


[00:52] Mosiah is a five and a half. He’s almost six. He’ll be six in April, and sometimes acts like he is far older and sometimes acts like he is far younger than that. This is a whole new world when it comes to there not being school. And so having been a former teacher myself, I have taken it upon myself to pick up where his teacher has left off. And I’ve tried to do the home schooling as best I can over these first few days. And it is really, really hard. It is both hard to manage as a teacher, but then it is nearly impossible to get the amount of work done with my professional work at the same time. And so I’ve had to build in windows where he is set up to do independent work. 


[01:40] It is very rare for us to go a long stretch of time without any interruption whatsoever, even when he’s doing the independent work. And so, you know, I have just realized that I am not going to be able to get as much of that work done. I’ve had to adjust some of the expectations around some of my clients. And I’ve also had to adjust my own expectations when it comes to business development over this next stretch. I may be more direct and more straight-up and honest with Mosiah than perhaps a lot of parents when it comes to those who are concerned and want to sort of shield their kids from hard truths. He is super curious and takes things very matter-of-factly. And so I was able to talk to him — he had heard the word Coronavirus at school, and I brought it up with him pretty much that first night that it became clear that it was going to be a bigger thing. So pretty early on, I received an email that had a comic strip that referenced the Coronavirus and the precautions that one should take and the overview of kind of what it is and what it does. And we read it pretty much on that first night. And he has spoken of it as an expert and as a sort of very matter-of-factly ever since. 


[03:02] And so when it comes up, it’s not like I’m shielding him from anything. And he immediately sort of jumps to his knowledge. So he’ll say something like, oh, so if that person gets it, then they may have to go to the hospital. And they may get very, very sick and they may actually die. And I don’t think that’s going to happen to me because I’m a child, and because I’m a child, I could have it, but I might not be sick from it. And so these are the kinds of things that he’s able to recount without exhibiting a great deal of worry. Now, I’m sure that he does have questions and that he does worry about it. And that’s why I’m always wanting to make sure that he is able to voice those. And we talk about it quite a bit. 


[03:48] I don’t think that the global breadth of this virus occurs to him in the way that it does to many of us as adults. But he is certainly aware of the potential of folks around here, and around our friends and family, getting sick. And the idea that, you know, that we have a friend who he visits on a weekly basis who is much older, and the reason that we’re not hanging out there as much is the fact that he knows he could be a carrier. And similarly, that we’re not going to visit my parents as scheduled because they are both older and same kind of thing and the same kind of threat exists. So he’ll say, you know, I don’t think we should go to see Miss Freddie tomorrow because I don’t want to have her have a chance of getting sick. Because even though I don’t have the symptoms, maybe she would get it anyway. How could any kid not feel some anxiety around that threat? 


[04:58] There really hasn’t been anything that I’ve shied away from in tackling with him or that he hasn’t felt free to ask about. And I think that that is certainly a sign that things are heading in the right direction for us in our, you know, father-son solo parenthood relationship, that that kind of trust is there. And it certainly has given me this strange opportunity to realize how far that has developed. 


[07:51] So in my time as a solo parent, which is now two years, I have definitely felt stress about, you know, the responsibility of being the sole caregiver for Mosiah. But at the same time, I have had an incredible community of people who have been able to take him for a few hours, or babysitters who could come because I’m able to afford to do that. And then obviously, when he goes to school, I’m able to go to the gym and things like that, given my flexible schedule. But I don’t think I realized what it would be like to not have any solo-parent thinking time during the day for an extended period of time. And so I think the biggest thing for me has really been this idea that, you know, I am on all day, every day without any solo anything time, which is definitely a challenge. And I can’t imagine what that would be like with multiple kids. And again, that’s when I sort of slipped back into this, OK, it could be far, far harder than it is for me right now. 


[09:00] You know, I posted on Facebook something that got a lot of reaction, which was that I am really setting my own parenting bar at keeping him safe and generally happy. And if he learns some stuff on top of that, then that’s gravy. And I really believe that. I believe that he is going to be fine in the grand scheme of things, even if he doesn’t have the day-to-day instruction that he is used to and that he craves and he certainly misses. At the same time, I can provide safety for him and I can provide an environment where he has things that make him happy.


[09:36] And I think for me, you know, we’ve been able to put a couple of those things that he has and a couple things that I have together when it comes to things that make us happy. So playing music is certainly one of those things, you know, taking walks, playing games and doing a whole host of other things that have really come up as things that I like to do and he likes to do. And so that’s not that big a departure necessarily from what we’re used to doing together. 


[10:02] I certainly hope that he advances in his learning, and I certainly hope that he doesn’t get out of the routine of school and things like that. But when I think about what’s most essential, I think about the idea that, you know, he needs to be safe and feel cared for in a time where a lot of people in the world are very, very anxious. We always practice gratitude before we go to bed. We talk about what we’re grateful for. We talk about our highlights and our lowlights of the day. And I find that that’s just an opportunity for some of the things that are on his mind to come up, and they often do. And we just talk about them. And I think that that’s not really any different than normal. Now, some of the things that are coming up are certainly different. The idea that, you know, I didn’t get to go see Miss Freddie this Wednesday, which I usually get to go do. And that was a real low life for me. Might be something that he would share. And talking about why that is and why he’s sad about that. And, you know, that’s the opportunity for us to really get at some of these things and talk them through. And I feel very lucky that he has practiced that as much as he has already. So that now the opportunity to really struggle with and think through some of these complex things that are coming up right now is something that he’s able to do. 


[11:21] Jonas Chartock: So when you say what you’re grateful for, what are some of the things that you think about sometimes?

[11:26] Mosiah: That we have the house, because I’m grateful for that. 


[11:30] Jonas Chartock: What does that make you feel when you talk about what you’re grateful for? 


[11:35] Mosiah: It makes me feel good. 


[11:37] Jonas Chartock: And what does that mean, it makes you feel good? 


[11:40] Mosiah: It makes me feel happy. Good means happy. 


[11:45] Jonas Chartock: And so have you been thinking at all about the Coronavirus? 


[11:51] Mosiah: Not really, only a little bit.


[11:53] Jonas Chartock: And what does that make you feel like? 


[11:55] Mosiah: Sad, because I don’t want it to spread on, to get Noah. 


[12:00] Jonas Chartock: Oh, your cousin? 


[12:02] Mosiah: Yeah. 


[12:04] Jonas Chartock: Yeah, that would be sad. And when you talk about what you’re grateful for, when there’s other sad stuff going on, how does that feel?


[12:09] Mosiah: It makes me sad.


[12:13] Jonas Chartock: Why? 


[12:14] Mosiah: Because if they’re sad, I’m sad.


[12:31] Jonas Chartock: I think it’s something I’ve tried to cultivate much more since becoming a parent. I’ve known it’s important. It’s not something that I’ve practiced with the kind of intention that I do now beforehand. And it’s something that I want to model for him so that he is able to use it as a counter to some of the anxiety and stress that comes up. As a solo parent, I realize that I am gaining so much more from the responsibility. And one of those things I’m gaining is this practice that I’m trying to help him develop around gratitude. And it is something that, as I said, on a daily basis, that if we’re really articulating what we’re grateful for, he is then in a position to be able to realize that things are are pretty good in the grand scheme of things. That there’s always something good going on in the world in his life. And that even when things get really, really hard, those things exist. 


[13:30] And for me, having to do that with him nightly, it forces me to do the same thing, which I’m like, wow, why did I do this for the first 42 years? But here we are. So the Corona quarantine has given us the opportunity to experience some things that we had been planning to do for a while, that we actually hadn’t for a whole host of reasons. But one of them, for instance, was actually riding our bikes often. And so we’ve ridden our bikes every day. And he on the first day asked me to take off his training wheels, and he almost immediately fell down twice, but almost immediately thereafter has not experienced falling down at all. He’s a bike rider now, and so it’s come up in our daily gratitude sessions where he has talked about how proud he is and how happy he is. 


[14:31] And one of his highlights of the day is riding his bike. And that’s not something that I made time for even on the weekends in the past. And that is an example for me of just like, why not? Like, why have we not done that? Why have we not made the time to do that? And now we have this time and we took the time. And that feels incredible to both of us. I want to challenge myself to remember you could have taken the bikes out every weekend until now, and you didn’t do that. And so what else haven’t we done that we know are good for us, that we know will make us happy, that we do have time to do, and that we will have time to do when this is over? 


[15:22] I would definitely encourage other parents to try the formal gratitude sessions. Doing so before meals and before bed is generally how we do it. And I hope you have some success with it. So by day, I’m a leadership consultant and an actor. And if you’d like to get in touch with me on either of those fronts to talk about social entrepreneurship, startups, scale or acting, you can reach me at a variety of places. 


[16:08] Good Kids is a production of Lemonada Media. It’s produced and edited by Andrew Stephen. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs and our music is by Dan Molad. Ad sales and distribution are by Westwood One. You can find out more about Lemonada online @LemonadaMedia. If you liked what you heard, share, rate, review, say great things about us.


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