Does the title of the article bring you relief? It’s so important to know that you can emerge from this crazy season at your own pace, when you feel it’s right and safe for you and your family, and to do it slowly if needed.
If you are an introvert, like me, you may find it difficult at first to even venture outside or to start being with people again. Mixing with families and crowds may be something you’re just not ready for quite yet, and that’s OK. Many people have had to shield for over a year, and may feel huge anxiety stepping out of their homes, let alone stepping back into society in full swing.
Then there’s the extroverts among us, who have been champing at the bit to get going. As soon as you have the green light to go again, you’ll be actively seeking ways (if not already planned) of how to fill your diaries with all the things you’ve missed in this season. You’ll be arranging the children’s parties, celebrating missed major birthdays or anniversaries, enjoying days and meal out or planning where you’ll be flying for your first holiday, and that’s OK.
And there’ll be those of us who lie somewhere in between. You may be nervous of life returning to how it was before lockdown – the busyness, the overfilled calendars, the children’s groups, travelling back and forth to work, crowded shops. Maybe you’ll be feeling life has changed for you and your family, you’ve adapted to the new routines and secretly you’re enjoying the change, and that’s OK.
The same goes for our toddler groups. The time it takes for groups to start up again will vary greatly. Not only will lockdown restrictions ease at different rates, but church bodies, local authorities and councils will all have their views on when it’s safe to reopen. There’ll be those of us who have already planned the first term and there’ll be those of us who will take it slowly, and ease back in gently. There’s just so much to think about and plan.
Here are four key tips to consider as you emerge:
Ask people how they are feeling. Telephone your volunteers and gain a real sense of what will be possible before you open up. Provide that safe space of sharing each other’s stories. Some may have gone through traumatic experiences, severe loneliness, depression or isolation. You may find some volunteers just can’t return, but new members are ready to step in. Allow time to talk together.
The winter lockdown took its toll, with many of us hoping that the New Year would be different. Children were off school again, we were back to ‘stay at home’, the weather restricted activities and there was a real uncertainty around when things would change. This left many of us lacking motivation and feeling isolated, overwhelmed and emotionally drained. Although we are beginning to re-emerge as restrictions lift, it may take time for people’s emotional energy levels to readjust. Then there will be those who will be lacking physical energy because they have sat at home for most of the past year. Look out for those in our groups who will struggle with sustaining the energy they previously had. Think of ways to ease them in gently – maybe being on the welcome desk or coming alongside families to chat.
Some volunteers will be nervous about meeting and working with others. Reassuring them that safety is a priority will be important. It will be helpful to communicate clearly what safety measures have been put in place, so that both the volunteers and families you are in contact with feel safe. It’s been a year of ‘wash your hands’, ‘wear masks’ and ‘socially distance’, so it will be natural to be apprehensive and anxious.
Ask God for the roadmap for your group. Don’t be intimidated by other groups starting back before you. Only you know how you feel and how your volunteers, your church and your families feel. Getting everyone involved in praying, before you start again, will give you the confidence and time you need to thank God for what has been and for the future that lies ahead. He has great things in store!