My husband looks at me and says, “What if we’d known? Known that a year ago, a two-week lockdown would turn into an entire year?” As I looked at him, I paused: “What would have been different?”

If you had told me a year ago we would still be living a life of masks, only seeing friends outside, not walking my daughter into her school (and it’s not lost on me the privilege of having her at school in-person), and having every decision feel overly complex, I would have laughed in your face in fear of crying and chugged a bottle of wine (except I was pregnant, so…).

This year has pushed me beyond anything I could imagine. A full year of living life in the gray, not knowing what was coming tomorrow, my type-A personality of being a planner and an extroverted introvert struggles to find any source of peace amongst the chaos. Dare I say, I miss predictability. Routine. 

If you told me we’d be in this for a year, I would not have not been able to handle it, but here we are, a year in, stronger yet more fragile then when this all began. And with a light at the end of the tunnel, I have begun to think about what we let back in and what we forget in our pre-pandemic life.

When my now 6-month-old was born in the midst of the pandemic and we were mostly alone except for very sporadic visits from family, my husband and I made a contract to help keep boundaries and expectations in place. 

The “Fourth Trimester Family Contract and Goals” included some basics like:

  • The priority is the health (physical and mental) of baby and mom.
  • Our nuclear household is not to be people pleasers; we need to put our needs first.
  • Make sure we are having nutritious and balanced meals. This will help with self care for the entire family.

But it also articulated boundaries for our nuclear family and beyond. Things like:

  • Having had postpartum depression last time, Leora will be proactive in having a script ready for medication and will prioritize finding balance amidst chaos. She will not feel guilty for focusing on her and the family. This is a unique and weird time to bring life into the world. 
  • Articulate our needs (this is multi-level): Be clear as a nuclear family what is working and not on a day-to-day basis. If people are offering to help and it does not meet the needs of our nuclear family, help redirect them to something more aligned with our current needs—especially given the unique circumstances. 

As we brace for re-entry and the excitement that comes with that, I think we all need to pause and be really thoughtful about what comes back and what stays in our pre-pandemic life. What were we missing before, and how do the social boundaries set by pandemic actually serve us? And how do the blurred lines between work and life need to be evaluated?

How do we make a contract to ourselves for post-pandemic life? Why does the fourth trimester contract apply only to that period in time, and what things from both pandemic and the fourth trimester can we use to thoughtfully rejoin our communities? 

Where do we hold the boundaries that were forced by us during the pandemic and where do we embrace re-entry?

My friends who run an amazing Instagram account called recently addressed this, and before I get my vaccine, I want to be intentional and thoughtful about the next phase. 

The boundaries that served me have included:

  • Less commitments on evenings and weekends.
  • Nightly dinners as a nuclear family (even if they were just scrambled eggs and even when we literally had nothing left to talk about).
  • A built-in excuse to say “no” to the things that made me uncomfortable or didn’t add value.
  • The deepening of certain friendships and the release of others. 

But keeping some of these new norms in a post-pandemic life is going to be hard. There will be social pressures, family eager to re-enter and the possibility of loved ones viewing re-entry in different ways. While I miss my life, the simplicity and forced boundaries have been awesome in some ways. 

So, what if we’d known a year ago? I’m not sure what I would have done differently, but I do know that if I’m not intentional, thoughtful and mindful about re-entry into the world, all our old patterns—good and those that didn’t serve us—will come back.

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