Think about a time when you went through something hard, and you went to someone for support. Was their response supportive and helpful?

If it was, it’s probably because they expressed empathy: They acknowledged that what you were going through was hard. That acknowledgment is the doorway to moving through tough emotions and tough times. It makes you feel more seen and less alone. It makes it okay not to be okay.

One thing I have appreciated about this pandemic era is that it has become normal not to feel okay. Our collective experience, in many ways, has given us the opportunity for empathy because we’re all going through something hard. Although some have it much harder than others, the shared experience makes it easier to relate, to empathize.

Feeling stressed and experiencing struggle has been normalized. I find this normalization so liberating. When we normalize that life can cause overwhelming stress, our struggle isn’t considered a character flaw or a judgment on our worth; it becomes an understandable reaction to our circumstance. It becomes an opportunity for support.

Normalizing stress is also a key to preventing child abuse. Most child abuse and neglect is a result of overwhelming stress experienced by parents and caregivers. When we make it okay not to be okay, we’re creating a culture of non-judgment and support, opening up the doors for parents to ask for help when they need it, and that is where prevention happens.

Normalizing stress allows us to ask different questions. Rather than asking ourselves, “What’s wrong with that parent?” (judgment of character), we can ask, “What tools does this parent need to face this circumstance?” How can we partner with parents to change the conditions of this circumstance? Is there something to be done to change the amount of stress coming in? Is there a resource that could prevent this stress from growing or becoming overwhelming?

Instead of writing someone off as bad or incompetent, we can see the opportunity for growth and change. We help keep children safe with their families rather than safe from them.

I hope we retain the camaraderie of going through something tough together, even long after this pandemic ends. I hope we can always make it okay not to be okay and keep the doors of empathy and support open. Even though this has been an isolating time, it could make us even more connected, compassionate and effective than we have ever been.