Parenting in a Pandemic
One of the things I think we can all agree on right now – or, at least, I hope we can – is that lockdown sucks, and it sucks in different ways for different people.
In the case of people with very young children, for instance, lockdown sucks in a way that mostly seems to involve endlessly tidying up the 15,000 tiny pieces of whichever toy is the latest one to be tipped onto the floor, while singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ in an embarrassingly chirpy tone, and, only at the very end of it realising that your child left the room five minutes ago, so now you’re just singing it for no reason. (Last week Max asked if I could get Marvin the Monkey from his room, and I walked in and brightly said, “Right then, Marvin, let’s go downstairs and play!”, before remembering that Max was still downstairs, and I was just chatting to a stuffed monkey. And not for this first time, either.)
Like, if someone were to make a movie of my life right now (And I’d really recommend against that, for obvious reasons…), the ‘lockdown’ section would basically just be a montage of me picking pieces of LEGO out of the living room rug, while Terry staggers around behind me, with Max clinging to his head, and Marvin the Monkey looking on with a sly grin on his face. (The soundtrack would be the Peppa Pig theme tune, obviously, and if you read that line and DON’T currently have that particular tune playing in your head, I can only assume you either don’t have toddlers, or you’ve just been dealing with lockdown better than I have…)
It’s not really what we expected of parenthood, really, but then again, absolutely nothing about 2020 has been the way any of us expected, has it?
We didn’t expect to be living through a freaking pandemic, obviously: I mean, that much is a given. We didn’t expect to be confined to our homes for weeks on end. And, in parenting terms, I’m sure none of us expected to suddenly have absolutely no childcare, no school, no groups or clubs, or even sticky soft-play centres to allow our kids to burn off some energy and kill a few hours before bedtime. We did not think the day would come when we would actually MISS soft play. Or that, when we saw people post photos of their partners on Instagram, with the caption, “There’s no one I’d rather isolate with!” that we’d glance sideways at our own partners, and think, “Well, I dunno, really: I think I’d rather isolate with the staff of the local nursery, if I had the choice?”
Such is the lockdown life, though. I miss soft play. I miss childcare. I miss that half hour before Max’s bed-time, when we’d sometimes drive to the supermarket, just for something to do.
Most of all, though, I miss not feeling guilty every second of the day, about all of the things I’m doing wrong right now: and, trust me, there are a LOT of them.
I feel guilty about the amount of screen time he’s getting. I know everyone’s doing it, and people are quick to assure me that it won’t do Max any harm, but, does that mean we were being lied to by all of those news articles we’ve been subjected to over the years, telling us that screen time was the worst possible thing we could possibly do to our children? Because it has to be one or the other, doesn’t it? It can’t be the case that screen time is super-harmful to toddlers unless you’re in the middle of a pandemic, in which case it’s absolutely fine. It’s either bad or it isn’t: and, to be totally frank, if it isn’t, then I’d like 2019 back, please, because that year would’ve been SO MUCH EASIER if I’d known I was being lied to on the screen time issue.
(Actually, I’d just like 2019 back full stop. Even without the unlimited screen time.)
I feel guilty about the fact that, try as I might, I’m just not able to come up with fun, educational activities for him all day, every day. I feel guilty that I’m not cherishing every precious second together, the way other parents seem to: that, instead, I spend a lot of time looking at the time on my phone (Or just looking at my phone, which is even worse…) and thinking, “Wait, surely it can’t be just 5 minutes since I last looked? Surely at least 500 years have passed since then?”
I feel guilty that I’m not cherishing every precious second together, the way other parents seem to
I feel guilty that his generation had to be the one that got the lockdown childhood. And I know that’s not my fault, obviously, but still: DAMN. How unlucky is THAT?
I feel guilty about the lack of social contact he has now: the fact that, literally overnight, he went from having a packed schedule of nursery, playgroup, swimming lessons and playdates, to just having me, Terry, and Marvin the freaking monkey to keep him company. And Marvin isn’t much of a talker, really. Again, people are very kind when they tell me he won’t be affected by it – and I know, of course, that most other children are in exactly the same position right now – but it can’t be good for a child to have so little contact with the outside world, surely?
Will it make him shy, I wonder? Will he be scared of Other People when he’s finally allowed to see them again? Will he even remember his little friends from nursery and playgroup, or will it be like starting all over again when he gets to go back – whenever that may be? He’s due to start state nursery in January, after all, but if the virus is still out there, and we don’t have a vaccine, I don’t see how that will be possible. So, what happens then? Does he just miss out on an experience that most of his peers will still have?
So many questions. So much guilt.
Of course, I’m far from the only parent to be feeling like this. One of the strangest things in all of this, is the way that, during a pandemic, almost all of the parenting advice we’ve ever been given has been totally turned on its head. All of a sudden, we’re being told to do the exact OPPOSITE of everything we’ve ever been taught, and no matter how often we tell ourselves that it’ll all be OK, and that the younger ones won’t even remember it anyway, the fact remains that our kids aren’t experiencing the year – or even the lives – we had planned for them. (And we’re not, either, come to think of it. I don’t think there can be many parents, after all, who planned to spend this year attempting to educate their own children, while simultaneously working from home – because that would be straight-up crazy, wouldn’t it?)
during a pandemic, almost all of the parenting advice we’ve ever been given has been totally turned on its head. All of a sudden, we’re being told to do the exact OPPOSITE of everything we’ve ever been taught
And so too many hours of TV are watched. Probably a few too many glasses of wine are drunk, once the kids are in bed. And then, the next day, we do it all again – and we do it while almost crippled with the guilt of knowing that, through no fault of our own, we’re breaking almost all of the parenting “rules” – and that we’re probably going to keep on doing it, because we can’t see a realistic alternative.
(Er, you all get that I’m speaking for myself here, right? I mean, you’re probably Mary Poppins through all of this, but I’ve been pretending to be Elsa from Frozen for 12 solid weeks now, and I have earned that glass of wine, seriously…)
So I worry. I worry that he’s only getting the very worst of us right now: the stressed, anxious, parts of us that just don’t have the energy to do any more than we’re currently doing. We are not the parents we expected to be, thanks to this strange situation we find ourselves in. Oh, we try our best – of course we do – but we’re stressed and exhausted, and trying to be full-time parents AND full-time business owners. It’s not the life we wanted for him – or for ourselves, for that matter – and it’s hard not to feel sad about that, even knowing that he’s not even going to remember it, and that all of this will just be a cool story we’ll tell him when he’s older.
We are not the parents we expected to be, thanks to this strange situation we find ourselves in.
He might not remember, though, but we will: and, actually, it’s the things we WON’T remember that bother me the most, when I allow myself to think about them. We’re never going to know, for instance, what it would be like to go on holiday with 2-year-old Max. Hell, we’re probably not even going to know what it would be like to go to the park with him. We’re not going to see his two-year-old reaction to all his friends dressed up for Halloween, and there’s a good chance there’ll be no meetings with Santa Claus this year either – right at the time when he’d be most excited about it. There’s nothing we can do about it: we know that, of course – and, it goes without saying that we’d rather miss out on all of these things, and stay safe, than get to experience them, and risk catching the virus. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that parenting in a pandemic… well, it kind of sucks, really. For a thousand different reasons.