Parenting is tough at the best of times, we all know that. The sleep regressions, the teething, the endless mum shaped guilt. Little did we know that that was all merely basic training for what 2020 was going to bring – a deadly lockdown inducing global pandemic that would require us to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with our pride and joy; our children.
I’ve had the time (funnily enough) to reflect on what it’s been like parenting over the last 8 weeks, and whilst I will be eternally grateful to have had all this extra time with my 12 month old, Max, the reality is that it’s been HARD.
We all wanted a better work life balance didn’t we? We wanted the option to work flexibly, and roll out of bed at 8.55am on a Friday and start work in our pyjamas at home. To be spend more time with our children and lose that ghastly commute. Well look, look what all that wishing did. The commute now involves an obstacle course over all yesterday’s mess that you just didn’t have the time or energy to clear up. Give me South West trains during a strike and heatwave any day.
Every morning has turned into a Rock, Paper, Scissors competition over who’s going to use the actual desk with a supportive chair and who’s going to sit on the uncomfortable backless kitchen bench for 8 hours and risk sciatica. Afternoons are now interrupted by passive aggressive questions like ‘Are you almost done with that? It’s just I have a deadline and someone needs to keep the baby alive…’
Zoom calls have meant that you have weird stuff crammed into every cupboard in the house just to keep it out of colleague’s view. Your mouse is permanently hovering over the mute button, praying that the call doesn’t take longer than the amount of time it takes for your child to finish their snack.
I’ve worked from home for a couple of years now, and it’s always required a level of self-discipline to make sure that there was some separation between work time and family time. Well, that all went to pot about 3 days into lockdown when my husband also had to start working from home. I felt like a territorial dog protecting my desk. Whilst we know that we will survive being with each other 24 hours a day 7 days a week (I hope!), I wouldn‘t like anyone to misinterpret my google history of ‘How did Carol Baskin get away with killing her husband?’
Ground Hog Day
The first couple of weeks were great. It felt like we had been gifted the gift of time! Bernard’s watch had been dropped in our lap in the shape of an enforced lockdown.
We must not waste this opportunity!
8 weeks in and the novelty has well and truly worn off. It’s ground hog day on an epic scale. The small things like going to the playground, play dates, or seeing your friend who works shifts on a Tuesday afternoon feel like a distant memory. Celebrating birthdays, swimming lessons, and going on holidays feel like an ancient myth. Did we really once upon a time have the freedom to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted? No, surely not?
I’m not an overly sentimental person, but I have found myself becoming overly sentimental about Max missing that stuff and not getting the time back, but in reality does he really even notice or remember that we used to spend Tuesdays in a small, humid school pool? Or Thursdays in a musty Scout hut with colourful ribbons on a string? He’s only 12 months old and his favourite activity is pulling the dogs tail, so I think I may be over-thinking it?
Quite frankly, there just isn’t any, is there?
Whilst none of us would like to admit we have taken them for granted; how much are we all missing Grandparents and childcare now!?
I know I’m not alone in being lucky enough to have both sets of Grandparents help out with childcare so that we can work, but I didn’t realise how much those few days a week helped me mentally too. It meant that I could breathe deeply, alone, for a couple of days a week. That I could recharge my batteries and remember what it was like to just be me, and not mum. Mother nature/Universe, I promise that I will never take you or your powers for granted ever again if you let me pee in peace just one more time.
For the Grandparents though, the feeling of loss is even greater. They’re worried they’ll be forgotten, that they’ll miss their first steps, first words, first tantrum (ok, maybe not that one). The cuddles, the kisses, the trips to the farm. The swings, the giggles, the sleepy snuggles. It's been replaced with a constant barrage of news and stats directed at their age group that cause panic – ‘What if we never get to do those things again?’. The uncertainty is unbearable, especially for them.
I’m not crying, you are.
Be right back...
Keeping up appearances
Those people without children have been DIY-ing themselves into home décor heaven, with that repurposed pallet garden furniture, labelled pantry and Marie Kondo’d drawers.
Those people with children are living inside a house-sized dustbin the day before bin day.
Those people without children are getting to hone their culinary skills, posting pics of their homemade pasta on insta.
Those people with children are trying to think of something innovative to make for dinner with a potato, an orange and Quorn cardboard sausage. Otherwise its pasta bake – again.
Not to mention exercising or any form of self-care. Unless carrying all the mum-guilt around is classed as weight training.
Speaking of mum-guilt. Hello old friend.
How does this b*****d manage to rear it’s ugly head in the middle of an involuntary lockdown? Not only that, but it seems to have grown bigger and taller. Probably been eating too much banana bread. Same babe, same.
Should I be turning the lounge into a soft play? Should I only be doing my work after bedtime? Should I be cooking 3 organic meals a day now I’m home? Should I be Face Timing my family everyday so he doesn’t forget who they are? Will he have separation anxiety from me when this over and I’ll never be able to leave him again? I feel immense guilt for the fact that on Thursdays I stand on the doorstep flapping my hands like a seal pretending to clap for the heroes at the NHS, so that I don’t wake up the baby upstairs. Just wondering, for the next pandemic, perhaps we could do something a little less *loud* to show our undying appreciation for the people that are saving our lives? Like turn on the garden hoses on for the NHS? Or turn our porch lights on and off for 10 minutes? Just something to think about…
Real talk though; why are we so hard on ourselves? None of us chose to be in this situation, and we’re doing the best that we can in an impossible situation. We are living in a world that’s been stripped of any resemblance of normal, I think it’s ok to not have our s**t together all the time.
What has stood out to me more than anything in this torrid time, is how wonderful people are. That is what I will try to take from all of this. And I don’t just mean the stand out heroes like Tom Moore, or our NHS soldiers on the frontline, battling for us every minute of everyday. It’s the friends who can sense you’re struggling because you’re quiet in the group chat for once. It’s the shy neighbour who pops a note through your door with their phone number in case you need anything. It’s the postman who realises it’s your son’s birthday, so writes his own birthday message on a ‘Sorry I missed you’ parcel card. We’ve celebrated all of our household’s birthdays in lockdown, and we have never felt so loved or present in people’s minds.
I hope, more than anything, that we all take whatever positives we can from this, otherwise it's even more of a tragedy than it already is. I hope that we will look back on this time with fondness in the distant, very distant future, and remember all of the extra walks in fresh air we took. That we stop focussing so much on the material stuff, because I would bet my bottom dollar that in the same way our parents talk about the summer of 1976 being the hottest ever, our children will look back on 2020 and see it as the year that they got to see their mum and dad every single day! The year that their mum taught them all about the Tudors, and their dad taught them about space and skipped over maths in favour of baking another banana bread. If we could just have the grandparents back and restaurants open so we don’t have to cook 3 meals a day every single day, that would be brilliant.
Guest Blog, Amanda Macleod (customer, virtual PA, life saviour)