Gradually – then suddenly: parenting during coronavirus
The ideal family. We’ve all seen it. Instagramable pictures of home made lunch boxes. Squeaky clean houses with immaculate landscaping. Tesla and SUV in the driveway. Boston Marathon worthy split times, size zero dresses, and six-pack stomachs. Picture perfect yearbook photos, straight A’s, sports and science awards and Ivy-league paths. Holiday greeting cards worthy of the cover of a fashion magazine. Ideal dad, ideal mom, ideal children.
While we are still playing catch up, wondering what we have done wrong to not keep up with the Joneses, a new reality kicked in. This time, it’s a pandemic. How will the ideal family cope? Who do we turn to, to know what the new social norms are, to know who to compare against?
They’re really not hard to find. Our entire global society has seemingly become a set of experts. Everywhere you look, we are given unsolicited advice on how to best make use of the time to bond with your children and become these amazingly effective home school teachers. We are being asked to reinvent ourselves – there are no lack of tips for productivity hacks, how to stay fit, or how to learn new forms of art – all while social distancing. It’s as if shaming us for being less than ideal has been taken up a notch or two. I mean, really? Really?
Unfortunately, for full time working parents working from home – while schools are now closed and grocery shelves are often bare – our new reality is far from that.
Keeping kids entertained can already be a challenge during normal times. And now with them cooped up inside with no end in sight but an abundance of energy, it just gets that much harder. Do you remember that BBC news reporter whose little one came wandering into the room while he was getting on a live interview? It might just be easier just to have our kids join us on each call. What about that tip about setting up schedules and carving out your space to work? All plans go out the window when little ones want to climb on your lap while you are desperately trying to send the email out to your client.
How about the suite of modern “productivity” tools such as Slack, Instant Messenger, WhatsApp — along with a dizzying array of conferencing apps, from Zoom, Google Hangouts, to Microsoft Teams and Webex? Multitasking sounds so much more glamorous on paper when you don’t have to juggle between children, confused pets, spousal relationships, and a suddenly challenging internet connection. Along with dealing with all the remote controls, iPads, phones, and laptops, we are balancing to simply keep our families level during this very turbulent time. Hello, Inspector Gadget. I can use your extra arms right now.
And we haven’t really started talking about the meals part yet. Food doesn’t get cooked and served magically; dishes don’t get cleaned by themselves. And most certainly, the dishwasher also doesn’t get loaded nor emptied automatically. After a few days, you will soon realise cooking for one person is very different from having to feed a family of four — or even more. Instagram ready meals are a luxury that is increasingly fleeting. So much for ideal meals. Here, have some mac-n-cheese and no, we no longer can find that brand of milk you like.
Is it OK for our kids to wear pyjamas all day? Is it possible to eat too many carbs? Do video play dates count as screen time? How can we order wine for delivery? Asking for a friend. I swear.
And let’s not forget about the entertainment; or shall we call them – “enrichment’ online learning programmes. Books are our best friend, especially now. But streaming videos? That’s life’s saviour for families. Out the window the screen time limits go; we are now in survival mode. God bless Disney Plus and the Nat Geo channel. At least it’s educational, right? Sigh.
We need a bit of levity now as much as anything. If you haven’t seen it yet, we highly recommend this twitter thread by Tom Loverro. It doesn’t get as real as that.
In all seriousness, this is already the most disruptive societal event in our lifetimes. While those of us sheltered in place are dealing with the new realities of juggling our careers with our families in tow, there are those working to keep us safe, to keep the lights on, to care for our health, and to keep us connected. The people in the front lines as we stay safe in our homes. They have different stresses, and our hearts go out to them during this time. Let’s always look for the helpers, and also make sure we are taking care of their needs.
While we aspire to remain forever optimistic, we have to acknowledge that it is a stressful time for everyone – and children can definitely sense our tension among this period of uncertainty. We are all trying to adjust to a new normal. So cut them some slack and be kind to yourself – and to each other. Remember to smile, remind yourself to have empathy – for your partner, your children, your friends, your family, and especially strangers as you scramble for that last roll of toilet paper at the crack of dawn, five minutes after the shelves were stocked.
Remember to care for yourself as well – there is another side to this – the one where we all get beyond it, the one where we move on to a better, more connected society because of what we just went through. To see the forest through the trees and realise there is no real ideal to help us get beyond this but one of hope.
Because that’s the only way to get through this – together. Until we get beyond, hunker down and carry on.
Pass me that glass of wine please.
By Theodora Lau and Bradley Leimer