LISTEN UP 2020: THE PARENTS ARE NOT OK
How long has it been now? How long since the Beforetimes? That fondly remembered period BC – Before COVID. You know, when schools and childcare were still a thing. When the streets were busy and the roads weren’t empty. When travel and restaurants and live events were an everyday part of our lives. When supermarkets weren’t one-way warehouses of awkwardness. When we could go out, visit friends, be normal. The real normal, not this unwanted new normal.
We have been inside too long. All of us. We know how hard this is on those on live alone, who are living in bored and lonely solitude – and we sympathise because no one should be forced to live in isolation.
Everyone experiences loneliness and separation differently but there’s no doubt that it can be miserable, and at times like this, full of fear and without hope. The lack of human connection is unnatural to us. It’s not easy and it’s not sustainable.
But at the same time, a whole section of society is dealing with an entirely different unprecedented situation. Over here, in the untamed wilds of lockdown family life, those of us with children at home are going through an entirely different type of pain. And honestly, lots of us would probably happily take some of that unwanted isolation right now: because we are now NEVER ALONE.
I have two young-ish kids of 8 and 3. I haven’t been alone since March. Sometimes it takes more than 10 seconds for them to unlock the bathroom door and push their way past the makeshift barricades, but no longer than that. And who can blame them? Without school or nursery, without their peers, their teachers and all the other little constants, their lives are much emptier and their worlds don’t feel right. Of course they don’t want to let me out of their sight.
Parents of older children and teens aren’t having it much easier. Without their friends, and with their school and social lives out of the picture, these kids are struggling.
The ways we mark and acknowledge the passing of time are all on hold. Families with school-age children live by the rolling routine of the academic year. Not this year. Sports teams and swimming lessons are off. Birthday parties are cancelled. These days there is just day and night, a daily walk, and a whole lot of repetition – although let’s face it, any semblance of meaningful structured routine disappeared weeks ago, alongside toilet paper and pasta. All we have is each other. All the time.
It takes its toll, all this togetherness. You can have too MUCH human connection.
Meanwhile, many parents are swamped with work – with jobs that now need to be done from home, amid the chaos and the noise, because of the way the world has shifted. Mum and Dad are busy, and the children feel it, hear it. Other parents are on furlough or out of work and are concerned about their finances and the future. None of this is easy.
Us parents have heard plenty of opinions along the lines of how we “shouldn’t complain about looking after our own kids” …but I’ve yet to meet anyone who went into parenthood expecting to be locked up at home with their family for months, while being expected to homeschool their offspring and simultaneously carry on their job from home. (Have I mentioned how we’re also never alone? That too.)
We hear the word unprecedented a lot these days. This enforced style of parenting certainly feels unprecedented, but that doesn’t make it easier in any practical sense. Life has been greatly reduced by lockdown – our lives have become very small. But the pressure of lockdown parenting is immense. It’s quite literally too much.
And yes, we know this is a marathon, not a sprint. But what we don’t know is whether we’re at mile 2 or mile 20. See you all for medals at the finish line.