Lessons from pandemic parenting
Updated: Oct 13, 2020
If we'd been told a year ago that we would be forced to stay home for up to four months while schools and nurseries closed, facing cancelled holidays and an indefinite travel ban, we'd have scoffed "Yeah, right!" as we hit the purchase button on our next overseas trip while debating which playground offered the best coffee for that day's family outing.
All the things we took for granted.
Fast forward six months and the news is increasingly grim. One million plus deaths worldwide. Countless job losses. A dreaded second wave. Repeated lockdowns.
Meanwhile at home, my two young boys exist in much the same world they did before this madness kicked off. Their priorities are still milk, toys and sweets. My three year old's primary concerns range from missing LEGO pieces to discovering unwelcome seeds in his fruit pieces. "What are these?" he asks quizzically with raised and suspicious eyebrows as he points to the tiny offending black object. "I don't like these," he says, wrinkling his nose as I grit my teeth and perform another delicate postmortem on an innocent piece of delicious fruit. (There's a lot to be said for seedless watermelons, until you see the price...).
The same little man thinks his black face mask with a small embroidered puppy is cute and happily wears it like a novelty piece. He gets a kick out of getting his temperature checked at the supermarket, running up to the man or woman on the job with a great big smile, always earning one in return. He was thrilled to walk through an automatic body sanitiser, likening it to a spaceship and running straight back outside so he could repeat the experience. None of these imposed health checks are anything more than fun quirks.
My baby Harvey turned one just as lockdown eased in the UAE. We enjoyed an overnight hotel stay. We ate a celebratory dinner. We hosted a small celebration with our neighbours. We blew up 100 balloons, blew out one candle, sang happy birthday and shared cake. These small things felt like extremely big things after months of restricted movements.
Harvey, meanwhile, cried his way through the party. Four months of his short life had been in lockdown, at home, with family and few new faces. He has no memory of his first flight from Ireland to the UAE at three months old. He didn't miss travel. He didn't miss friends. Quarantine represented almost one half of his first year on earth. It's no wonder he felt overwhelmed by all the sudden attention and noise after hibernating inside a tiny bubble.
So for both of my youngsters, the past number of months have represented something entirely the opposite of what it has for their addled parents. Mum losing her job was a fantastic bonus - Mum is home 24/7! The limits and restrictions placed on us did not extend to their world in the same way. The frustation and heightened anxiety we felt as we navigated this alien 'new normal' was not how they viewed more precious time at home with their family and in this way they have taught me a few important life lessons. It's a cliche but young children do live brilliantly in the moment - there is no clock watching and there are zero to-do lists. They don't care about a messy bed or crumbs on the couch. They take enormous joy in simple day-to-day things: dancing to nursery rhymes, balloon tennis (we may have invented this new competitive sport), all-over-body tickles, playing with the dog, hide-and-seek, daily hugs and sticky kisses. They also firmly believe there is no bad time to turn on a kids movie and eat popcorn. Lately, I have to agree.
So as schools cautiously reopen and we gingerly dip our toes back into a life that resembles our old life but is not the same, I'll sub these teachings in as my new and improved baseline. You only have to look at your child's face mid-tickle or mid-chase to remember that we are all in control of our own happiness, pandemic or no pandemic.