Emily looks back at the parenting pressures she put on herself during lockdown and areas she’s planning to ease up on as lockdown eases.
I’ve had to catch myself a lot lately. As lockdown’s eased and we’ve started seeing friends again, the inevitable first question is, “So how was your lockdown?”
I’ve worked throughout, have had two children at home and a mum living on her own and two in-laws unhappily locked down in a care home so it has – in short – been insanely full on with multiple challenges on multiple fronts.
I find myself answering the lockdown question with comments along the lines of “It’s been hard. I’ve been rubbish at everything. I’ve been doing a rubbish job at mothering as I’m tired and ratty, rubbish at work as I’m distracted by schooling, rubbish at wife-ing because I’m an emotional rollercoaster and rubbish at daughter-ing because I’m not there enough for them.”
As a formerly trained chef, I’ve even shocked myself that I barely cook properly anymore – so I even feel rubbish at that. In short. I quite often feel I have failed at everything.
But after the first few times of saying this, letting my inner-pre-covid-critic lead the conversation, my husband picked me up on it.
“You’re being way too hard on yourself,” he said. “Juggling so many balls at once, it’s impossible to do them all perfectly, you’ve managed it all really well and you need to be kinder to yourself.”
Looking back on my conversations with friends, I think there are perhaps more of us out there – not being kind enough to ourselves about the way we’ve got through this situation. Perhaps it’s that old perfectionist-control-freak side of me rearing its head again - and I know I’m not the only one with that going on.
Lockdown may have kicked off as some sort of bizarre challenge in my head which required a “Bring it on – I can cope with whatever you throw at me,” type response. But now I just feel knackered. Exhausted. Burnt out, even. The constant pressure of pushing the school work at the table, the daily ‘walk to school’ or exercise, the healthy meals, the sensible bedtimes, the tech battles – it’s all just too much, for too long.
As we go through the next daunting phase of this journey, which will undoubtedly require yet more juggling and negotiating with my children - I feel utterly exhausted at the mere thought.
So I’m making a list of rules for myself and my family to help establish some, more realistic, parameters for expectations to preserve my sanity and my self esteem.
- I am not going to judge myself by my pre-Covid standards. We’ve already done a huge amount of juggling and now we need to be kind to each other, relax and have some fun.
- I’ll stop beating myself up about being not good enough at home-schooling – I’m not a professional. It’s over for now, I’ve done my best and the teachers (for whom I’ve a new-found respect) will hopefully help pick up any loose ends in September. For now, we all need a break.
- Tech usage has gone nuts in our home – but it’s been the only means of communication for the children, they’re now used to the access and rely on it. I may limit it to certain times a day, but while I’m working and they’re on holiday the rules will remain lax until September. It’s just not a battle I can fight over the summer. I need to make my peace with that.
- I will try and remember that meltdowns are often not about me and don’t make me a bad parent. Whether they’re raging about tech, or school, or friends, or whatever, lockdown has been horrible for many children and they may need to just rage against the machine for a bit to let off steam. If I’m that ‘machine’ so be it, I’ll try not to take it personally.
- I think a lot of people were concerned about the effect lockdown would have on their family health and weight. Our family certainly has a propensity to largeness and with Diabetes running in my husband’s family, I was careful during lockdown to try and provide healthy balanced meals and sensible snacks. But the need to provide three meals a day for our family has taken its toll. I’m bored to the back teeth with cooking, dealing with the family’s likes and dislikes, snack requests and endless demands for pudding. So I am going to relax about food over the summer, buy in more food and do less. From the kids cooking dinners (now they’re off school), readymade meals and takeaways – I’m up for trying it all. I need a culinary break as much as some new dishes to eat and I’m not going to beat myself up it.
- Similarly, exercise was a big focal point (and constant battle) for our family during lockdown. The walk round the block to school, the daily runs we forced on them have slowly slipped being replaced with movies on the sofa when it rains. But what I need to keep telling myself is that now lockdown is easing, we don’t need to enforce exercise so strictly as they’re moving about more naturally anyway. So although the isolation runs may have dropped off, the park with friends running around has returned to replace it – so that’s obviously a good thing and I need to let go.
- One thing I will keep going is conversation – being together for so long has meant we’ve talked so much more. I know much more about my kids’ lives now and I don’t want to let that go. It was in one of these conversations, as I was talking to my daughter about this very article, that she came up with this gem: “It’s simple mum, every parent is going through the same thing. Just ask your friends – they’re all going through similar situations and failings. All my friends’ parents are always talking about too much tech and stuff, so it’s the same issues in every family. Just don’t worry so much.”
And that, possibly, sums it up better than anything.