I hope you’re not reading this wanting me to have any answers or insights into how your relationship with your children can survive, or indeed thrive, in the lockdown. Because I literally have no clue! I can share some of my challenges with you and some of the things I’ve put in place on a practical level. Maybe this will give you some reassurance and may spark one idea that could help improve your household harmony. Here goes…
Am I a good parent? I’m not so sure
Either I’m really hard on myself and unable to recognise what I do well as a parent, or I’m a really average/bad parent. Or, are the expectations on parents unrealistic? The ones we either set for ourselves or are imposed on us by social media or, dare I say it, school. Are we supposed to be academic teachers, fitness instructors, dietitians, entertainers and inspirational leaders for our children? Can we have infinite patience and understanding? I fail on most of those. Do I feed them, clothe them, protect them, provide stability, set boundaries, sit down at the table and have a home cooked dinner with them every evening, teach them manners, teach them right from wrong, how to have empathy and be nice humans and roughly make sure they’re doing their school work? Am I always here when they need me? Yes.
But the overwhelming feeling I have most of the time is that I’m a pretty rubbish parent. I’m not a tiger mum. I hate crafts and I can’t play with dolls. Or is the fact I’m questioning my ability in the first place a sign I’m a good parent? I often think of an interview Rafa Nadal gave to the FT in which he said he’s never happy with his performance and always thinks he could have done better, even when he wins. It makes sense right? If you think you’re smashing it and you’re brilliant, you stop trying and improving and then you either stagnate or you go downhill. That’s why he’s so brilliant, he’s always trying harder and looking for improvements. So, if you’re the kind of parent who feels guilty all the time it could mean you’re actually rather fabulous.
Practical things I’ve put in place to remove tensions
The first few weeks were the worst when I felt like the household skivvy. I resented everyone and hated that I hadn’t taught my children how to help with domestic chores. I now have a rota in place for things the children can do, such as setting the table or feeding the dog and after a few weeks of pain (and they still try to shirk responsibility on a daily basis) they are finally helping out a bit more. My 14 year old even offered to put the Ocado away and I nearly passed out. And before you ask, I have an Ocado slot because I’ve shopped with them every week for about the last 16 years and I had the Ocado Reserved service (until they cancelled it) so I get priority booking. Don’t hate me. I’ve earned it over the years, must have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds with them. I digress.
I’ve also tried to keep some semblance of a timetable for going to bed, getting up and meal times. Children appearing in dribs and drabs and wanting to eat at different times made me feel like I was running a cafeteria. I’d finish one lot of breakfast and another child would appear. They’d then all be hungry for lunch at different times and dinner would get later and later which had a knock-on effect on bed time. This sounds basic, but it has helped. Structure and routine are your friends.
Screen time and the dreaded devices
They’re really the only thing my children care about, so I restrict access for all the obvious reasons and I use them as a sanction. They can’t have devices until 4 and they have to hand them in at bed-time at 9pm. Taking out 30 minutes or an hour for dinner, that’s still a LOT of time on devices so they really can’t complain. I tried fancy software to restrict usage but the old-fashioned way of confiscating them and locking them away works best. They find ways around software and I’m not techy enough to outsmart them.
I push back the time they’re allowed access as a sanction for bad behaviour. The ultimate sanction is no access until the next day.
Not scaring the life out of them with the C-word
We don’t watch the news, we don’t have the radio on, we don’t talk about things my husband and I have read or our fears surrounding the virus. We find other things to talk about at the table. So we’re living in this bubble of ignorance which I don’t think is a bad thing. We can’t do anything with the information and it doesn’t change our situation, so constantly hearing about all the awfulness and journalist’s opinions doesn’t help any of us.
It’s a real work in progress as we’re gradually getting used to spending all this time together. Outsourcing the children to school, extra-curricular activities and playdates is on hold and that’s a challenge, but we don’t have to turn into super-humans to replace all of that, agreed? And maybe we’ll surface with more tolerance and patience for each other. We might even miss them when they’re not slobbing on the sofa and leaving their shoes in the kitchen…