etc Columnist - On feeling parenting pressure during lockdown

Alexia Rowley discusses paretal pressure to be fun during lockdown.

Picture: Pixabay
Picture: Pixabay

As parents we can’t even get a break during a global pandemic from this guilt that dogs us daily. Not only do I now have to parent, I have to ‘facilitate learning’, not to be confused with ‘home schooling’, as we are reminded through the countless Facebook posts! (What’s the difference???)

Manage to pace the constant eating that my children seem to do, (which, when shopping, looks to most people tantamount to stockpiling, and that’s just a week of food for a family five), fit in work and manage our children’s emotions and anxieties at this difficult time.

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I don’t think I’m alone with feeling under pressure to make everything we do, fun. Like this current situation isn’t challenging enough, without the added pressure being piled on parents (arguably by ourselves), to make everything we are doing so FUN and Insta worthy.

The nice moments must be captured and treasured forever. It’s not enough to do a rainbow, you should colour the entire house, brick by brick, in a rainbow. Forget arts and crafts with your children, you have to create some amazing creation out of an old milk container, cereal packets and a pot of glue, that wouldn’t look out of place in the Tate. Reading a book or having a family sing song is only worth doing if filming for your family YouTube channel.

And working out in the comfort of your own home? Why, when you can share the video with Joe himself … Ok, I admit…that was actually me! But in my defence, I am being driven to these odd behaviours from the constant pressures and nauseating social media posts. I don’t have any time for the other extreme either, joking that you do nothing with your children but drink, is equally as irritating.

I’d hazard a guess that 90 per cent of us are somewhere in the middle. We do fun stuff and we don’t, all in one day probably. I have learnt to break my day into hours. Some hours we are smashing it, and some hours I wonder if it is possible to self-isolate in the shed.

The other week I found myself signing up to some ‘fun’ things, because I felt like this is what I should be doing (and ignoring that niggling feeling that this might not work). The first was a step by step art class. Now this is no reflection on the teacher, but much more about my parenting and expectation.

I had paid for said art class, and wanted to ensure that when it was on, we were not only going to participate, we were going to enjoy it. I got everything set up and the laptop at the ready. My middle child got to work painting the second the session started, but NOT what the teacher was telling him to paint. My oldest decided to pick up the pace so just painted the end result, ignoring all the steps in between. I told them off for not following the instructions/ mixing the paints/ going too quickly. It resulted in my middle son crying and telling me I was taking the fun out it.

He was absolutely right, in the pursuit of structured ‘fun’, I took all the fun out of it.

The second was a reading from a famous author, again we structured the day around it, and again, my insistence that the children watch and engage with it, had the opposite effect, and definitely took all the fun out of it.

Lesson learnt, they may look like amazing things to do, but things don’t always go according to plan. I am of course aware of how lucky we are to have our health, and have such relatively low-level concerns, but to all the parents out there feeling totally swamped and overwhelmed, not everything is, or can possibly be, fun! It’s ok to have hours of nothingness and hours of productivity.

Ten minutes of fun to do an activity and two hours of prep/ clearing up time to make those ten minutes happen. Real life isn’t an Insta account. It is not a series of freeze framed ‘making memory’ moments. It's grey and messy and fun and hard and everything in between.

So, I say this to myself as much as anyone else, I’m shelving the fun, and hoping that it will spontaneously happen.

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