The words stay at home parent have new meaning, thanks to COVID-19.
I don't mean to complain but...we are 5 months into 2020 and still effectively under house arrest, with all of the weekly events that keep us sane as parents, cancelled indefinitely. The challenge of looking after all 3 of our kids 24-7 for a few weeks has driven my husband and I to the brink mentally, physically and emotionally.
With both of us still working, and our 3 year old toilet training, my 10 month decided to start crawling, and we entered survival mode, a stage we haven't been in since we had a newborn. It involves lots of toast for dinner and screen time, and the mum guilt I always feel, increased ten fold.
This is because I’ve always prided myself on being a mum that enjoys being with her kids. But the past few months have taught me that I am actually a mum who enjoys doing things with her kids - taking them out to the park, organising play dates with their friends, watching them at their after school activities and organising family days out to the zoo or the beach. Being with them is much more than just scheduling activities, and when you’re confined at home, it becomes clear that playing is a real life skill, and an essential one when you’re parenting for 10 - 12 hours every day.
Of course, I organised activities like painting and baking and making slime, but I was always unengaged and distracted. I was delighted when my two oldest daughters (aged 8 and 3) would run off to play Barbies and entertain each other, or my 10 month old baby would have an extra long nap. The realisation that I wasn't enjoying spending time with them made me feel excruciatingly guilty, when I know that the days are long but the years are short, and they won’t be little forever.
I reached my limit and sent the toddler and the baby back to daycare, when school holidays were over and I had to focus on homeschooling Miss 8. I was relieved to know they wouldn't be bored, and feeling completely inadequate in giving them the fun childhood they deserve.
It's completely different to when I happily did crafts and had tea parties with my oldest daughter when she was a toddler. Brimming with enthusiasm and optimism as a new mum, I had a lot less to worry about and a Pinterest board full of age appropriate activities I wanted to do with her. I felt sad sending her to daycare when she was 18 months old so I could work, feeling that I was missing out on watching her grow. But, here I am 7 years later, excited to do the morning drop off so I can have a coffee and only have one child to look after.
It occurred to me one morning as I drove away from daycare, that my feelings about it being the better place for my kids was based on the idea that they their lovely and dedicated daycare teachers could organise activities for them that would be more fun than things I could do. Basically...that they were better off with someone else than with me.
Childcare educators spend years learning how to teach kids under 5, and I’m lucky to be able to send my kids to a centre where they get such excellent care. I would have liked to be able to keep them home during this entire pandemic for safety reasons, but I think it would have been at the expense of the mental health and wellbeing of all of us.
With every child, my responsibilities and workload have doubled and that leaves less time for everything, not just play. And now I’m at the point where I feel I have to outsource simple things like playing with my kids to their teachers, because I already have so much on my plate. Being in semi-lockdown has reinforced the fact that parents already had too much to do before we had to entertain our kids 24-7, and it’s ridiculous that we still expect so much of ourselves.
I’m not sure when exactly I lost my mum mojo, but I definitely want to get it back. To be able to create the same happy feeling my kids get when they step inside their child care centre, ready to play every day, but at home. Thriving, not just surviving.