PRACTICALLY PERFECT IN EVERY WAY?
A tribute to lockdown mums and dads
My sister told me about a cartoon she saw the other day that made me chuckle. Two kids were discussing the day’s home-schooling timetable. “What have you got?” says the first one. “Bribery and double shouting,” says the other. Never a truer word…
Lockdown is hard on everyone. Well, nearly everyone. I am delighted that my husband and others like him have been furloughed (which makes them sound like horses) and are getting the first real holiday of their working lives. My husband is even writing songs. Some friends who are on the spectrum are at last having the world the way they like it, positively reveling in the lack of social contact in their lives. Others have told me of the greater time they’ve had for reflection, self-analysis, getting some much needed perspective on their lives, even beginning to really consider the bigger questions of life, death, eternity and God.
All this is wonderful, but it’s completely unfamiliar territory to many lockdown mum and dads.
This article is dedicated to them. True it is born mainly out of my conversations with mothers during lockdown, but I would not deny the equally heroic contributions of beleaguered dads who have been fighting the same battles from behind closed doors. These parents I speak to are struggling through this crisis every day, unheralded, un-clapped and hanging on to their sanity by a thread.
Mums and dads have suddenly found themselves in a completely unprecedented position. Many parents will be familiar with the ranting Iranian mother who went viral, buckling under the pressure of home-schooling four kids and losing the plot in her car? “How am I supposed to know how to transform improper fractions?” she yelled. “Now our children will find out how dumb we are! It’s not right.”
Oh how we feel her pain! Equally, my teacher sister finds the boot firmly on the other foot when she gets an earful from an exhausted parent after politely enquiring if little Johnny has finished his spelling. (“I’m a key worker with four children…,” barks the mother. Enough said)
Where’s Mary Poppins when you need her? Even Mrs Doubtfire would do.
The strain is real and severe. Home-schooling one child or more, motivating them to work in a home environment, trying to keep up with the endless tasks the schools are obliged to set and being reminded repeatedly when they have failed to do so, is strain enough. And that’s before you’ve thrown all your other real-life problems into the mix.
Like an old Joyce Grenfell sketch, parents find themselves saying and doing seemingly incomprehensible things; trying to explain coastal erosion to a hormonal teenager while yelling at the younger sibling not to keep doing gymnastics on the dog. Some severely autistic children are having a very rough ride, out of their usual routines and desperately missing school. Furniture has suffered along with mum and dad’s nerves.
Some parents are trying to support children with special educational needs for whom the current virtual format/distance learning scenario simply doesn’t work. And many single parents have been doing this Herculean task completely alone, while the school unhelpfully enquires if they have completed the sock puppet project!
There are parents who have three kids and one computer, or no printer and no means of getting one. There are others for whom English is their second language, who are unable to help their children with their work when difficulties arise.
All this is real. All this is our lives. And it’s all happening while many of these parents are trying to work from home at the same time. No wonder so many are “falling to pieces”. Don’t get me wrong, running around your garden a hundred times is extremely admirable, but home-schooling a special-needs child on your own, day in, day out, in the middle of a pandemic deserves a different kind of medal.
We do have good days. Even wonderful days. Fantastic opportunities that we didn’t have before with our children. We’ve had parent-and-child conversations that we would never have had if we hadn’t been forced together for weeks on end, like intensively reared broiler chickens. Many parents are also immensely grateful for the free-range moments of exercise and the wonderful countryside we have discovered in this lockdown. But not everyone lives in beautiful rural Suffolk and some have little or no outside space. Tearful callers to LBC testify to the strain of living in a high-rise during lockdown.
I hope the current climate has lessened the tedious “look how well we are doing” boasting that we parents can tend to slip into at times. I haven’t dared go on Facebook in case of unflattering comparisons to parents whose children are managing to race through the curriculum whilst also learning to bake or cross-stitch. I don’t resent them their success, in fact I applaud them. I just want us to consider those whose homes are not running like well-oiled machines during this lockdown. The reality at the sharp end for many people is that this is a really difficult thing to pull off and it’s an incredible strain for all concerned: parents, kids and teachers.
So I’d like to clap for the mums and dads who are surviving as best they can in a seemingly impossible situation where they have become parent, teacher, mental-health counselor, best friend, playmate, sock puppet enthusiast, erosion expert, hormone specialist and psychiatrist.
These unsung heroes and heroines of this crisis, I salute you. Remember, we are made of strong stuff. Like Churchill’s wife in The Darkest Hour, who looked exhausted into the mirror and repeated the poem, “Here see a woman who is always tired; she lives a life where too much is required”, but continued to support her husband throughout the war, let’s dig deep and find that Dunkirk spirit. Or maybe just have a really good cry. Both are perfectly acceptable reactions. Keep the bar low and just remember: it won’t last forever.