By Ruairi O’Duil
‘I’m on a conference call and all I can hear is you lot shouting. What is going on out here?’
That was actually the polite version of what my working full-time from home wife asked. What was going on was a whole lot of too much television watching, and a refusal to go for a walk in the fresh air to deliver the outgrown books to the Street Library around the block. That we had agreed to do yesterday.
‘Ah would you leave him alone,’ she advised, ‘he’s officially on holidays.’
Everything was so organised the day before. We had buy-in from both the almost-16 Teenager and the 10-year-old Dancer (he lives to dance) into the ‘COVID-19 Daily Schedule’, downloaded and customised with school work, chores, exercise and sensible screen time, dad work time, mum work time. House divided into working zones. And it worked. On Monday. This is going to be a walk in the park, I thought. Killer parenting. I’m a boss.
Then it wasn’t.
Before we could even get grounded into a new routine the landscape shifts 90 degrees. Again.
I’m a Reflexologist. Or rather, I was. It’s hard to practice social distancing in your job when your work requires you to hold people’s feet. Vulnerable people, immuno-compromised people, older people. So, no more clients, no more reflexology. No more me.
I’m lucky. My wife’s company pivoted to working from home over a week before shutdown. It was pretty seamless and she’s working more or less the same as before. With less commute. So, thankfully, unlike many, I don’t have to worry about the mortgage or how long will the savings will last.
So I pivoted to parenting. I’m a great parent, I said. I can easy do that. That’s what I’ll be.
I went full-bore, hunter-gatherer protector. I got my toilet rolls before the rush. Stacked the larder. Picked up board games and sundry Kmart exercise equipment for the exercise sessions I’m going to run. (9am to 10am, every morning) Upped the NBN. Caved in and subscribed to Netflix.
I drew up The Schedule. Chaired our first official Family Meeting. Secured the required buy-in and commitment from the Teenager and the Dancer. And, of course, the Worker was all in.
I’m a boss. Piece of cake.
And it was. For one whole day.
And then it wasn’t.
It’s mid afternoon, Day 2, The Teenager is on his 5th hour of a Call of Duty killing spree and the Dancer is still on the couch in his pajamas connected to THREE electronic devices. I have spent the day working out how to step into the opportunity to pivot reflexology into something more and having looked up, all I can see is failure and guilt. I am such a bad parent. Cue shouting.
And then the realisation, yes, they are on holidays. Lighten up, dude.
BC, Before Corona, when we used to have such things as predictability and certainty, we had generations of conditioning and programming to tell us how we should be and what we should be doing. None of that holds now. ‘Unprecedented times’, we keep being told. And they’re right. There is no precedent for how we are supposed to feel or act or be now.
We all need to show a little kindness to ourselves right now. A little self-forgiveness for the fact that you couldn’t make the COVID-19 Daily Schedule work for more than one day. A little self-forgiveness for the fact that you thought it should, given the members of your family.
The only measure of success when all this is over is whether you survived it as a family or not.
Nobody knows what the right way is, now. So, if you’re giving it your best shot, then that’s good enough. Stop fighting to make it look like the way you think it should look. Be soft with yourself first and allow that softness to see where it takes you.
So, I stopped giving out. What. Ever. It’s the start of the holidays. And, then, like the sun popping out from behind the clouds, The Worker exits her office/co-opted bedroom. ‘I can’t stay in there for another minute,’ she says, ‘who wants to go for a walk?’
‘Me!’ says the Dancer. ‘We can bring the books to the library.’
And so, off we went, with our physical distancing but with social solidarity.
Ruairi O’Duil will contribute regularly to The Parents’ Website over coming weeks, offering his insights into family well-being.
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