by Jenn Connor
If there’s one thing we parents know it’s that life with littles is one of constant change. Yet none of us were prepared for the upheaval caused by the coronavirus. As we carry on through what can only be described as a parenting marathon, let us take a moment to reflect and regroup, gather our strength, and collectively cheer each other on.
I’ve been a full-time parent for the past three years. I know this gig. Yet even I have found lockdown difficult. These little ones have the stamina of Olympic athletes, practically no empathy, and need as much attention as (or more than) we can give. Beyond the obvious physical challenges lie the mental and emotional ones of having to use particular language and keep our cool. When at my best, it is a practice in mindfulness. On the hard days it feels more like bad acting.
Yet in my weakest moments when I think, “I can’t do this,” I’ve come to realise I can and I am. With every extra snack granted, every nap achieved, every meltdown overcome – I am good enough. And so – from one slightly haggard full-time parent to another – here’s what I’ve learned. Hopefully it will give you a little boost when navigating the days to come. Take what you need, leave the rest.
- - -
1. Give yourself a break
This point is so important and easily forgotten as we often prioritise our children’s needs first.
When lockdown hit, I lost my two mornings of childcare. At first I relished in creating ever more activities and obstacle courses. It was a lot of fun! After two weeks I started to slowly burnout. I realised there was a reason for those morning breaks and that reason was my sanity.
If you’ve got a partner and even if they are working like mine, arrange set breaks throughout the week of an hour or more where you can do whatever you want. If you are parenting solo or if both parents need some time, turn on the TV. It is an incredibly useful parenting tool and one that should induce no guilt, especially during a national lockdown. Do resist the urge to fill your precious break time with chores or pointless scrolling on your mobile.
This leads me to my next point: lists. I love a good list and there are tons circulating around full of activities for children. Yet the most important list to make is one about you.
What activities get you in touch with your adult self? What restores you? Mine includes reading a novel, riding my bike, and gardening alone. Post your list up where you can see it daily so it’s ready to be taken advantage of when you get the chance.
A second part to this list could include activities you actually enjoy doing with your child. Going for a nature treasure hunt, eye-spy, and baking are on our list.
In addition to this, when things seem to take a turn, I rely on three simple fail-safe play techniques. These not only lift everyone’s mood, helping us enjoy and savour our time together, they also absorb my little one’s attention. This lets me breathe a bit, quieting my mind while he gets lost in his play. I can enjoy a hot cup of tea uninterrupted and sneak some chocolate if the mood takes me.
2. Just add water.
Be it playing with cups and strainers in the kitchen sink or turning on the garden hose, many parents espouse the magical ability of water to turn a frown upside down.
You can create funnels out of cut-up bottles, use coloured water from steaming veg or dad’s leftover coffee as water paints, or simply fill a bath and add Duplo or Lego for a unique construction experience.
Where there’s water, there’s fun.
3. Bad Day? Go for sensory play.
Sensory play is a huge area and covers anything that stimulates our sight, sound, smell, taste or touch. Parents can get so creative with this type of play and the possibilities are endless. Sensory play might be messy, but it doesn’t have to be. An old bed sheet, newspaper or baking tray can be used to contain any mess. I often include my child in the set-up and clean up as well.
There are a plethora of ideas online, but some that have worked for us include creating habitats for play animals, finger painting, making mud pies and play dough.
4. Get the heck out.
While not everyone has a garden, we are all allowed to go outside for daily exercise. This is so needed for everyone in the family. The NHS recommends twenty minutes a day of moderate exercise, while research has shown that being in nature for the exact same amount of time significantly and immediately lowers stress.
While walking in your neighbourhood, bring along a container to collect interesting leaves, seed pods, berries and twigs. These can be used later to paint with, glue onto a collage, or categorise. Count how many different coloured doors you see. Look for rainbows of course, but notice how they were made and anything else interesting in windows.
The Discover Frome website also features downloadable walks in and around Frome. As long as we stick to the two metre rule, getting out and about can be a fun-filled activity in itself.
- - -
Whatever we are doing as parents during this time, the most important thing to remember is that we are all doing our best. This will be different for each family. Most of us did not choose to be full-time, homeschooling parents. It’s a huge change and one that requires constant readjustment.
Don’t judge yourself by the standards of life before corona. In fact, don’t judge yourself harshly full stop. Let your inner voice be one of empathy and understanding, just as you would offer a friend.
We’re all learning together during this time. I’ve realised what I need to feel myself, as well as noticing all kinds of wonderful new traits in my son. Perhaps these things were there all along. Or perhaps this pause has brought with it the chance to listen and to connect with both our children and ourselves.