What kind of a pandemic parent are you? You can file this with all the other questions you never thought you’d have to ask yourself.
Questions like: if we are forbidden by order of Leo to leave the house for three weeks, exactly how many tins of tomatoes will we need? Who drank the last of the liquid vitamin C? And will anybody notice if I disappear into the cupboard under the stairs for an hour with a bottle of isolation wine?
What kind of a pandemic parent am I? I thought about this as I was stockpiling quail eggs in the posh supermarket. Alright, calm down, I'm joking. Quail eggs are too fiddly in a crisis. I was stockpiling Spanish anchovies, because if I am stuck in the house I want something decent to put on my mouldy toast. Or crackers when we run out of bread. Carrs, obviously.
What I’ve discovered is that your parenting style in a pandemic pretty much mirrors your parenting style before the pandemic just with a bit more bribery and shouting and – this might be just me – a lot more alcohol.
So if you were a helicopter parent in the time before corona, you are still there hovering around them as they do their schoolwork at the dining table. It means you have a real problem letting them decide themselves what person they want to research that day as their project. When they say Miley Cyrus ("because it rhymes with virus!") you say no and make them research the life and times of Mary Robinson instead. Then you hover, forcing them to learn lines from her inauguration speech. "I am of Ireland. Come dance with me in Ireland." (Of course now she'd add: "But stay at least two metres away from me while you're dancing. Go raibh míle.")
Whatever your style, I think we can all agree that pandemic parenting is tough. And pandemic parenting while you are working from home and trying to make sure you child keeps at or, if you are really ambitious, excels in their schoolwork might just be impossible.
It includes trying to monitor schoolwork while also keeping to deadlines, being both witty and smart at virtual meetings, and using the ironing board as a standing desk because your back is wrecked from sitting on the rickety kitchen chairs.
And, several times a day, it involves trying to stop crying or trying to stop someone else crying. There’s a lot of crying but at least you don’t have to get dressed.
I’ve found myself gazing longingly at the family calendar – a relic from before corona – on the wall with its carefully noted music lessons, playdates, singing nights, family gatherings and school-related happenings that are never going to happen. It’s the other life that should be going on but isn’t. I miss that life.
It doesn’t help that I’ve also started to notice some seriously competitive pandemic parenting going on. Detailed daily schedules are being shared that include sewing lessons and poetry readings.
Some more holistic pandemic parents are only making the kids do school stuff for an hour a day – “they’ll never get this time again to just be”. Both of these make me feel equally inadequate. I should be teaching them how to make their own dungarees out of old sheets. Also I should be letting them just be.
I’m not alone. A friend with a job that means she has to be surgically attached to her laptop for hours on end wishes she could be baking, gardening and going for long walks with her child, but she can’t so she’s passing on her own work competencies. The child is definitely going to come out of this pandemic with strong online conferencing skills.
There are a lot of “helpful” things going around on the internet that are proving not to be helpful at all. But one message I did see is helping me. It might help you. A teacher wrote: “It is absolutely not possible to facilitate distance learning with a primary-aged child and work from home at the same time. The very idea is nonsense. If you’re trying to do that, stop now. You can certainly have the activities where your child learns, but your focus is your job and survival. Stop trying to be superheroes.”
I am not a pandemic superparent. None of us is. I identify much more with another friend's description of her own pandemic-parenting style: "Survivalist, with Mary Poppins notions."
If all the kids do is read books, find creative ways to pass the time, learn a few decent fart jokes and develop a bit of compassion for the ones who are suffering the most then these weeks, these months, won’t be wasted.
Now excuse me: I have an appointment with a rather fruity bottle of isolation wine.