parent opinion

"I've never had more balance in my entire life." The unexpected silver lining of lockdown.

A few weeks into lockdown, my LGA was added to the list of 'areas of concern'. This meant my husband couldn’t travel the four kilometres (into another LGA) to go to work. 

I started to think about the reality of having one income, or a reduced income thanks to the COVID relief payment. I tweaked around with my budget finding ways to make it work. 

We have a mortgage, and rent (seeing as we 'rentvest'), strata, rates, and electricity and gas, which have skyrocketed since working from home. There are always bills that need to be paid.

Like all Australians who have lost their jobs or part of their wage due to lockdowns, the financial implications have been tough. I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home, but that isn’t possible for everyone. 

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For the first two months of lockdown, I was stressed and overwhelmed. Being home meant that despite being in a usually very equal partnership when it comes to sharing the domestic load, more of it fell to me. 

I was using 10 minute breaks between meetings to vacuum, and I was using my lunch break to rush to the shops and cook dinner, to hang out washing, and to put clothes away. 

As for the time I would normally spend commuting, I felt I had to make the most of it by squeezing in household chores. Nothing makes you feel like your household needs rearranging or scrubbing from top to toe than spending 24/7 locked inside it. 

I am generally a glass half full person. Past managers have always described me as a 'duck' - calm on the surface, but paddling like mad underneath. So, I was hard on myself. I was frustrated with my sudden inability to 'cope', and impatient with my constant frazzledness and lack of energy. 

The guilt would drive me to scroll Pinterest endlessly, to find hacks, meal planning ideas, productivity tips, and sensory activities for toddlers that I’d never actually do - I was looking for anything to make this feel 'easier'. 

So, when my husband stopped working, after the initial stress subsided, a monumental weight started to come off my shoulders. Suddenly, I was able to resume my pre-baby work routine. I could have some time to myself in the morning before logging on, and there was no mad rush to do the washing, or go to the shops. 

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I could completely focus on getting through my work. I started to spend my lunch breaks outside, in the sunshine, I’d read a book, or call a friend, or go for a walk. As cliche as this sounds, I’d actually have some 'me time'.

All of a sudden, the endless list of tasks that had been swirling around in my subconscious started getting done. Think: getting the car serviced, hanging up the mirror that had been sitting in bubble wrap since we moved six months ago, figuring out how to use the new mop, and hanging pictures in my son's room. Plus, dinner was getting made, and cupboards were being filled with groceries. 

Someone’s happy about all the extra time with mum and dad. Image: Supplied. 

There have also been longer bouts of exercise, and more time together as a couple. It almost felt like we were back in our pre-baby life.

In all honesty, during lockdown, I had never had more balance in my entire life. It was a tangible acknowledgement that working and juggling a child and a household is BLOODY HARD. Being a parent is a full time job in itself and we now have concrete proof. 

I’ve often thought about our grandparents' generation and how it was so common to have a stay at home parent, I always naively thought it must’ve been boring and unfulfilling. In all honesty, I personally couldn’t think of anything worse. 

What I couldn’t have known about having a stay at home parent is how happy it could make you. How much it can make you a better partner and a better parent when the load is lighter. I can’t remember a time since becoming a mum where I’ve felt like we are nailing it more as parents. 

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So now as New South Wales exits lockdown (and the return of the mental load looms), I can’t help but feel a bit sad. I don’t want to let go of my newfound balance. I have enjoyed my freedom and the quality time we’ve spent together as a family. And to be honest, there's a small part of me that is reluctant to let this time go.

Before you @ me... I acknowledge many things have been on my side, I don’t have to homeschool as my son is almost two and I can work from home, which has meant I haven’t experienced any further loss of income. I know it’s a privilege to be able to go back to work and earn money at a time when so many people are doing it tough. 

I also know how hard it has been for many people (myself included) to be separated from anyone you love that doesn’t live within a five kilometre radius. This doesn’t change the fact that for me, when I look back at this time, I will fondly remember the small period of time that I had a holiday from being a full-time working parent. 

So with that in mind, here are the six things I’ve promised myself I will continue to do (or not do) as a result of what I’ve learnt during what is hopefully our last lockdown:

1. No more overcommitting.

An empty calendar has meant more time to stop and smell the roses. Image: Supplied. 

I said this after the last lockdown... and then my weekends started filling up again. The one thing I’ve noticed about not being able to go anywhere is how nice it is to be spontaneous on the weekend and react to the weather, or my mood, or my toddler's mood.

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The endless unplanned weekends are going to be what I miss the most - the lack of expectation to attend this event, wear this, buy this present, or visit this person. 

There has been NO PRESSURE. Just endless weekends to do whatever the hell you want. To be honest, that has been really freeing.

2. Walks with family and friends.

Getting my toddler used to his pram again has been a really nice way to start the day. When once upon a time we might be rushing out the door to get to daycare, or make it on time for the first of three sets of plans, now we grab a coffee and a babycino before hitting the playground or beach. 

Similarly, I would always meet up with my friends for breakfast, dinner, or a drink. Walking or swimming dates have been such a nice way to socialise. Plus, it’s much better for the budget!

3. Cooking more at home.

More time at home has meant more time to cook. For the first time in my life, I’ve started using my Thermomix and slow cooker and I don’t really know what I was doing with my life before then??? 

Plus, I am so sick of my Uber Eats options that eggs on toast is now a perfectly acceptable dinner choice.

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4. Taking a lunch break.

As an extrovert, I would spend my lunch break in the office at my desk, online shopping or doing life admin, chatting away with my desk neighbour, or procrastinating by talking about The Bachelor in the kitchen. I never used it wisely.

Being stuck in front of my screen on my own has taught me that its best to break up the day by actually getting away from my desk. Going for a swim, or a walk, or just sitting in the sun reading a book is a game changer.

5. No housework during my work from home days.

My mistake at the beginning of lockdown was trying to be really efficient by cramming my home and work responsibilities into every nook and cranny of my day. Every minute had to be accounted for. A spare 10 minutes before my next meeting? Great, time to hang out the washing! My lunch break? The 'perfect' time to peel and dice all the dinner ingredients. I felt like I didn’t have a second to myself, and it was stressful. No more.

6. Seeing a couple of sunrises a week.

Not having to get out the door by 7am every single day has given me so much more time in the morning. I’ve seen more sunrises in the past four months than I have in my entire life. They’re addictive and I won’t be stopping that anytime soon. 

Has lockdown relieved the pressures of the mental load for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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