parent opinion

'As we move out of isolation, what if we all made a promise to each other?'

It’s the pressure, you see.

You might have secretly loved the past two months.

Waking up on a Saturday morning and not having to shove toast down a kid’s throat with one hand, while lacing up soccer boots with the other. Not trying to find the AFL vest at the bottom of a slightly stinky, damp washing heap while fighting rising anxiety about the gentle greying of karate whites.

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You might have loved that you were able to eat dinner at a reasonable time at the table with the kids most nights because you weren’t working late at the office and they weren’t at jujitsu/French/macrame until 7.30.

You might have secretly fist-pumped at having an entire weekend free of making small-talk with adults you don’t know, around a supermarket birthday cake studded with Smarties.

Shouting across an indoor play-place blasting Senorita so loudly you swear the perky young staff are all secretly wearing earplugs and just smiling and nodding at you in unison.

But it’s the pressure, you see.

It’s possible, of course, that many of us are over-scheduled.

That we’ve internalised the adage that a busy kid is a happy kid, a kid who’s out of trouble. That middle-class parents think that tutoring is not a choice, but simply table-stakes for giving your children ‘the best start’. We may have lost sight of the fact we don’t need to accept every invitation and reciprocate with one of our own. We may have been guilted into making sure every kid in the class is at the party, and that our kid in turn is at all of the other kids’ celebrations, whether they all know each other or not.

It’s possible we know all that, but it’s the pressure, you see.

Because what if we tried to hold on to some of the ‘good’ things we’ve learned about the quiet life, but no-one else did?

What if we unsubscribed to Saturday morning sport and Sunday morning chess club and Friday night track and Wednesday evening training and Music Monday and Swimming Thursday… but everyone else jumped right back into it?

That would just be terrible, wouldn’t it? For our children to fall behind, to suffer the curse of missing out. For our children to be… bored at home.

As I write that, I know that there are many, many parents who are welcoming our children’s worlds reopening with excitement and possibly a dance party. I am one of them.

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I couldn’t be happier that my kids will be back at school on Monday, with the teachers they trust and the friends they love. I am delighted that their routines will be re-established, and they will no longer be being taught by one of two people who are also trying to do a completely different job and can’t remember what a morphemic verb is.

But a recent News Ltd poll found that almost 70 per cent of parents were “secretly loving” isolation, and I know why.

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The ‘why’ was on display in an 8am meeting I was in yesterday. My colleague – a serious-minded news journalist – was wearing fluffy kitten ears and an over-sized JoJo bow on the call.

In between interviews and calls she’d been playing dress-ups with her daughter, who has been delighting in having her mum home when she wakes up, and climbing into bed for a snuggle before playing around her feet as she works. My colleague’s output has not faltered, regardless of kitten ears.

The ‘why’ was obvious last weekend when my overwhelmed little boy woke in the kind of mood where he just needed to weep. Cry and snuggle and play games on his iPad and cuddle the dog. And we did. Nowhere to go, nowhere to be, no-one to let down on a day when you decide to focus on the one person who needs you most.

And the ‘why’ was clear when my friend, whose work hours have been cut and whose partner’s job is precarious, looked at her budget and saw the small pockets of financial breathing room in all the cancelled activities that she’d always considered non-negotiables.

It seems that many, many of us have a secret yearning to do less.

So, why don’t we just do it?

It’s the pressure, you see.

The FOMO, the competition, explicit or otherwise, that’s hammered into modern parents from the moment they take their baby home.

Who’s sleeping, who’s crawling, whose playmat is more instagrammable? Did you get out today? Did you go to baby boot camp? Who’s winning trophies at assembly? Who got invited to the sleepover? Who’s got non-toxic friendships filling up their phone feeds?

Some of that has gone away as a side-effect of the most deadly global disaster of modern times. No wonder parents are keeping any love for isolation “secret”.

Less was my own word of the year for 2020. An enforced lock-in wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

But less keeping up has been a revelation. The pressure, after all, comes from each of us. And we can choose to opt out.

But it only really works if, as the cliche of these times has it, we are all in this together.

So if you’ve loved less, fight for it. Hold on to it. Like a tiny, precious thing.


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