For childless folks who are bemoaning the loss of freedom during lockdown (aka the Circuit Breaker in Singapore), allow me to gently break the truth to you. Your misery is nothing compared to being confined in an apartment for two whole months with a couple of active preschool boys. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
(Actually on that note, the tremendous amount of respect I have always had for stay-at-home mums/dads has now been multiplied a million times.)
For years, my husband and I (both in the gig economy) have counted on childcare to provide balance to our home life. We are both very hands-on parents with no domestic helper. The kids’ grandparents see them on the weekends. But that’s fine, because for eight hours every weekday at least, we have time to ourselves to be productive (work-wise) and just breathe in our very well-ventilated personal space.
The lockdown took this all away. Snap.
In the first few days, I felt thoroughly ill-equipped to parent them “meaningfully”. There was (still is) too much screen time and few learning moments. There is too little patience (from everyone) – I’ve learned that our young boys don’t enjoy Zoom calls even with their friends. They’ve gotten tired of colouring and painting. There are only that many LEGO sets we can build before our wallets are drained. We can’t take them to run off steam because all playgrounds and recreational facilities are now out-of-bounds.
The preschool tried organising an online art enrichment class, but the virtual setting (and sound quality) proved too blah.
We do try to be organised. Set up a daily timetable which, kudos to the kids, they try their best to follow, because there’s precious Mario Kart time before dinner. My bugbear proved to be our heavy reliance on virtual learning tools and the lack of time (and admittedly, interest) in participating in their playtime. My husband and I aren’t too good at pretend play. Our kids (young as they are) are not happy about this.
“Mama, come join our tea party.”
“Sorry babe, mama is working/in the middle of my coffee/tired.”
The five-year-old has taken to either stomping away dejectedly. He and the 3.5-year-old sometimes compete to see who gets more attention from mama.
I have a mixture of guilt and resentment.
One part of me wishes I could be more present and enthusiastic in parenting. On the other hand, it’s a fine opportunity for them to develop independence. Do I then try to make myself more available? Or should I draw firmer boundaries? What is an appropriate amount of attention to pay or not pay the kids?
There is no magic formula to parenting. With all my dilemmas, I sit and breathe. Try not to analyse, or pick apart what went right or wrong.
My husband often tells me to be kind to myself and not expect things to be perfect. Perhaps it’s easier for a dad used to dishing out tough love to not have the kind of guilt that a mum has on a regular basis. But I have to admit his line of thinking is apt during this pandemic. Without our usual resources, there is no choice but to temper expectations and trust that the children (and us) are resilient and adaptable enough to ride through this lockdown without suffering any permanent damage.
Amidst the daily exhaustion, I can only continue to unravel more of my own hangups and hold the faith that all will be fine when this is all over.