Every parent knows about parental guilt. It’s handed out in the postnatal ward, along with the Bounty pack. It consumes you when they’re a newborn, hits your last nerve during the toddler-antics phase and reaches previously undiscovered depths as they start school and you’re thrown into this new world of phonics and homework.
Well, I decided earlier on this year that I was done with it. Because of this year, pretty much. As a working mother, I obviously carried the Standard Issue Anthology of Working Mother Guilt (the SIAOWMG) around with me, which contained dates of every Sports Day I’d ever missed and Google Map print outs of every time those bleddy trains didn’t work and I was late to pick up. It was a pretty weighty object to tuck under my arm every day but it was the price of having a job and I just kinda accepted it, only occasionally wondering why the Anthology of Working Father Guilt looked a lot more manageable.
But this year has changed everything. For once, there have been no Sports Days (Hooray!). And for another, I’ve had to do that same job with my children here the whole time. Aside for three short days at drama camp, Eva has been home all day, every day since the middle of March. Roo had a couple of weeks in school before the end of Year 6 but, other than that, has largely been present too. Right at the start of lockdown I made a conscious choice not to replace my SIAOWMG with a homeschooling version of the same and we just rolled with the complete lack of learning that Eva was doing. I don’t think anyone believed that I wasn’t even attempting to homeschool but I really wasn’t. I was attempting to take on a new project at work, train a new starter and keep the family fed with no home deliveries and no food in the shops. That seemed to be plenty of challenges without taking on schooling as well.
So, with a lack of new guilt and the old standard guilt moving largely into the N/A column, I feel a lot freer. After all, how can I possibly ever feel guilty again about not spending enough time with my kids? We have been together constantly. Everything I used to do without them, I now do with them, or at least with them in the house. Not just work but leading worship for church, running a choir, facilitating a home group session, taking part in an exercise class or even listening to a preach….it has all been avec les enfants.
And some of it has been fun. Other bits less so. But there’s no denying that we parents of 2020 have been tasked with something that no other generation of parents has been asked to do – to provide the complete and all-encompassing care package for our children, with no option to hand them over to a teacher, babysitter, grandparent or even a fellow parent for a few minutes while we go to the loo. For weeks on end, we didn’t even have the option to leave the house for more than an hour or use a playground or sit on a bench or interact with other humans outside our household. Months down the line, we forget how strict those first weeks were and how well we did to not be in a constant state of wailing bansheehood. Or maybe you were in that state. It would be totally understandable.
That’s why I think we should throw off parental guilt for good. We have paid a parenting price this year which puts our accounts firmly into credit for years to come. We have played more games of Qwirkle and Carcasonne than you ever would in ten years’ worth of rainy caravan holidays. We have bent our own house rules and allowed the horrors of child-led painting into our workspaces while we’ve watched aghast, unable to move off our conference calls. In other words, we have done a shedload of parenting.
Of course, this might all be Big Talk. I say that I don’t feel guilty about the sheer number of screen hours that have facilitated these months of indoors time. And I largely don’t. But then I saw someone share an article on how screen time causes depression in kids and the familiar sinking feeling hit my stomach. Only for a moment, though, as I dismissed it by reminding myself that Eva’s screen hours have made her into some kind of whizzkid coder and she can now type faster than she can handwrite (as long as you’re not too fussy on spelling). Reuben swears his video gaming has helped his co-ordination and ability to sense danger in the real world, which comes in handy when he’s crossing the road. In 2020, screens have become a necessity in lieu of real life and that’s how it has to be for now. So there’s no point feeling guilty, is there?