My toddler has been having a lot of meltdowns recently. There was the tea towel that wouldn’t fold the exact way she wanted; the cardboard box that wouldn’t slide across the floor like a boat and the Titanic of tantrums when, tonight, I finally forced her into the shower after four days of refusal. Her little red face screaming as I wrestled off her Elsa from Frozen costume.
I suppose we’re all on the brink of meltdowns at the moment. It’s been a rough few weeks of uncertainty, information is changing daily and it doesn’t really feel like there’s light at the end of this coronavirus tunnel. “This too shall pass” is the mantra that gets us through the toughest parenting moments, so the long winter ahead is a scary thought.
Last week, my husband and I made the decision to keep our daughter home from daycare. As I’m currently on parental leave while my husband works from home, I’m the one trying to find ways to entertain my three-year-old while also caring for a three-month-old who won’t nap for longer than 30 minutes. The days are hard.
With no daycare, swimming lessons, ballet, playgrounds or playdates on the horizon, I can’t be expected to fill in all of those gaps.
As more parents are keeping their kids home and self-isolation comes into full effect, colour-coded schedules are being posted on Instagram. I’ve seen photos of bushwalks, baking and backyard picnics (I’m guilty of posting these pics too) as though kids and parents are taking this time to reconnect.
So on my daughter’s first ‘daycare day’ at home, we sat down together to make a list of how we would spend our day. Breakfast (with a bit of TV), followed by outside time on the trampoline, some morning tea, a bit of playing with her mermaid dolls and lunch. Then quiet time, more outdoor play, afternoon tea, relaxation, dinner and bath time. Too easy! Except by 10:30am I was queuing up Frozen on the TV so I could go upstairs and put the baby to sleep. And by 3pm we were sitting down for the second viewing.
By day four, the carefully considered daily routine was completely out the window and screen time was creeping more and more into our day. So were constant negotiations, like “Once the big hand on the clock hits six, it’s time to turn off the TV,” or “Ok, last episode of Bluey.” I felt a pang of guilt every time I picked up that remote, wondering how much damage I’m doing if we end up self-isolating for months and weighing that up against how my mental health is going to last.
By day four, the carefully considered daily routine was completely out the window and screen time was creeping more and more into our day.
I posted on Instagram asking parents for their self-care tips. My replies didn’t include any tips, but many messages of solidarity. Surely self-care when you have kids isn’t impossible? Then I found this article from The Cut which told me what I needed to hear. In times of global pandemic, it’s ok to lower the parenting bar. As writer and mother-of-two Kimberly Harrington writes, “This isn’t a situation that lends itself to instantaneous platinum level Little House on the Prairie–ing.” And she’s right. Now is not the time to be worrying about routines and schedules, it’s about finding a way to survive.
So my self-care is to let things slide, a little. With no daycare, swimming lessons, ballet, playgrounds or playdates on the horizon, I can’t be expected to fill in all of those gaps. For now, it’s about the path of least resistance.
And slowly we’re working out our rhythm. I’m trying to temper the screen time (because too much is definitely contributing to these apocalyptic tantrums) but not completely cut it out because I need a break too. We can’t go to the playground, but in the afternoons we take a stroll around our block. She collects rocks and she explores an overgrown nature strip around the corner that she calls “the jungle.” We’re trying to figure out this new normal. And if all else fails, I’ll embrace the mantra of my daughter’s hero, Elsa and “Let It Go”.