Learnings from lockdown: What juggling work and three kids in isolation has taught me

Whatever the shape and size of your family, the going is tough for all of us right now. Here’s a family-of-five’s candid account of COVID life and the lessons learnt in lockdown.

Not to trivialise the feelings of the currently bored or lonely in lockdown, but boy, what I’d give to be isolating alone. Binge-watching TV, baking cinnamon buns and getting my 15 seconds of TikTok fame is my idea of isolation bliss. 

But I’m a parent, working from home no less, so I’m hunkering down with the other half, my three delightful children (eight, five and one), my beloved coffee machine and my Zoom account.

The days are long and start early. I’ve thrown in the towel trying to squeeze in a little uninterrupted work time before dawn. The toddler won’t allow it. Instead, I yawn with the pillow over my head while he roams the house in search of devices, chucking everything within reach onto the floor, waiting for the first sign of life from his siblings. 

Before lockdown the toddler was uninitiated to screen-time. But spending much of the day observing your entire family glued to virtual lessons and Zoom conference calls unfortunately rubs off, and the bright little sponge can not only decipher the passcode on every device in the house, he’s now offering tech support.

On a good day, I’m roused out of bed by sibling bickering to find the toddler standing on an occasional table creating a masterpiece on the wall in waterproof marker. 

The announcement that junior classes are going back to school hasn’t improved the outlook for my five-year-old, instead it’s left her in a state of panic that she’ll be made to return to a place and people that took her six months of orientation to get used to in the first place. She’s not sure she’ll be able to recognise the friends she was just starting to make, and her big brother won’t be there this time to hold her hand.

The eight-year-old is stomping on his sister’s legs for no apparent reason other than he’s hangry and bored of being cooped up inside. Keeping him focussed on mastering uncommon fractions and syllable breaks has been the single greatest challenge of lockdown. But, I get it, who wants to do school work when there’s the constant distraction of toys, apps, snacks, beds to jump on and sisters to pester?

My husband’s wearing the same sweats again. I think that’s nine days straight but who’s counting. He’s supposed to be preparing breakfast and taking the first remote learning shift but he’s glued to the morning TV news, inhaling his first coffee of the day. He’s using lockdown as an excuse to subscribe to every streaming service he can get his thumbs on, even though he spends most of his time in the home gym anyway. Apparently he’s in the best shape ever, but what good is all that brawn when I alone am left carrying the groceries in from the car, and breaking up the kids’ fights.

Then there’s me. Trying not to collapse under the weight of the juggle. Melting down, sometimes, and looking for the lessons to be learned, always. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

Learning #1 – We really are all in this together

My husband and I are working in shifts, finding our groove after some trial and error. We were both already working flexibly and regularly from home, so we had a leg up during the adjustment phase. Keeping him motivated to share the physical and mental load has been a challenge, though, and I need to keep reminding myself he’s grieving a lost life and identity – what I experienced on parental leave – and that empathy creates harmony.

Learning #2 – An understanding team goes a long way! Don’t underestimate the power of building positive relationships at work

At the desk there are still plenty of interruptions, but my colleagues’ reassurances that it’s okay when a rogue child crashes our conference call brings comfort. Seeing a screen full of cheery faces helps to break the monotony of the day and remind me that help is there when I need it. I’m beginning to understand why my kids get so much joy out of a video conferencing potato filter, and I make a mental note to download Snap Camera next time I’m in procrastination mode. 

Learning 3: When things get overwhelming, take a walk!

If there are no pressing work deadlines – but regardless of whether the schoolwork is done – we take an afternoon family walk. What a relief to get outdoors and stretch the legs. Out here, the kids’ fidgeting and shouting doesn’t fray the nerves and, in fact, the kids are behaving like – dare I say it – friends! I leave the phone with its pinging notifications at home, because if lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that setting boundaries and improving how I compartmentalise work and family life has been the best thing for my mental health and therefore for my family too. The kids are excited – that’s PE ticked off for the day.

Learning 4: You can’t be on top of everything, always

If I’m yet to mention any household chores, that’s because there’s no time for them. All washing, grocery shopping and cleaning builds up till the weekend. So is checking in on family and friends who know to call if they need anything. With a mind already overwhelmed with Webex schedules, work to-dos, school tasks, and helping to regulate the emotions of five humans, I’m forced to accept the fact that some balls will drop, like the flower delivery for my sister’s birthday ordered a day late, and vegetables with every dinner. 

Life has thrown us an epic curveball. It’s what life does. And whether our problems are first world ones, or something greater, kindness will keep us all on the same team. So, amidst the chaos and confusion of life in lockdown, I’ve been looking for the humour, and reminding myself that everything can and will change, and there’s always, always something to be thankful for.

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