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Coronavirus: The path to a new parenting model?
By Irena Ioannou
Greeks have a way of making fun of every situation possible, however tragic, and the new virus pandemic is no exception. “Coronavirus forced some men to discover they are married and have children,” must be one of the most popular jokes on the internet in my country. The certainty that “The vaccine will be discovered by a parent” has attracted a lot of likes too. I would add that at times I feel “I’d rather pay to go to work than stay at home with my beloved family,” and I suspect a lot of parents share that feeling.
Luckily, for me, I’m a firefighter and first respondents are generally considered indispensable in times of crises but tough times require honesty, and perhaps it doesn’t hurt to admit that living with the same people under the same roof for hours and days on end is a guaranteed way to be admitted to the psychiatric ward, even if these people happen to be your offspring. Especially if they are your offspring.
In short, life before the coronavirus crisis was structured in a certain way that allowed almost every member of the family to devote some time to themselves and their needs, and now everything has been knocked off its axis. Except for the almost part, which in most cases is the parent. Almost nothing ever changes in the life of the parent.
To name a few examples, the housework is still there, multiplied by ten, since too many people spend too much time at home. The children’s needs—and especially their appetites—are still present, and their joy at skipping school is proven short-lived. Now they don’t even meet their friends, or go to after-school activities to blow off steam, and on top of everything, they need you to tell them what to do with themselves every moment they are awake.
It follows that, the quiet has fled, because sharing your space causes tension and friction. Likewise, the bills are knocking on your door ever-present like your spouse’s sex needs that are left unaffected by deadly viruses and the end of worlds and eras.
You are still there, obviously, and your role hasn’t changed much. You are like the invariant in math, the archetypal figure who everyone turns to in times of need: you more or less have to take care of everything, except yourself.
Above all, you are expected to be happy for the opportunity to spend quality time with your family and at the same time manage to keep your sanity. Among others, you have to confine your children at home, succeed in social distancing, provide an endless chain of new books and interesting board games, keep them away from screens and, of course, stay in charge of their education. Time, as everyone stresses, cannot be wasted.
Perhaps though, by assuming command and accepting all responsibility, we parents are missing the point and the opportunity to change the world.
A room of their own
Challenging times require drastic measures, and one of them is the realization that everyone needs alone time in a quiet place where no other member can enter without invitation. With soundproof walls, preferably, if you are the parent.
Joking aside, even siblings need space for themselves, a sanctuary, where they can arrange their things at will, and turn to in times of distress, or when they wish to distance themselves from their surroundings, parents included.
Time for themselves
Compulsory time with themselves can be introduced under a strict schedule during the first days, until everyone comprehends that making your own decisions can be a blessing. That turning life into a race with endless tasks and where everything is decided for you robs you of the element of self-determination.
Maybe this will also be a good opportunity to appreciate that we don’t need other people in order to have a great time. That our happiness cannot and should not depend on others. That the company of ourselves suffices and, in time, we will come to enjoy our autonomy.
Introducing the concept of fair labour
A thorn in many families’ everyday life is that too many members think they are too busy to contribute to the housework. Or that by going to work or school, and by taking out the trash, and perhaps even helping a bit with laying the table, they have done their share of the workload. They are okay with their responsibilities, their conscience pacified.
The coronavirus has exposed our lifestyle. Now, we are all at home day in day out, with nowhere to go, and, like the children keep complaining, with nothing to do. This an excellent occasion to introduce a schedule with clearly-defined, rotating chores, and a brilliant way to keep the children from grousing about having nothing to fill their time.
At the end of the day, perhaps the coronavirus can be treated as a window of opportunity to change our everyday lives for the better and raise more mindful and less self-centred children. It can be the origin of a different approach to parenting altogether.
Irena Ioannou writes from Crete, Greece and her work has recently appeared in Crannóg and Betty Fedora. She is currently working on her first novel. She is a mother of five.