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Has isolation made you a better parent?

For parents, lockdown life is one huge juggle. But has enforced time at home led to calmer, more relaxed, more present moments with your kids?

By Jo Dunbar

May half term is almost over and Monday will see most parents return to the juggle of work, home learning and the small matter of staying safe and well.

It’s hard to imagine a time where our family routine didn’t revolve around barely leaving our street and unbridled excitement over a click and collect slot. For the most part, in our house, we have gotten past the daily arguments between brothers, and I have noticed a few signs that social distancing may have improved my skills as a mum, too.

Rather than throwing meals together at speed, I have enjoyed cooking from scratch and carefully planning our family meals as popping to the supermarket for one or two ingredients isn’t essential lockdown behaviour. Mum-of-two Sarah has valued family meals and weekend vibes, too: “We’ve eaten a lot more family dinners and gone for long walks all together – usually stuff that only happens at weekends.”

In the real world of school runs and birthday parties, our schedule ran too tightly for an afternoon of Play-doh and making a DIY car garage out of a shoebox. And while there is a lot to squeeze into our day, with two working parents and two children needing our care, attention and teaching skills, none of it currently involves leaving the house.

I have realised that pre-lockdown, I was usually in a tearing hurry, barking orders and rushing around. It’s refreshing to not be that mum right now. I have stopped saying to my sons, ‘We don’t have time.’ Because we do. Bags of it. The stash of games and activity sets my sons tore open at Christmas, which I then stored safely for ‘another day’ have been brought out of their hiding places. Lockdown brought with it plenty of free days so the science kit, electricity kit and pottery wheel have all had their moment on the kitchen table. We’ve built Lego masterpieces, Duplo towers, made Easter bonnets and handmade cards.

The pressure to be on time, to have packed the correct kit, washed the uniform and remembered everything has disappeared. And I’m definitely a more laidback, less shouty parent as a result.

My kitchen whiteboard is conspicuously empty, my to-do list can be put off until tomorrow. When my 4-year-old appears clutching Burglar Bill and asking for a story, I read to him immediately. When my 6-year-old wants to tell me endless jokes, I can laugh (or groan) along. We have played more board games in the last 10 weeks than I have in my entire adult life.

I’m not the only mum discovering a few lockdown truths. Bec has a six-year-old daughter and she too has welcomed the slower pace of life: “To a certain degree, I feel like I’m living more of the life I’ve been wanting to live for a long time. School had the best of her energy and work had the best of mine, and by the evenings and weekends, we were all tired and grumpy. We’ve started reading Harry Potter together and finished the first book in a week. We’ve also headed out on bikes every single day of lockdown and she is now so confident and capable on two wheels.”

Don’t get me wrong, I itch to get back to some semblance of normality where I don’t wear plastic gloves to buy food, or where yelling at my neighbour across the road constitutes conversation. But I wonder whether we’ll cling on to the times where we’ve been more present as parents.

As my husband and I flop down on the sofa each evening – friends and family Zoom schedule allowing – there’s no denying that we are exhausted. Life is busy and monotonous. There are question marks surrounding the school routine. Weekends don’t really exist now. We aren’t yet seeing loved ones or keeping commitments. And we’re worried for older relatives and what lockdown will mean for us all long term. Right now, our family unit has got more time for each other, and when this is over, that’s something I don’t want to lose.

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