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The only thing harder than being with the kids all the time is deciding whether to send them to school

Most parents right now can identify with wanting a break. Remember the good old days when couples headed out for a date night only to end up checking the phone constantly and gazing adoringly at photos of the kids? Many Quebec parents are now facing another kind of ambivalence where the only relief from parenting during COVID-19 is sending them off to schools and daycares in the face of multiple unknowns and conflicting advice from experts. A lot of these parents do not have a choice.

To rewind a moment, or, say, seven long weeks, I have felt extraordinarily fortunate to be parenting in the Valley during the pandemic. We have a backyard and a home full of toys — a veritable mountain of crap I often curse, while also recognizing it as an absolute privilege. I’ve had helpful communication from our school and we have rolled out activities from fort building, to tea parties, to backyard lava challenges. While the photos are Instagramable, a closer look into my house would reveal a beleaguered camp counsellor (me) chanting left, right, left, as I wonder when we’ll have any foreseeable income or get to see the kids’ grandparents again. But in the grand scheme, we have it great.

 

A first-grader fingerpaints a rainbow at home during COVID-19.  PHOTO Emily Southwood

 

Here’s a confession: even on a good day, I find many aspects of parenting extremely boring. During COVID-19, that repetition has led to me experiencing symptoms of depression. Many of my mom friends are feeling the same way. So I asked Dr. Joe Flanders, a clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher in Montreal, about these humdrum moods. He gave me an alternative perspective: “Boredom can be thought of as a lack of attention. At any moment, we have the option to dial into the sheer miracle of breathing or watching these organisms we created, our kids, learn and evolve.” Okay, I dig that.

But here’s the catch, he also said: “It takes an investment up front to do what you need to connect with that mind frame, be it meditation, some cardio, or just listening to a podcast. Every parent needs to step away to be able to find mindful engagement, and it takes energy to do that, just like in normal life.” In other words, you need to have the energy to find the energy — crap. Flanders and I also discussed how you might feel like you should be in constant awe of your kids, because that’s what a good mother does, right? Then comes the guilt — also a downer.

Overall, an engaged perspective can become hard to find when your needs aren’t being met. For too many around the world, these needs are heartbreakingly literal. For parents in my predicament, the mental need is a moment away from the constant drone of want (please don’t make me do that firetruck puzzle again or make another cursed snack). While my husband does parent, cook and clean, I am doing way more of the daily labour as he figures out how and when we might make an income. The situation just is. It can’t be magic-wand-remedied with more time outdoors or another baking party, but I’m hopeful that a perspective shift will help.

Enter the overnight possibility to send the kids back to school, an outlet my eldest in particular has been missing. Now the situation has spun into something like, “The only thing harder than being with them all the time is being without them.” When I asked Flanders how to approach this decision, his personal take was: “This virus is going to burn through our world no matter what we do. So in a certain sense, it depends on when we want to deal with it.” And he feels his kids need their friends. He also said, “Take your time, be gentle with yourself and know that you will do the right thing — whatever that looks like.”

We know that our schools will try their hardest in a very difficult situation. We know that there are risks but that they aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. We know that both doctors and politicians are divided on whether this is a good idea. We are being told that this is optional and to find our own rhythm. However, as parents who have the option to keep our kids home or send them, ironically the one thing we’ve had endless amounts of is suddenly what we lack — time. As I write this, the deadline to decide on whether or not our kids will return to school is tomorrow at 9 p.m., and I’m staring at a plateful of parental fatigue with a side of confusion.

But for now, I need to get back to the kids.

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