Parenting at the time of a Pandemic/Evolving as a Parent

In this series on parenting at the time of a pandemic, here is yet another reflection that narrates a mother's deep engagement with her two children, their questions and anxieties, and their education. This is the story of transforming the mundane routine into an act of creativity.

Image by shanghaistoneman from Pixabay

It was the 6th of March, when the Delhi Deputy CM announced that the schools will be closed till the 31st of March, in view of the Covid 19 situation (when the number of patients across the country had just touched double digit figures). My elder one had just finished his annual examinations of the VIII standard and heaved a sigh of relief that the stress of one or two remaining tests would not be lingering upon him. The younger one, till in nursery, too small to be able to assess the conditions, was happy that she would be allowed one extra hour of sleep every morning before she is dropped off to her crèche. I was still not worried, in the back of my mind I felt that this is a passing phase. We were rather discussing an impending wedding in the family and planning our upcoming vacation. But things began to change, and very rapidly. We realized that the epidemic is staring into our eyes from our backyard. So within two weeks our nation imposed the strictest of lockdowns, within a four hour notice.

Probably like every mother, my first priority became looking after the house, ensure its cleanliness and ensuring the children get the kind of food they were used to (since the maids stopped coming). A big task became to educate my four year old on social distancing, and to convince her not to venture out into the park, to inculcate in her the habit of frequent hand wash to maintain proper hand hygiene. It was surprising as well as distressing that at the age of four, she understood the meaning and added words like coronavirus, lockdown and social distancing to her vocabulary. It is indeed painful that even in toddlers have come to terms with the fact that wearing a mask outdoors is necessary for your health. The lockdown had managed to create panic in the little ones too, and I remember how visibly worried my children were about my safety the day I resumed office.

My daughter hardly able to play outdoors was beginning to make youtube her constant companion. I started to involve her too to help her get rid of boredom and to reduce her screen time. The toughest times were the evenings, when it would be a task to keep her within the confines of the house. So we made it a routine to take her to the terrace, where she could see the sky and the setting sun, feel the breeze, hear the birds chirping and even recognize a few of them! My teenager, who has grown to be quite a private young man, had reserved some fixed hours of family interaction, keeping himself busy with mobile, xbox, online games, and some writing. Enjoying time with family like never before, life within the confines of our house seemed blissful. But in the outer world there were millions of people who lost their jobs, and were struggling to arrange even a single filling meal. The realization of the suffering of the people not as privileged as us sank in, and life did not seem that blissful anymore. It was also a time to sensitize my son about the sufferings of fellow country-men, to make him value what he has, and be thankful for it, and to think of ways to reduce their suffering.

Also, being a working mother with long commute beyond the office hours, I hardly ever got to spend so much of time to spend with the kids. Therefore my children were more than happy to have both her parents at home available for each and every need. Especially my little one, who spent her days in a crèche with discipline and no indulgence, therefore in the secure confines of home she started demanding more attention and threw more tantrums. It was a new experience for me too, to be able to cook according to their demands, to paint and draw with them. Cooking new things was a particularly fulfilling experience, and nothing more satisfying than the sparkling eyes of the children savoring the taste. But as office reopened, exhaustion crept in too, due to the pressures of managing home, the hour long commute and office-work. So by the fifth and sixth week, the joy of trying new recipes vanished and we were back to the humble daal- chawal -roti -sabji menu, with the exotic recipes having to wait till the weekend.

The lockdown has also enabled us to cultivate a new found patience with the children. Having to look after a hyperactive child throughout the day might often get to your nerves. Being working mother, I was spared of this during the day time. And my little one was becoming naughtier by the day, seeing the ubiquitous presence of her parents at home : it was often quite annoying, to see water spilled on a just mopped floor, or the linen of a just done bed soiled with something she was eating on it. The limit of tolerance stretched beyond limits that I could otherwise imagine, doing the damage control with mostly a smile, and a mild rebuke at times. I craved for even ten minutes of solitude and some “me”-time.

Lockdown has also brought in another hitherto unknown way of life – online schooling. My son entered his IX standard and was busy from 8 am to 1 pm, with a half an hour break in between. So he confined himself not only to his room but his study table, door bolted from inside -to avoid his sister’s noisy pranks- and we hardly could get a glimpse of him. This was followed by loads of homework, all of which was sent through emails and apps, and the screen time that we had so hard tried to reduce for all those past years, suddenly spiraled. Seeing him without headphones and not looking at the screen became a rare sight. We kept on trying to get him out, take him up to the terrace. But neither had he had the will nor the time to spare. I sensed a kind of tedium and monotony creeping up to him. The classes were nothing that it used to be, there were no laughters, no appreciative looks from classmates when one gave a good answer, no ridicule at the silliest of answers- a classroom sans the spirit. The syllabus was being covered, but the excitement of learning new concepts in mathematics and science, the joy of reading through a good piece of poetry was all replaced by a lifeless technical question and answer and doubt clearing sessions. It was indeed a challenge to keep that interest in learning alive. Soon online classes for my preschooler started too; and online classes for my daughter was a bigger challenge for me. Sitting through the classes and keeping her interested in what the teacher said was a tough task. Her attention wavered every ten minutes. Her classroom is essentially based on activity based learning, a lot of physical exercise and sing and dance sessions, storytelling with props. All these are being replicated at home with utmost care to help her get rid of lethargy and boredom. Thus I have now learnt all those kindergarten rhymes, dance moves and exercises to accompany her and make her lessons fun. 

In this period of lockdown, we all have gone through very tough times. But on a positive note it has helped me evolve as a parent. Keeping the kids busy, helping them cope with the monotony of a life (where they get to meet none other than the immediate family for months together), for trying to bring in variety in the mundane daily routine demanded attention, creativity and patience, to a level I had hardly imagined before. The lockdown has definitely made us realize that we are privileged, and also that we have more potential than we ever thought. But it has also crafted new bonds between the members of the family, because it has allowed us to give more time to our loved ones.

However, the lockdown measures have unsettled the life of our children more than we think. So it brings in a greater responsibility on every parent to help the child muddle through these rough times with less discomfort and bitterness. Let us hope that children can go out in the parks to run and jump around and play with mud without having to worry about washing hands every now and then, let the schools once again echo the laughter and voices of children. May be soon parents would be happy to let children go back to their usual activities without racking our nerves about their health and safety. In these hard times parenting has seen some new dimensions, and as we adjust ourselves to these new circumstances, let us hope that this new normal is NOT here to stay.

Dr. Pika Jha is a senior scientist working with the Government of India. The views expressed here are personal. 

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