There has been a lot written recently about the deep isolation that so many parents feel, especially those who are working full-time from home with children who are also learning from home. I’ve avoided clicking on most of these pieces because it seemed futile to dwell on it. Of course we’re isolated, and it felt like there was nothing to be done about that until the pandemic comes to an end.
But I couldn’t resist reading a New York Times piece titled “Parenting Was Never Meant to Be This Isolating,” which clapped back at certain commenters on another Times piece who basically were like, “Uh, you people decided to have kids. That was your choice, now suck it up and stop complaining.” Jessica Grose writes:
What this criticism fails to grasp is that throughout basically all of human history, parents have never, ever raised children in isolated nuclear units the way they have been doing for much of 2020, with little to no hands-on family or community support. Individual families being completely responsible for children “is absolutely unheard of except in total emergencies,” said Stephanie Coontz, an emeritus professor of history and family at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and the author of “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap.”
As parents of an only child — with the exception of the couple of years in which we were foster parents — my husband and I haven’t had to rely much on an extensive village. We outnumber our child and can fairly easily trade off duties or take breaks as needed. Even so, the Times piece got me thinking of all the little things I’ve missed about parenting during non-pandemic times: The way we would coordinate with the parents of my son’s friends to take turns carpooling to after-school activities. The way parents of two kids would drop one child with us so they could both go to a game or an appointment for their other child. The way we’d drop our son off with them so we could — gasp — go out for lunch or dinner together.
We have to keep reminding ourselves that what we’re going through is hard because, as the Times headline points out, parenting was never supposed to be like this. Humans are a cooperative species — we’re meant to live and work together, to raise our kids together. We used to do so much more for each other and now it feels like we simply can’t.
So my suggestion is that we all try taking a few minutes today — and a few minutes again tomorrow — to begin the work of rebuilding some of the parenting village we’ve lost this year. If you used to make it a habit of picking up a coffee for another mum on your way to a playdate, pick up her favourite drink and drop it off at her front door today. If you’re heading to the grocery store, ask your single-father neighbour if he needs anything. Offer to supervise an outdoor playdate if the weather near you still permits it.
Create a group text with your other parent friends and call it the “anti-Instagram” group. To this group, you will not send the most lovely, heart-warming, unrepresentative pictures of your current life. No, you will send only photos of Zoom meltdowns and piles of dirty laundry and whatever else illustrates that, yes, we’re all still living in hell right now, but we’re in this together, even though it feels like we’re so far apart.
The day-to-day of living through this pandemic has often felt like an every-man-for-himself situation, but we still need each other. All the jokes (or resignations) about this being our “new normal” doesn’t change that fact. And any little thing we can do right now to begin rebuilding our village will help us through the months ahead.