Mum confession: The pandemic made me realise I don't want to go back to busy
"Is she doing ballet this year too? The extra practises are on Thursdays and Saturdays. What about his taekwondo? Does it clash with violin or soccer? Can we carpool for swimming lessons on Saturdays?"
I know this is exactly like our lives looked like – pre-pandemic.
And if you have kids of school-going age, chances are your afternoons, and probably most weekend hours too, were filled to the brim with activities too.
Back before the pandemic hit, kids (and by default, us parents) were leading some seriously hectic lives, and navigating all the after-school and weekend activities were not only stressful, but also, at times, pretty much an impossibility.
And up until March 2020, my own little family was heading in the same direction.
Which is ironic, as I had always stated I was not going to be one of those mums who pretty much lives in the car, shuttling the kids from one activity to the next, eating our dinners pretty much standing up as we barely touched base at home in the afternoons before it was time for yet another class or recital or match.
And then it sort of sneaks up on you. The ballet, the swimming, the hockey, the soccer, the taekwondo, the brownies, the drama. Little by little, our home-time, our down-time in the afternoons had all but disappeared, and while there is no denying that for the most part, my children enjoyed their sports and activities, they were also very tired when the week came to an end – and then we were facing into a weekend where even more activities were pencilled into our already manic schedule.
As a working mum, I often found that our ever-busy activity schedule left me stressed and anxious come the evening time, feeling like I had so much to do by the time we arrived home in the (late) afternoon, there was barely enough time to get housework done before I had to sit down and do some work.
It was the same for my children. Before Covid happened, what I found, was that slowly their afternoons of playtime, of just doing nothing, of board games and scooting around the park and helping me cook dinner and actually having time to feel bored, had all but disappeared.
Funny how it took a full-on pandemic to make me realise it was not doing any of us any good.
Don't get me wrong – I am so happy activities started back up again – school as well – in fact, I think they face that they stayed closed as long as they did is insane. But – as we are soon about to start a new season of activities and normality and business soon again – I'm not sure I am quite ready to join in.
Having had a taste of a slower way of parenting, with lots of time for spontaneous trips to the park and the playground, family hikes, movie nights and board games, I think many of us are feeling a little reluctant to give it all up.
And it might seem we are on to something.
Prior to the pandemic, childcare experts were crying out over a lack of free playtime for children of today, where homework and activities and also screens were taking up more and more of their time.
"Children are designed, by natural selection, to play," wrote Peter Gray, Ph.D., a research professor at Boston College, in an article in the American Journal of Play. "Wherever children are free to play, they do."
However, the last half-century has seen a decline in kids' opportunities to play. Precisely how fast and how much it's declined is difficult to quantify, though historians suggest that it's been continuous and great – and it's also lead to lasting negative consequences.
In fact, according to Gray, the lack of play affects emotional development, leading to the rise of anxiety, depression, and problems of attention and self-control, and he argues that without play, young people fail to acquire the social and emotional skills necessary for healthy psychological development.
The culture of busy – this notion that the busier we are, the more successful we must be, have we let that seep into how we raise our children? Why do we think that the busier we keep our kids, the more classes and lessons and activities we schedule for them, the better a job at parenting we are doing? But are we?
And so I have decided to not embrace busy this coming school year. Live a little bit slower than what we did pre-pandemic. And allow us all time to rest and relax and heck, of even having the time to be bored.
Together, just before school was out before summer, I sat down with my children and we decided on which activities we were keeping for the coming year (ballet, soccer, taekwondo) and what could go – at least for now. This might not last forever, and what activities they want to do may change with time. But right now, we are learning to love our slower-paced life, and all that comes with it.
This spring and summer, saw us spent some fairly lazy Saturdays roaming our local farmer's market. The kids have helped me cook from the stuff we bought there. We have baked a lot. We have visited more friends and hosted them at our house for impromptu afternoon pizza evenings. We have built a dam in the stream in the park (well, they have – I watched). We have played games and watched movies in our pyjamas on weekend mornings and just, well, felt like we had more time to breathe.
And I want this to continue. At least for now.
What I dream of, is a sweet spot of activities and free time. Some sort of balance. I have lived that life now, and I want to hang onto it. The kids are calmer and happier, and I have stopped feeling that constant sense of if we are not doing something, we must be missing out or I am not being a good enough parent.
The thing is – right now, I feel content knowing that I am being happy and present with my kids, and that I am – hopefully – teaching them the joy of simple't things. Of that being busy doesn't actually mean that you are doing something important. And that life is to be enjoyed and savoured – not just raced through.