When I was a stay-at-home-parent, I experienced the same dichotomy of thought that most SAHPs battle: “I wouldn’t trade this for the world” versus “These endless days are killing my spirit; when will it end?” We love being home with our babies, and most of us chose to do so. We love the freedom of schedule, the flexibility to sleep when the baby sleeps (or the toddler or the preschooler or the high school sophomore–no judgment). We love to enjoy every milestone, the good (first steps!) and the bad (first steps! Seriously, they were easier when they were immobile).
But the same freedom and enjoyment are shrouded with a veil of constraint. Sure, the schedule is flexible…as long as you bring the kid everywhere. Every moment is not momentous, either, so we often struggle with the monotony.
It is the absolute best.
It is the absolute worst.
Those of us who were SAHPs in 2019 or before were somewhat more prepared for the world-shifting events of 2020 which left us all experiencing the dichotomy. Now, however, we were not home by choice, and we were literally trading the world for this. Holy motherforking shirtballs. (Was The Good Place not on your 2020 binge list? Fear not, there’s still plenty of binge to be had in 2021.)
An old parenting idiom says, “The days are long, but the years are short.” I found that to be spot on in my early parenting years. How can they be crawling/talking/going to school? They were born last week! But in 2020, the days AND the years were long. (What? 2020 was only ONE year, you say? Prove it.) We were challenged beyond our measure.
We–parents–were challenged. We–society–were challenged.
As a result, we are all irrevocably changed. And excepting the extreme instances of job loss, sickness, and even death, our changes will endure and make us better.
We are doing things we never thought we could do, or would do.
Before I was a SAHP, I was a public school teacher. So even though I was professionally trained, I had zero amount of inspiration to homeschool my kids. No, thank you. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. “Oh, really?” asked the pandemic, “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!” And while I fully recognize the difference between distance learning and actual homeschooling, having to monitor my children and their work for 4-16 hours a day (because it is different every ever-loving, ding-dong day!) is a pretty far cry from pushing them out the door at 8am five days a week and hoping for the best. And we are doing okay. The kids are amazing. I didn’t know we could do that.
I’m so excited at the prospect of them returning to school in the fall, I’ve decided to join them. I’m going back to grad school to get another degree and maybe a new career. I didn’t know I would ever want to do that.
We are forming our children’s generation around a principle of taking care of others and the world.
This has not been true for American children since World War II. My active and engaged children, ages 7.5 and 10, were devastated to stay home from the fun at school. Devastated to give up their sports and other activities. Devastated as we canceled three vacations. They miss their grandma, their aunts and uncles, their cousins, and their friends. They got angry as we went to the store without them. Rolled their eyes when I reminded them to put their masks on just to meet family in a park. They are wholly affected by every moment of this chaos.
They’re far better at all of it than their parents. Children are malleable and resilient. They accept the truths you give them. When I say to them (over and over and over), “We’re doing these things to help everyone, not just ourselves,” they hear me and they understand. They will grow to be more empathetic, more caring, and more willing to adapt and change our society than any of us are. Every part of our society has learned a lesson from this pandemic. We continue to learn every day different ways we can make “the way things were” better.
It is a hard pill to swallow right now. Hard to know, or not know, how things could have been different through all of this. But ultimately, in 20/20 hindsight, one day we will know this past year changed everything. And our children are the ones who get to see that through. They will write the history books. They will elect the leaders. They will BE the leaders. And they will have been raised on a steady diet of empathy and solidarity and DoorDash. Because it’s hard to change the world AND cook the meals. The SAHPs know what I’m talking about.