Opinion: Don't be fooled by the one-upmanship of lockdown parenting on social media

8:03 am on 10 April 2020

Opinion - Feeling pressure to find innovative ways to keep the kids busy during lockdown? Just attending to their basic needs is enough right now, writes Amy Nelmes Bissett*.

A photo of an emotional tired mother putting toys in basket while naughty kids fighting with pillows

Photo: 123rf

A little boy weaves in and out of furniture, following a blue line through a complex obstacle course his mother has created in their home. His attempt is recorded and uploaded to Facebook, watched an incredible 22 million times and rising.

And it's hardly unique. Scroll through social media, something most of us are doing a little more than usual lately, and there are endless videos shared by parents, each showing genius ways to keep kids busy.

In the last few days, I've seen makeshift movie theatres in front rooms, sophisticated art and craft stations and even a kiln rolled out, as if it had been just waiting in the sidelines, anticipating this glorious housebound moment of apocalyptic isolation.

And it all started with good intention, didn't it?

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave us the heads-up that we'd be entering alert level 4 to fight an invisible battle against Covid-19 back in March, an influx of Facebook groups were set up to help parents manage this unique situation.

After all, never in the history of our lives have we, at such short notice, been told that we're to not only work from home, if possible, but also home school our children, and without the luxury of that invigorating break from it all, known as the outside world.

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Parents helping out other parents with ideas for craft or sharing of Facebook live schedules and printable colouring-in pages had a slight camaraderie feel to it. We're going to get through this time. We're all in it together, ill-prepared but rich in support.

But then it all got a little competitive, didn't it?

Recently those Facebook posts no longer seem to be about keeping kids occupied at all. They've take on a whole new meaning - an opportunity for parents to boast about their innovative child-rearing during the world's collapse.

And it's understandable. These are uncertain times. There's a level of control gained from feeling victorious in one area of your life. And that feeling is heightened when shared on social media. After all, the instant approval nature of Facebook and Instagram is why it's so addictive.

So there's no need to shame those approaching isolation parenting life with the rigour of an Olympic hopeful in training, with the boastful tendencies of a rising Instagram star.

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But let's all take a moment to acknowledge those parents who sit in the shadows. The ones watching in anxious silence while wondering if they're doing enough; if they're parenting enough. The ones starting the day tired and ending the long day often in tears.

Since life was scaled down and squashed messily into our homes, it's been a challenge. For one, I've not enough paper or finger paint to last a month. We've eaten way too much cheesy toast in our house, watched way too much television and the baby's once meticulously-planned routine has vanished.

An example? Yesterday my three-year-old son and I found a stick in the garden and with the only paint we had left we painted that stick brown. Let that sink in for a moment. We painted a stick the colour it already was. Unsurprisingly, that craft afternoon failed to get a Facebook update or Instagram shout out.

And here's the thing, I was starting to feel bad. The one-upmanship of isolation parenting didn't help. But then I realised that this isn't normal life right now. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has been called the biggest international crisis since World War II.

To put that into perspective, in England in WWII children faced a rather different fate than not having enough finger paint or multi-coloured pipe cleaners to keep them busy.

Around three million children were evacuated from the only home they'd ever known, leaving their parents and separated from siblings, and taken to the British countryside where they were lined-up and handpicked to live with complete strangers as part of Operation Pied Piper.

The British government believed it was the best way to protect a generation, but after the war ended many of those children would talk about the extreme trauma that comes from being separated from their family.

It's a sobering thought, but in the noisy world of social media boasting it's one to remember.

For those parents gripped by guilt, who find their patience low and their days long, there's nothing wrong with only attending to your children's basic needs right now. A five-storey paper mache castle is just lovely, but really all children need is a full tummy, a safe space and most of all, love from their parents.

* Amy Nelmes Bissett is a freelance writer based in Warkworth.

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