My husband and I have three small children (ages 3, 2, and 8 months). Staying home and entertaining them all is already difficult. Staying home with them and attempting to work is harder still. We used to panic when faced with a free weekend. What would we do to get them (and us) out of the house? We never thought we’d have to ask ourselves what we would do in quarantine with small children.
Structure, routine, and the stimulation of new experiences, fresh air, and physical activity were the fuel of our family engine. So when the five of us ended up at home together—with daycare and work canceled for the foreseeable future—we encountered some challenges. And we’re not alone. I see the memes and GIFs. I relate to them and laugh at them. Those of us parenting and working during this time are trying to stay home and stay safe but also to stay sane. It is hard. But you know what I think would be harder? Being quarantined without kids.
The Quarantine Without Small Children Fantasy
It is fun to think about what quarantine would be like without kids at home. I imagine hours of relaxation, bingeing on my favorite Netflix shows, picking up a new hobby or spending hours exploring an old one, reading the classics, baking bread, sleeping in, and completing every last nagging home project. Here’s the thing, the percentage of people who are experiencing that kind of quarantine is probably in line with the percentage who are having an absolutely blissful time homeschooling their children, that is, very small.
A More Realistic Reality
I got married at 34, became a parent at 38, and experienced a lot of life prior to both. Before having children, I enjoyed living alone, living overseas, and traveling extensively. I like myself and I really like alone time. But I don’t always use it well and it can quickly become isolating. If I was quarantined without kids, time would pass in a panicky haze. Those fantastical Netflix binges would end with me asleep on the sofa after an episode or two. My anxiety would be left to run amok with a lack of structure and an IV drip of cable news. In addition to being untethered to commitments, I would be unmoored.
One of my favorite bloggers recently said that babies are bad for productivity but great for morale. I’d argue that this applies to small children too, especially in the midst of a global health crisis. Sure, my children keep me from large stints of productivity and sleep, but they give me the gifts of purpose and perspective. Having to get up and physically do for them daily takes me out of my head. It affords me the opportunity to care for others in the only way and place I can right now, in my home, where for most of the day, play takes precedence over pandemic and the parents benefit just as much as the kids.