This difficult year has taught me that every challenge has a solution — and also helped me kick the habit of wanting to be perfect
It’s strange how quickly things can change. One minute you’re debating whether 2020 is the start of a new decade. The next you’re going through what feels like level 95 of JUMANJI, staring in shock as people hoard toilet paper and nonperishable goods.
In all seriousness, though, I’m sure that I’m not exaggerating when I say that this year has been life-altering.
But, in addition to all the stress, uncertainty, and unwelcome surprises, it also happened to give me a lot.
Not only did it allow me to stand back and contemplate the path of my life, but it also gave me the chance to take a look at who I was as a professional, as a partner, and most importantly, as a mom.
It turns out there’s a lot you can learn about parenting when the world is going nuts and you’re stuck at home with two school-aged boys.
In hindsight, I realize that the entire quarantine experience could have been much easier had I accepted sooner that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
For the first few weeks, our whole family was struggling with keeping up our pre-lockdown routine. But as it turned out, between online school, lack of available childcare, and full-time jobs, my husband and I were barely staying afloat. If we were going to make it through the first month, something had to go.
From my friends’ experiences and rare glimpses into my Twitter timeline, I only saw two exits. One was to completely give up any hope of self-care for the foreseeable future and power through, not knowing when things would be back to normal. Or, I could give up my business and put all my energy towards being a yoga- and gardening-obsessed version of a Stepford wife.
As you can imagine, neither of the two choices seemed too appealing, so my husband and I decided to explore one last option.
Instead of allowing ourselves to go into a planning frenzy, we would take this time to relax as many of our house rules as possible.
The first thing to go was our rule about early wake-up times.
Sure, under regular circumstances, I’m all for that “rise and shine” mantra. I love waking up at 5:00am, sipping on my morning coffee in the dark, then going for a sunrise run around the block. I’m also quite insistent on preparing a healthy, nutritious breakfast for my boys every morning so that they’re energized and ready for school.
But here’s the deal. If you’ve got no place to send those boys and no time during the day to reset and recharge, this routine can only lead to burnout.
As the kids’ school moved to the dining room, we chose to delay their wake-up time by one hour. Sure, it doesn’t seem like much, but it actually meant a lot.
For one, both my husband and I could squeeze in our morning workouts or get a jump start on high-priority work tasks that required full concentration. Secondly, the kids were benefiting as well, getting an extra hour of rest, which can potentially improve their academic performance.
The second lesson I learned was that a once-a-week takeout treat doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
Yes, you read that right. As all my peers went into banana-bread-baking frenzies, I decided that it was time to back off from all that cooking.
No, this does not mean that I suddenly turned towards chicken nuggets and hot dogs as our main source of protein. I was still pretty insistent on wholesome nutrition, especially as it’s one of the building blocks of a strong immune system. However, I did allow myself some leeway by taking up meal-prep.
This means that on weekdays, things were ‘business as usual’. But instead of cooking from scratch, I was mainly putting together meals from ingredients I had prepared during the weekend. Every Saturday night, we’d choose a local restaurant and order in. Sometimes it was mouth-watering Moroccan food filled with veggies, olive oil, and colorful spice. Other times, it was good ol’ pizza.
Now, yes, my mornings were slightly more productive, and I was spending less time in the kitchen.
However, there was still the question of getting things done when the kids weren’t being entertained.
As hard as my husband and I tried, there were still times when both of us had to focus on work, and there was no one to watch the boys. In these cases, we decided that it was OK to allow some screen time. Sure, we would’ve preferred for the kids to spend this occasional hour or two reading a book or building with Legos. Unfortunately, those options are typically not as effective at keeping them entertained.
As the weeks went by, we got more skilled at handling everyday challenges and adjusting our schedules on the go.
But I must admit, the best decision we made was to call in reinforcements.
After the first couple of months of quarantine-mode came to an end, my husband and I realized that we needed more help. We were getting by, but there had to be more efficient ways of getting through the day.
With the lack of afterschool activities and playdates, our biggest concern was making sure that the kids were getting enough exercise. We’re lucky enough to have a backyard, but running after a ball is not the same as a supervised physical activity led by a professional.
What we did was enroll both boys in online classes — private karate lessons for the older one and gymnastics for our younger son. We also encouraged them to participate in workshops and even tried an online summer camp. None of these were the same as live face-to-face experiences. But in the end, they were better than nothing.
As we near the end of the year, things are still just as confusing as they were in March. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure we’ll be back to normal anytime soon. Nonetheless, I have considerably less anxiety about the future than I did at the beginning of the year.
You see, being a mom in 2020 taught me that every challenge has a solution.
And, perhaps even more importantly, it has helped me kick the habit of wanting to be perfect. In the grand scheme of things, I have accepted that allowing the occasional takeout burger, Saturday morning cartoon session, or Xbox family tournament won’t make me a bad parent.
On the contrary.
It will make me a caretaker who knows that focusing on the important things involves much more than eating right and getting enough sleep. It also requires kindness, understanding, and, most of all, self-love.
You may also enjoy reading Real Talk: 6 Women Share How They’ve Been Navigating COVID-19 by Sweta Vikram