Family lockdown: the great social experiment
Lockdown with four sons gave political enthusiast Sam Cummins a chance to trial a range of parenting regimes, but mum’s methods came up trumps!
Well, haven’t the last few months been interesting? Given all that’s happened, it’s hard to know where to start this column, but acknowledging the monumental collective accomplishment of a nation that vanquished an invisible enemy seems like a good place! We should probably just ignore the shameful narking on each other that so many people, albeit anxiously, indulged in (“Yes officer, I’d like to report someone. They appear to be... doing something”). And then we have our own individual and whānau stories and memories. For most of us, six weeks locked down together is something we’re unlikely to ever experience again in our lifetimes.
Mark Twain was an amazing social anthropologist, but I’m happy to say his spin on the famous quip, “Familiarity breeds contempt and children” didn’t come true in our case. No more surprise babies for us, and I still love my wife and tolerate the children the same amount as I did before lockdown (nah, jokes, the kids are alright).
The old and rather weighty adage that, “You get the kids you deserve, not the kids you want” might be more accurate, but I’m happy to say that I’ve got the kids I want as well. Over lockdown, one solved a Rubik’s cube in a minute thirty, another did his first slash grind on a skateboard, and the seven-year-old went a whole day without trying to fight someone. They were good to their mum, and they all helped look after the baby. Exactly the kind of people I want to spend six weeks locked up with.
That’s not to say the six weeks was all plain sailing for us. While the children and I might share some DNA (and a penchant for hot and spicy Thai noodles), sometimes it felt like that must be all we had in common. I found myself wondering, “Who are these little people, and why are they living here?”. It soon became obvious we would need order – more of a system – if we were to get through lockdown together. Those six or so weeks proved to be great for trying out different family and household management styles (and we went through a few). Here they are.
We’re in this together, #bekind. This is how we started. We had a morning meeting at 9am and decided to make collective daily goals. This lasted until approximately 9:15am on Day One. Some workers didn’t show up to empty the dishwasher, collective leisure activities couldn’t be agreed upon, screen-time resulted in time-outs. Our slow march to Marx was a complete failure. It appears my wife and I have reared headstrong libertarians, more interested in their own wellbeing rather than that of their fellow comrades. Particularly the baby – a total law unto himself.
I don’t even know why we tried this. Four kids, four votes and one screen = Trump every time. It was a good way to introduce some civics to kids though. Of course, the baby gets a vote. “But he doesn’t even know what he’s watching, and he still craps his pants.” Welcome to democracy, boys!
✔ Prison Rules
Power of the body decides everything in the end, and only might is right – the once and future king! Our seven-year-old loved this approach. Find the biggest, baddest bully in the yard, and, well you know how it goes. It’s an attitude of, “I’m not stuck in here with you, you’re stuck in here with me!”. But while I was interested in seeing how this played out, Mum wasn’t having a bar of it.
I thought this may actually have been our natural state, four planets spinning off on their own trajectories. The boys loved the idea of no rules! But it was short-lived; they caved, craving the stability of the system and a judge to decide, a benevolent dictator to hand out treats, order and fairness. It ended up five planets spinning around one star (Mum), her gravitational pull keeping everything in line.
As boring as it is, a mix of everything worked best for us – reverting to the mean, so to speak. A bit of freedom, a bit of the collective, a bit of Prison Rules (“Because I said so, that’s why”), and a bit of democracy. If four of us want lasagne, then that’s what we’re having.
While memories of lockdown might fade into the distant past, rainy stuck-at-home weekends come around every year. So, before you throw in the towel one stormy Saturday in August, remember how you conquered the great lockdown of 2020. And if you did that, you can do anything.
Sam Cummins is a funding and policy manager living in the Bay of Plenty with his wife and four sons. Most of his spare time is spent trying to figure out which of his three older boys is yelling ‘Dad!’ Often it’s all of them, and all at the same time.