Lockdowns, silver linings & life lessons
Carly Thomson talks to Jo Batts, a family coach from Parenting Place, about lockdown’s silver linings and life lessons.
Last year, life as we knew it drastically changed. An invisible force shut down our borders and economy, and cleared our diaries in an instant. The hustle and bustle of daily life all but evaporated as New Zealand’s Covid-19 alert level four lockdown restrictions forced everyone to stay at home. It was a surreal and unsettling time that many of us are still processing, and given that Covid doesn’t just disappear, the thought of level four restrictions being reinforced can be quite worrying.
For some families, level four lockdown was the holiday they had always dreamed of, but for others it was a nightmare. Jo Batts, a family coach from Parenting Place, believes several factors influenced the vast range of family lockdown experiences, including finances, relationship dynamics and employment. For some families under pressure, lockdown was the last straw, but at the other end of the scale were families surprised by how much they enjoyed (and even relished!) the restrictions.
My own whānau experience fell somewhere in the middle. Those weeks were a rollercoaster for us, with good days and bad days, but I was genuinely surprised at the many joyful and contented moments we had together.
Less is more
“The mental load was lifted”, says Jo, when I asked her why some families seemed to enjoy it so much. “All the bits and pieces that take up our mental energy were taken off the table so we could focus on what was in front of us: our whānau.” She believes it was a unique opportunity for families to re-group. “Lockdown taught us that less is more. We realised that life-giving energy comes from ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’, and it was surprising how enjoyable that was.”
I have always loved the idea of the slow parenting movement, where you intentionally choose not to fill your children’s lives with endless entertainment and activity. But for me, it took a global pandemic and enforced lockdown to truly embrace a slower way of life (even if just for a season!). And the proof is in the pudding: a slower life equals happier kids. It’s a known fact that many parents believe their kids were happier during lockdown. They didn’t see their friends, play sport or even visit the local playground (all those things we thought made them happy). Yet, they were more content even though they were doing less.
Time = love
Jo believes our consumerist culture has become obsessed with productivity – not just in our own lives, but in the lives of our children as well. “Our kids don’t need after-school activities every day. Downtime and unstructured play actually goes further in filling children’s tanks than rushing them around from activity to activity.” The constant rush is triggering for many families says Jo, but during lockdown the rush was replaced with quality time with the most important people in a child’s world: their parents. As the saying goes, kids spell love ‘T-I-M-E’, and according to Jo, there is no substitute for a parent’s time. “During lockdown, even if they were working from home most parents were visible and within easy reach, so their families felt more settled.”
Jo claims the lockdown restrictions raised awareness for many parents as to what our tamariki actually need to live a happy life. “Kids don’t need as much as we thought they did and that’s incredibly refreshing to know. A simple life is a good life.” We couldn’t just nip down to Kmart to buy the latest gadget to keep the boredom at bay. Instead, we utilised what was in front of us. In my bubble, cardboard boxes that are usually thrown out were transformed into toy ovens and aeroplanes for my three-year-old son. Lockdown turned me into the crafty mum I had always aspired to be (although nothing ever quite made it to Pinterest standards!). This newfound resourcefulness resulted in a common silver lining: the money families managed to save during lockdown. “Families saved money on petrol, shopping and all the ‘doing’ ”, says Jo. “They made do with what was in front of them. It was empowering.”
Like an Olympic sprinter out of the blocks, “We sprang out of lockdown and said, ‘Right, where were we?’” says Jo. She believes now is not the time for families to make major lifestyle changes; instead we should learn how to cope in the new ‘Covid climate’. “Most of the parents I see are still scrambling,” she explains. “We’re nowhere near making the lifestyle changes we might have dreamed about during level four lockdown. The longer, deeper, more intentional life changes will take a while to work out.”
Admittedly, I breathed a sigh of relief when Jo said that. I was reminded of Jacinda Ardern’s message to ‘Be kind’ during the height of the pandemic. We still need to be kind to ourselves. We went through an intense experience and many of us are facing financial uncertainty because of it (not to mention the fact that there’s still a global pandemic going on and NZ’s alert levels are subject to change!). It’s been a huge year and we’re exhausted. Now is the time to make smaller, more achievable changes, which will look different for every family. You might decide to simplify childcare arrangements, turn down a play date or extracurricular activity, or take a family walk instead of going to the mall. Those small changes cannot be underestimated and may even add up to the lifestyle shift you’re hoping to achieve.
Our world doesn’t stop moving, and unless we cart our families to the middle of nowhere to live off-the-grid, that fact won’t change anytime soon. But despite our fast-paced, productivity obsessed world, we do have the ability to create an intentional and sustainable life; we just need to take it one small step at a time – and to do it when we’re ready. Jo sums it up with this empowering message: “We can be more intentional than we think we can. We have more control over how we spend our money, our time and our resources than we think we do. If the level four lockdown restrictions can teach us anything, it’s that we don’t need to have it all or be it all to be happy.”
And neither do our kids.
Carly Thomson recently left the hectic world of event management to become a freelance writer. Although she’s happy level four lockdown is over, she misses the quiet streets and daily bear hunts with her two young boys.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 51 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW