We are now well into our second round of lockdown here in Melbourne, with tighter restrictions and The Handmaid’s Tale style permits issued to leave our homes for work.
Our family’s lockdown has been particularly punishing after an educator at our childcare centre tested positive for COVID-19, requiring us all to go into immediate isolation until further notice.
The first few days flowed with ease, thanks to sunny days in the garden and early gin calls. Like chalk and cheese, the following days were filled with bedlam and rebellion, including a near-fatal choking incident (adult), a repudiated COVID test (kid), and a toy hammer taken to the TV, swiftly crushing any hope we had for occasional handsfree parenting.
Adding to this, our youngest child decided this was the ideal time to end his almost flawless sleeping record and begin a new routine of screaming and fighting sleep from 2am onwards.
So, what do you do when the perimeter of your property is the furthest you can go, in a house erupting with sleep-deprived parents and boisterous kids?
Self-care means something different to everyone. It used to mean reality tv and half a day on the couch, but in our current situation - sans television and next to no alone time, it looks more like a carefully negotiated hour of escape to the bedroom - door locked - while the chaos and the war cries hail down on the other side of the door.
Parenting really has to be a shared load, particularly when you’re trying to balance the demands of working from home, the needs of your family and your own mental health. For us, taking turns at a grown up time-out throughout the day has really been key to our sanity, trading off time in the trenches for moments alone to recharge and regroup.
Exercise is also crucial for recharging. Though the luxury of an hour-long yoga class feels like a distant memory now, what has been working well is a family dance off at the same time each day. I’m sure our neighbours are less than thrilled by the repeated blasting of the same songs each afternoon, but it’s an immediate mood booster, burns off anxious energy and helps us to reconnect after a long day punctuated by frayed tempers, limited patience and emotional highs and lows.
While the danceathon is a new addition to our afternoons, maintaining our usual routine with bedtimes, mealtimes and activity times has also helped to provide a sense of stability and control. With a familiar shape of the day, we can work our way through each bracket of time, with manageable expectations.
The lack of control is one of the most challenging parts of mandatory isolation and lockdown, and the stress that builds, knowing there is no reprieve for undetermined period of time can feel very much like burnout. That is why it’s critical that while we’re this predicament, that we find what works for us, what takes us into a different mindset and relieves the pressure, and then be vigilant about applying that every day.
If we don’t take care of our own mental health, the impact on our parenting and our ability to adapt and weather the storm diminishes dramatically. So while we’re frantically filling out our workers permits with kids hanging off our limbs, and grappling with evening curfews here in Melbourne, it’s equally important to carve out that time to breathe, pour that gin and hit play on the family dance off playlist.