"Arranging our lives during lockdown is a constant work in progress. We have zero outside help and both work full time - I honestly don’t know how we’ve done it for ten months without going completely insane!" - Alison, mum of two
COVID has been interesting in our home life, to say the least! Our employers and colleagues have now seen our worst look. Our hair hasn't seen a pair of scissors in months. Our kitchens are messy, our children are bored and our panicked partners are always interrupting.
We're homeschooling children who just want screentime. And of course, we're getting to know our partners in ways we aren't sure we ever wanted to!
Between 2020 and now 2021, we've never been physically closer - but not always emotionally. And for many of us, this can be a make or break time for our relationships, or at least it can feel like it.
This is where community wisdom makes all the difference. We've gathered some relationship-while-parenting survival tips, taken from the people on the frontline: parents!
Eight tips for sustaining your relationship while parenting in lockdown
1. If you want to be close, you can’t be critical
It's normal to have deep moments of loathing for your partner. If Michelle Obama wanted to throw Barack out a window, it's likely we'll have similar feelings!
Whether your other half talks loudly on Zoom, never cleans up, is useless at homeschooling or just breathes too loudly at night - irritation is normal. Differences and inconsistencies in parenting approaches are also unavoidable. It can be terribly difficult to like your parter when you don't agree with their parenting.
However, try and recognise some of these feelings and thoughts as symptoms of lockdown stress, rather than believing every thought you have. Remember that criticism rarely works. Even if your internal dialogue is critical, try and avoid words when talking to your partner like 'you do 'and rather stick to 'I feel'. Try to be patient and generous in your communication.
If you feel overwhelmed let your partner know that you need a few minutes space rather than storming off or shutting down. Try to work it through later when everyone is calmer and it's easier to focus on one thing.
2. Agree a shift structure with your partner
Whereas pre-lockdown there were clear roles at home, couples are now living in one another's pockets and trying to make up who does what, when, around changing daily priorities.
For Alison, bedtime shifts have made a difference to her and her husband.
"One thing that has saved my sanity is switching off for bedtime duty: one night it’s my turn, the next my husband’s. Those nights off feel like a mini vacation! I also think the concept of self-care has never been more important. Most evenings, I run the kids a bubble bath with Epsom salts, but I get in before they do and shut the door for 15 minutes of alone time."
Michael and his wife have found a way to stay sane that works for them.
"It’s been mental! Juggling our meetings around each other, early starts to get a bit done and then some late nights to catch up. We've found quiet time after lunch, where the kids nap or entertain themselves, is a good time to get some work done."
3. Show gratitude to your partner
Do it, even on the days you're not not feeling grateful. It makes a huge difference in your relationship to show affection and support to your partner, for the little things in the day. It doesn't have to be over the top - simple acknowledgements, for so-called ordinary actions, will validate and uplift them.
When we're stressed it's so hard to feel grateful, but at both a mood and neuroscientific level, it makes a massive difference.
A major study discovered that simple actions such as saying thank you (for something like handling a child's tantrum) or bringing your partner a cup of tea forms part of the foundation of long term relationship success. If you're really pushing the boat out, tell your partner every day at least one thing they've done you're grateful for. Or, just a well done!
4. Encourage your partner to talk and share, without interruption
When you’re around your partner all day, it's easy to spend all talking time on work, COVID and kids.
Although our jobs are important, and income even more so during a pandemic recession, it's also vital to talk about things that aren't work, or our children. Lighthearted topics, new ideas, sharing about things we'd love to try in the future are just as relevant to talk about.
Approach your partner as a whole person, not simply your co-parent during an awful pandemic. This will help you to feel connected beyond the day to day dross of parenting.
Try and bring curiosity about your partner's feelings, experiences and fears into conversations daily. Ask them what their specific fears and worries are, what they're proud of, how you can better support them. Take one another seriously and come up with plans to support each other on both a practical and emotional level as much as possible.
If you don't have this kind of relationship, just make it a practice during the pandemic to ask your partner how they are, and be present with them when they answer. It might not seem it outwardly, but it really makes a difference.
5. Speak to your employer about flexible hours
Alecia, mum of two, has been upfront with her workplace to manage expectations.
"I think employers need to be a lot more understanding and flexible, so that parents feel comfortable not being able to (for example) take a call at a certain time. In my work diary I've been really open and honest about juggling work and parenting, blocking out times like lunch with a note that I need to feed my child. This helps colleagues know not to book calls.”
Michael echoes this. He works at an early years parenting app, and with his wife, is raising two young children.
"What’s helped us is giving the kids as clear a structure as possible. It helps alleviate some of their stress which in turn smooths handovers and activity changes. I’ve found it helpful being clear with my manager about what I’m doing - they have been really understanding, and it has helped me not feel like I’m skiving."
6. Make teamwork a goal
You're both in this together. Whether one of you earns more, does more chores, is the one getting up in the night, or the one who has just lost a family member to Covid. You're the team who chose one another, and there isn't competition in this - even if some days it may feel like it.
Suleiman, whose work commitments differ to his those of his wife, is still involved with daily parenting.
"I work full time while my wife does online teaching on a part time/ad-hoc basis. So, this means, she naturally does most of the childcare tasks, like bathtime, feeding and homeschooling.
I take regular breaks to check on them - and play with the kids - and we have meals together. I also communicate clearly to them what’s going on and why I’m always in a room with the door shut. I think they understand that I’m working."
The goal of teamwork is not necessarily a perfect chore and parenting split. It's about you and your partner figuring out what's feasible, and divvying out the load based on one another's needs. This is flexible and should be a work in progress, not a job description!
Alison has found boundaries important in her new set-up. "My husband and I are a good team, and still enjoy each other’s company despite spending 24/7 together. We have zero outside help and both work full-time.
What's been important for us is putting gentle boundaries in to keep us this way. For example, at night before going to sleep, I don’t want to get into any deep discussions. Those need to wait for when I’m not tired - I need ten minutes to read my book in peace!"
7. Take the pressure off
It's very tough to pack in home schooling, self-care, our jobs, housework and raising kids - never mind our relationship. And as parents, all we are feeling is pressure! This makes it even more important to tell ourselves to stop, and let things be, even if for five minutes.
There is no way we will know right now if our children will be better or worse for being left to their own devices, or spending hours with an online teacher. We don't know if our home environment is good enough. Or if we're good enough - which most days, many of us don't think we are!
The only option is to do our best, and take the pressure off.
As Alison says: "My kids are watching more tv than before, but I’m working on not getting overly stressed about it. If it gives me an hour to do a work call or make dinner, I’ll take it!"
Suleiman's advice to other parents echoes this. "Accept the new reality and plan as if it’s going to last forever. Keep your kids engaged with creative tasks like building blocks, puzzles, drawing and so on. And let them watch TV longer than they would have pre-lockdown."
8. Take alone time
Ironically, our alone time is only made possible through our partners.
Which means being upfront with one another about a life-giving activity you need to stay afloat at home. Whether it's scrolling on Instagram, playing computer games, going for a run or having a bath, it's important to give one another the gift of solitude.
Alecia agrees. "This lockdown I'm on maternity leave, so I look after (our second) baby. My unwritten agreement with my husband is 8-9am where he takes our newborn while dropping off our three year old at nursery. In that time I can shower, do pilates, or simply be alone."
Suddenly becoming responsible for your needs 24/7 with little support is a huge mental adjustment - for both you and your partner. Childcare, a work schedule of your own and numerous other daily chores can make life feel more chaotic than calm.
It’s therefore vital you’re gentle with yourself. Taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for your children. On days when it all seems unmanageable, and you want to head for the door with packed bags, just remember: being good enough, is good enough.
Get Lockdown Support With EasyPeasy
Looking for tips, expert advice and playful games to help you through lockdown? We've got you covered with the EasyPeasy parenting app!
Created to support the parents of 0 to 5 year olds, EasyPeasy is full of tips and ideas to keep your little one busy. You can expect practical advice, playful games and more to help you connect with your child.
Plus, there’s extra content from partners Scouts, LEGO and NCT, and you can share your own tips through the new parent community sharing feature!
Click below to head to to the app store!