The pandemic has been hard on everyone. But there is one group of people who are challenged each and every day, drowning in guilt and desperately needing a break. Their heroic efforts must be recognized.
Please, a moment of acknowledgment for: the parents of only children.
No one experienced a quarantine with a child quite like the parents of those children with no siblings. No built in playmates or distractors.
The KK household is unique in that three only children live here. And each of us had a different reaction to being home with each other 24/7 for months on end:
Mr. KK: “This is great! I love all this family time!”
Me: ((thinking to self: where in this house can I hide to be alone?))
Little Mister: “Can you play with me? I’m bored.”
Starting in March, the Little Mister left his daycare one day and just never returned. All of a sudden he went from spending every day with other kids, playing and learning, to spending all day with two (boring) parents who were trying to work full time, simultaneously feeling guilty for not playing with their child. Super fun times.
On top of being stuck at home, we don’t live in a “neighborhood”. Our house is on a main road, and while we live down a very long driveway with a secluded yard, our neighbors consist of (also boring) married 50 somethings, not exactly exciting for a 5 year old. So the Little Mister’s playmates because Mom and Dad by default. So while working all day long, Mr. KK and I were juggling entertaining the Little Mister while keeping our sanity (and our jobs).
At first, we tried to keep Little Mister on a schedule, because – after all – one day he’d be going back to daycare and would need that routine. After a few days of pulling a kid out of bed against his will (I was finding it hard to answer the question, “Why do I have to get up? Where are we going?”) we made the decision to let him sleep as late as he wanted to. I know for some kids that would mean 6am – maybe 6:30am – wake ups. But our kid was a sleeper, so some days we wouldn’t see his little bed head emerge until 9 or 10am. This little plan accomplished two polar opposite things: 1. Mr. KK and I had quiet time in the morning to get a jump start on work, so we felt less guilty about needed to break or an hour in the day to play with Little Mister and 2. It was near impossible to get Little Mister to be at a decent hour because he was getting up late and not exerting enough energy in the day to be tired. (Hilariously, Mr. KK and I were exhausted by 8pm every day, so there were night when we all went to bed at the same time, and 99% of the time I was the first one asleep in the house).
Playing with neighbor kids wasn’t an option, and neither was playing with friends. I had us on lockdown, and I knew exactly where we were going (nowhere) and doing (nothing). I didn’t have those same details for friends of ours. So with no other choice, we found ourselves with fluid work schedules (and understanding employers): squeeze as much work in as possible while also playing Octonauts and Paw Patrol.
And while there were some days that we were both so busy at work that it had to be a “movie day”, the last thing we wanted was for that to become the norm. It was time to get creative, and give Little Mister things to look forward to.
Indoor camping. We moved the furniture, blew up the air mattress, popped in a movie and made deconstructed s’mores (a ramekin parfait of crumbled graham crackers, a spoonful of Fluff and a drizzle of hot fudge, topped with more crumbled graham crackers). Mr. KK was a trooper and slept on the air mattress with Little Mister. The first camping night I slept on the couch. Subsequent camping nights I snuck off to my bed.
Outdoor movies. The patio that Mr. KK built last year was our refuge this year. We’d set up comfy seating, pop some popcorn and wait until the sun went down to turn on our favorite movies. Disney+ was a godsend during these crazy times.
Scavenger hunts. Little Mister loved these! Hand drawn pictures (because we couldn’t read yet!) made it easy to explore the yard and find everything.
Swimming. Thank goodness it was summer and that both sets of parents have pools. This was going to be the year we hired a private swim teacher, but, oh well. There’s always next year. (The 2020 Mantra)
Drawing and stickers. Being a lefty, Little Mister wasn’t a super confident colorer or drawer. That changed this summer. I would draw a “scene” for him and he’d decorate it with stickers and then spend hours using his imagination playing with them. Or, I’d draw characters from his favorite show and we’d color them and cut them out and play with them. I’m waiting to be recruited by Disney for my mad drawings of Simba and Mufasa to illustrate the next Lion King sequel.
Being home with an only child the last 8 months has been hard. I unrealistically thought I could be an amazing employee and an amazing mother; however, I quickly found out that on most days I felt like I was half-assing both jobs.
I learned that I can’t be everything to everyone, all the time. I learned that it’s ok to be human. I learned that kids (well, my kid) remembers staying in and baking cookies with me more than he remembers family outings. I learned that sometimes it’s going to be a movie marathon day, and that’s ok. I learned that I am horrible at playing Batman, but I’m a really great at making up stories and imagination games.
I learned that even when I felt I was failing, I was succeeding in Little Mister’s eyes. And most of all, I learned that I needed to give myself a break.
2 thoughts on “Parenting an Only Child During a Pandemic”
It sounds like you did a fantastic job during this super weird year. Your son will probably have fond memories of indoor camping and outdoor movie nights. I am also the mom of an only child, and it is draining to be around someone who wants to have a play buddy all day. This was one of the major reasons why we ultimately made the decision to send our kindergartener to school. We had spent every moment of every day together for six months. As an introvert, this was super hard. Sure, I didn’t mind being at home – but my husband and my kid were ALWAYS there, too! It’s hard to find time to recharge.
Seriously resonate with the whole half assing working and being a mom thing this year!!! Struggle is real!!