On an average day, how many times do you call someone’s name? If you live with a partner, it might be a fair bit – particularly at weekends, or when you’re worried (read: irked) they’re not listening.
But if you’re a parent or carer living with young children during lockdown – particularly those under the age of 10 – I’m guessing you’re hearing your own name called, shouted and bellowed at least.... well, 567 times a day?
“Mummy!” my eight-year-old will cry. “Can I watch TV?” “Mummy!” my three-year-old will chime in. “Can I have a snack?” “Mummy!” they’ll screech in tandem. “We’re borrrrrrrred!”
Once I’ve stopped repeatedly banging my head against the wall, and taken a huge, deep breath, I’ll respond. After all, if I don’t – if I were to, say, ignore them completely, or take five minutes out in the bathroom with the door locked – the calls for “Mummy” would continue. In fact, they’d only get louder.
Sometimes my kids follow me around the house, throwing “Mummys” at me like they’re feeding tennis balls. “Mummy!” thump. “Mummy?” thump. “Daddy, where’s Mummy?” Thump, thump, thump. I’ve even started wearing noise-cancelling headphones sometimes, just to help me get a moment’s peace. I keep my eye on them, of course, in case they’re really in trouble.
It was this sentiment I wanted to convey when I decided to teach my children – tongue-in-cheek style – about flowcharts.
I devised one quickly, based on the most common request I hear every single day: snacks, and how to get them. I then tweeted it, to share my well-intentioned, somewhat sarcastic cry for help with other parents who I knew would understand.
And while most people understood what I was doing – using humour to express how tough it was, looking after young kids during lockdown – it didn’t go down well with everyone.
“I feel like, ‘are you in danger?’ should be higher up,” one person commented, while another said I was “child-shaming” my kids.
One stay-at-home mum told me the flowchart was “inappropriate, shaming and passive-aggressive”, adding: “This lockdown has shown the amount of people who have kids and then spend all of their time avoiding them.” She added: “It normalises that it’s ok to not respond to children’s needs. It’s not very empathetic to say ‘only bother me if you’re hurt’ to a child, is it?”
As a fellow parent to a toddler the same age as mine, she added that she values her son’s self-esteem “more than to pull tricks like this/find it funny”.
I take these points on the chin, because they’re all correct. We should be responsive to our kids – and not just when they’re in danger. We should try to be empathetic towards them, to recognise their needs and wants and feelings as often as we can. Mea culpa.
But there’s also a case to be made for parents’ feelings, too. Our wants and needs – with due acknowledgment of the fact they’ve been thrown completely out the window as we stay home more this year to keep our families safe during this surreal and unprecedented situation.
As much as we need empathy for our children, we also need empathy for each other and the struggles we’re all facing, parents or not. We need space to vent or breathe (or to write tongue-in-cheek tweets), to help us get through this. What we don’t need is to shame one another for doing whatever we can to keep ourselves sane.
As for the next five minutes? If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the bathroom.