Yes, child care means that the days are longer, working hours broken up and scattered between intervals of dinosaur play-acting. It also means there is almost no time alone. One dad I know told me how much he missed his 10-minute wait at the train station, and I immediately understood what he meant. But—and I say this hesitantly—I suspect the lockdown might be proving harder for lots of people without children: for those whose working hours can stretch and blur into their free time, which is all too free, formless and defenseless to the tyranny of Zoom.
Read: It’s okay to be a different kind of parent during a pandemic
We are living through a collective international crisis that is taking people’s lives and livelihoods daily. But the costs are not falling on everyone equally, and for some—like me—there have even been unexpected upsides. The mandatory and universal nature of our confinement has stripped away the one thing that defines our modern, privileged life: choice. But in losing that most basic element of freedom, we have also lost the pressure that comes with it—the pressure to make the most of what you choose. Should I go out or stay in? Is this the best use of my time? Will I offend so-and-so by choosing this rather than that? Confined in my home, I’m not yearning for the best restaurants in London or overseas holidays, but family barbecues and nights in the pub with best friends. The crisis has prompted many to ask big existential questions about their life's purpose. The irony for me is that it has taken losing choice to clarify what I want to choose.
This paradoxical freedom of choicelessness is even stronger for parents. There’s a clean singularity of purpose for a parent in lockdown: Your priorities are clarified. In normal times, weekdays are a blur, and weekends are packed with chores, errands, and social events scheduled long ago. Many days I’ve felt that the only moment of undistracted time with my son is story time before bed, an immovable, unavoidable, simple routine during which distractions are removed, lights dimmed, calm restored—like going to the cinema. My life today is like one long bedtime story.
Read: When parents try to do it all, they do it poorly
For me, and I suspect millions of other parents with toddlers, the space that has opened up in our enforced confinement has been filled with the wistful idealism and gentle humor of Pixar, Judith Kerr, Julia Donaldson, and A. A. Milne. I have found myself searching for classic children’s books to share with my son, rediscovering some I’ve read and unearthing others I haven’t. My wife and I have been drawing up lists of old films to relive through his eyes: The Land Before Time, The Rescuers, Lady and the Tramp (the original, of course). Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks have already been ticked off. The guilt that usually accompanies TV has somehow been reduced because we are watching it together, rather than dumping him in front of it while I read through emails, run a bath, and prepare dinner at the end of the day.