Recently, I read an article on the Student Blog from one of my fellow students. The title reminded me of a book by the incredible Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera. So, when the opportunity of writing for Father’s Day presented itself, I wanted to talk about parenting in the time of a pandemic.
There are lots of good things about the new masculinity: we can finally embrace our sensibility, doing more than just working all day and bringing money home. From discussions I have with my father and father-in-law, this is a real improvement (they regret missing all these years). In our modern world, for most parents, life is structured around the working day, where you have to prepare your children for school in the morning and take care of them for a few hours before they get to sleep. Then comes the weekend, when you have time and energy to take it easy and enjoy parenting.
However, the current pandemic has added a new challenge for most of us: the COVID crisis forced us to work from home (with an extra workload in most cases) and take care of our kids. I discovered the huge difference between having moments with your child during weekends or holidays and taking care of them all day while working from home. And I count myself among the lucky ones: I have not been sick from the virus, nor have I lost my job.
This has been a roller coaster and I confess that I didn’t manage the first weeks as well as I wanted. I let all the problems of work come between me and enjoying having much more time with my son.
But now, with the help of my wife and of stoic philosophy, I take the time to enjoy every moment with him. It is amazing how quickly he learns, like a sponge he absorbs every word, gesture, routine and facial expression. This has made me realise that kids and adults learn in much the same way, which may be encoded in our genes.
Many parents will agree with me that their kids go through these phases:
The discovery: when he discovers a new game, song, person, you can see sparks in his eyes, and he hardly blinks. I remember reading Thucydides’ The History for one of my courses. It was so hard to stop reading!
The focused observation: once the first phase was over, he would stop and focus on the new thing and become a sponge. He would absorb every bit of information he could, repeating the observation again and again. It reminds me of being a student - reading the materials, selecting ideas and trying to rephrase them. My father (a professor) used to say: the best student is the one who enters the classroom telling themselves they know nothing.
The repetition – now is the time to give back: he tries to repeat what he learned, making fun sounds, weird movements, observing our reactions and trying to adjust accordingly. This mirrors the time when I introduce the information/theories I studied in my day-to-day conversation, during work or with the family, commenting on the news, doing the activities in the study guide etc.
Mastering the thing – when he tries to make things of his own, mix new discoveries with older ones, tries to make some original sounds or gestures. As a student, this is similar to the time when you are engaging in a critique of the reading material, debating with famous philosophers, economists.
I tell myself that for parenting, the same principles as being a student apply, except that no one ever gave us a book to learn it, and these are hard times. So my message to all parents (and students!) out there: don’t put too much pressure on yourself, do your best and remember to enjoy it as much as you can. This will eventually be behind us and we will all be reunited again.
To all fathers out there: cheers and Happy Father’s Day!
Charif is studying Politics and International Relations, based in France.