It’s difficult to establish and maintain boundaries during quarantine, when parenting and work responsibilities blur together.
I’m not alone, am I?
Before quarantine began, I worked from home as a writer. I dropped my kids off at school, then came home and settled in at the table with my coffee and breakfast. I focused in a silent house for hours upon hours, drafting and editing and doing other writing-related tasks.
When my children got home, I stopped writing. The computer went away and got to work with snacks, homework, dinner, and other activities.
Now that we’ve been quarantined for four entire months, the only thing that hasn’t changed is that, somehow, I’m still expected to do any level of work while at home. My writing has to fit itself into slots between mealtimes, slime-making, board games, and various other kid needs.
Sometimes, I’ll be cleaning the perpetually dirty kitchen and suddenly realize the kids are occupied. They’ve disappeared outside to ride bikes in the street, or downstairs to build a fort, or to the dining room to do an art project together. I’ll dry my hands, scurry over to my computer, and open it to tap out a few lines. I have to sneak moments like this, because I’m never sure when I’ll be interrupted again. There’s never a start, and there’s never an end.
I have no boundaries during quarantine. They’ve gradually dissolved until there’s basically nothing left. My work and my thoughts are endlessly fractured. Even as I write this, I’m counseling my nine-year-old on how to clean up poop while she takes the dog for a walk and watching my seven-year-old to be sure she doesn’t ruin the dining room or her clothing with the dozen cans of slime she’s playing with. At any moment my husband will be asking me about the grocery list.
I’ve got to be vigilant in a way I didn’t have to before and it’s taking a toll.
I’m not as nice. I don’t smile as much. I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything at all. I don’t feel good about myself. Not as a writer, not as a partner, and certainly not as a parent. I comfort myself by doing the things I thought I’d stopped doing, like eating too much of things I shouldn’t be eating at all.
It’s getting old to keep saying “When things get back to normal, it will be easier.” Because I am becoming increasingly doubtful things will ever go back to the normal we were used to before. Which gives me an entirely different kind of anxiety, wondering how many years will pass with my having to sneak minutes here and there before my kids are old enough to take care of themselves so I can truly dedicate myself to my work without being interrupted every four seconds.
I’m working on developing coping strategies. I’m implementing “Don’t talk to me time,” during which I can work without being interrupted…kind of. Because I still have to work in the same place where everyone is, which is distracting in itself. I’m advocating for dedicated work time in the evenings and on the weekends. Not that it’s ideal for me to be working at those times, but at least if I know I’ll have some dedicated time I can relax a little during the day and not be a complete ass to the people around me.
I’d love to know what tips other parents have to compartmentalize your day during this unprecedented time. Share how you set and hold boundaries during quarantine in the comment section, and maybe we can learn from and support one another.
Until next time.