Every night after bedtime a deep sense of peace falls over the house. The children sleep soundly and my husband and I process the day. We can breathe and, slowly, we start to believe that we can keep going.
Like most parents, we never expected to become the sole caregivers of our children. Prior to the pandemic, we relied on a network of dedicated, loving child care professionals whose important work allowed us to pursue our professional and personal goals with efficiency, focus, and ease.
When the first shelter-in-place orders were issued, we lost all hope of being able to send our children to school or engage in-home care. Like so many other women, I put my professional life on hold in order to turn my focus to the well-being of our children. I love our son and daughter in a way that words can’t describe and I’m grateful that we are able to live comfortably on my husband’s income. But, I have to acknowledge that I resent being thrust into the role of our family’s full-time domestic specialist.
In Ariana Huffington’s article about the US care crisis, she got it 100% right when she said that “the burden of child care doesn’t fall equally on mothers and fathers.” My husband, whose love and support has carried me through the year, makes every possible effort to create a semblance of equity in our home – taking on child care and housekeeping duties whenever possible so that I can attempt to gain traction in my career. His efforts are superhuman, yet do not come anywhere close to a 50/50 split.
In July, after our new reality had settled in, we noticed that our home was starting to unravel. The kids were starting to misbehave in small, but significant ways, we felt tired all the time, and we became aware that we no longer had a peaceful home.
One evening, after a raucous bedtime that left both of us feeling frayed, we sat down and talked about what had shifted. We observed that we were both feeling an array of strong emotions including fear, disappointment, boredom, resentment, stress, sadness, frustration, and helplessness. We also noted that our children were mimicking every single one of our emotions at toddler-intensity and the misbehavior we were struggling with bore a striking resemblance to our worst parenting fails.
We needed a reset button. First, we created a framework for our day, implementing block scheduling for everyone. And, while that framework has proven to be an essential move, we felt that we needed something more; A ritual to help us all put the day to bed and become more open to the possibilities of tomorrow. Neither of us had any idea what that might look like, until we remembered a moment from the last holiday we took before Covid-19.
We were in Banff, AB staying at a cozy mountain lodge. Our room had a wood-burning fireplace and every evening, my husband would make a fire, I would nurse our daughter, and my husband would read to my son as we gazed at the flames. The fire was mesmerizing and we all slipped easily into a deep sleep; the cold without and the warmth within.
This was what we needed. I had natural beeswax pillar candles and a beautiful, old-fashioned snuffer delivered via the fastest shipping method possible and our new evening ritual was born.
Now, every night after bath-time, we turn off all the lights, speak quietly, and move slowly. The children rock in the quiet chair while we prepare warm milk with vanilla and nutmeg and bowls of thick greek yogurt draped in honey. The children eat their evening snack while we read a calm, evening story. Then we sing our evening blessing, the children snuff the candles, we calmly finish our self-care routine in the bathroom, and walk slowly to the bedroom humming a lullaby.
Reflecting on the comfort that our daily rhythm and evening ritual have brought to our lives over the past six months, I feel grateful for the many opportunities we’ve had to grow as parents throughout the past year. It has not been easy and we still struggle, but the routines that we’ve learned have provided us with much needed relief and the skills we’ve learned will serve us for years to come.