As a dad, 2020 made me incredibly thankful for what I’ve got & what I can control

School’s out, the kids are back home, Christmas is only days away. Where did the year go? With the kids yelling in the background and the news about what’s happening in Sydney, I’m having feelings of PTSD.  With a bit of perspective though, I know this will pass. After Melbourne’s lockdown where I spent four months locked at home with the kids, limited to a single hour of outdoor exercise and one necessary trip, I’m probably feeling less apprehensive about the Summer holidays than I otherwise would.

2020 has made me incredibly thankful for what I’ve got, for what I can control, and for all the other small blessings I’d taken for granted. Above all else, this past year has taught me gratitude. I was mistaken to think that merely having taken parental leave for each of my kids had fully prepared me for what was to come.

In hindsight, attempting to maintain a full workload while squeezing in half a school day (my wife and I tried sharing) was probably optimistic, if not foolish. Without our usual support arrangements, keeping our three young kids (8, 5, and 2) on track with their schooling and out of the cupboards proved more difficult than it looked in our calendars. Looking back at it all now that the post-hibernation shyness has worn off, there’s a certain nostalgia for simpler times when we didn’t have to worry about who was dropping off or picking up the kids, or what we would be doing on the weekend.

Parenting in 2020 has undoubtedly brought me closer with my kids. For much of the year, outside social interactions were limited to Teams or our local barista. Life had been stripped of all but a few distractions, leaving me with what I notionally knew was most important but hadn’t been prioritising.

Thinking back over the year on how much my youngest’s bedtime routine has changed, from having him sit on my lap while I read to him before going to his cot, to falling asleep on my shoulder while laying on the bed. Over the years, there have been many ‘last times’ that have passed unrecognised. Having the luxury of slowing down and realising in the moment what was ending and wouldn’t come again was precious.

It’s easy to focus on and remember the ‘big’ milestones, first steps, first words. We tend not to recognise those other ‘little’ things, those more incremental in nature such as going from a few words to sentences, from walking to running. Reflecting on how much each of my kids have grown these past nine months, I notice how much I have too. After gratitude, my second greatest learning has been to be adaptive and resilient.

Through the constant daily battle in managing my diary and attempting to home school my eldest two while trying to minimise the disruption of the third, I’ve discovered how to be more accepting of not only others but also of myself. You can never be everything to everyone and sometimes that means showing vulnerability. It may mean admitting you need help. And sometimes, you just need a hug from a little one to put everything in perspective.

Considering what I know others have been through, I count myself extremely fortunate and while at the time I felt most days were a struggle, I can now see how rewarding they truly were. I am a far more confident carer than I was before and far more cognisant of the importance in being truly present when with my children. Hopefully, in the years to come, my family and I will look back on 2020 and recognise it as a turning point which bound us closer together.

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12 thoughts on “As a dad, 2020 made me incredibly thankful for what I’ve got & what I can control

  1. Solidarity, Mark! I too have kids aged 2, 5 and 6 years, and agree that in hindsight, the 4 month lockdown in Melbourne was a blessing in disguise. While the juggle of work/life was a real challenge at the time, I now feel our family unit has grown closer. Also on the plus side, I really appreciate the flexibility, understanding and support that I received from my colleagues throughout the year. Despite the social distancing and working from home, I feel a lot closer to my family, friends and colleagues. Thanks for your story – it’s great to read your perspective and the positives arising from a very unusual year!

  2. Hi Mark – we haven’t spoken for a while, but it was great to read this from the UK and see that things are working out OK for you. We’ve had very similar experiences over here – in fact, I’m tapping this out whilst sitting opposite my own 13yr old because his school is closed for another two weeks. Luckily, he doesn’t need the constant input a toddler does (although, to echo a previous comment – I do still have to tell him not to bounce balls indoors!) Anyway – good to see that you have a human side buried deep inside that beard!

  3. Great reflection Mark. A memory that captures the essence of lockdown working-from-home for me was watching you pause mid-video call to explain to your daughter off-screen, very patiently and kindly, that bouncing that ball right next to you made it difficult to hear the conversation, then slip seamlessly back into discussing whatever complex technology risk conversation we were having (I admit that that aspect has been erased from my memory). I thought to myself: “now THAT’S multi-tasking.” It may not be efficient (they keep telling us), but it’s unavoidable, especially with kids. And as you point out, 2020 has helped or even forced us to reveal more of our non-work selves to our colleagues, and I think relationships are strengthened as a result.

  4. Wonderful story Mark. thanks for sharing and this is a great reminder for us all to keep things in perspective. I am sure you have provided much food for thought as we turn our mind to some different New Year resolutions for 2021

  5. Great article, Mark. Despite all the challenges, you nailed 2020!

    In the rush of life, we do miss those ‘last times’. I was reminded once that one day you’ll pick up your child, put them down, and then you’ll never pick them up again because they’ll have got too big – and you’ll never know when that last time was until it has long since passed and you probably won’t remember it anyway. I found that quite sad, so to delay that time I’m now struggling to carry a 12 year old around that’s nearly as big as me!

  6. As a fellow Melbournian, I can completely relate to this piece and could not have expressed it any better. Trying to work and home school at the same time for a lengthy period together with the tough imposed restrictions wasn’t easy. But I too became more resilient and open to change. The latest Sydney news has upended our plans to host family here in Melbourne and cancelled our planned trip to reunite with family back in Sydney. This is perhaps the most fitting end to 2020! I don’t know when I will next be able to see my parents in Canada or my brother in the US but I have focussed instead on getting good use of Facetime to connect and have deep honest conversations until we meet again. This ‘forced’ opportunity to slow down and spend more time with my kids has left me truly grateful for all that I already have. Thank you for sharing your story Mark, Jen

  7. This really resonated with me Mark as a fellow Melbournian that attempted to work and home school kids. I could not have expressed this any better! I too have learned how to be more resilient and cope with change. The latest news from Sydney that has turned my Christmas plans upside down and forced a cancellation of our trip to Sydney to reunite with family – has been met with quiet acceptance of a fitting end to the year. Not knowing when I will next be able to see my parents in Canada or my brother in America has resulted in me reaching out more via Skype/Teams/Facetime, checking in more and having deeper more honest conversations until we can reunite once again. I am ending the year with gratitude for the ‘forced’ opportunity to slow down, connect with my kids and appreciate all the we have. Thank you for sharing your experience so beautifully! Jen

  8. Thanks for sharing Mark. This is a lovely read to close out the year and reflective of what so many of us have come to realise this year. Hats off to all of you in Melbourne that had to do the hard slog – you are all heroes in my eyes. But what an opportunity for families to bond. Wishing you a very merry Christmas.

  9. A beautiful piece – thanks for sharing.

    Albeit being Sydney-based and not suffering through the toils of the Melbourne extended lockdown, many parts of your piece resonated strongly with me. 2020 had plenty of magic moments for me spending 16 weeks on paternity leave as primary carer prior to my then 1-year old daughter starting at daycare. My biggest learning from 2020 was learning how to live in the moment and cherishing every second of those moments.

  10. Just a fantastic and moving insight – thank you Mark. It’s really lovely and inspiring to read this and hear of the special ‘small’ moments shared. During reflective moments during COVID, I have been remembering the times in my own childhood when my parents spent time reading aloud to me, helping with homework or celebrating a drawing. Plus the photos are so full of life. Thank you very much for this heartfelt piece.

  11. Gorgeous sentiments Mark. Appreciate how hard it’s been for those with little people in Melbourne this year – yet you were always able to laugh and share your latest tale of mayhem with us! So important to pause and reflect on this year and every best wish for our Sydney and NSW crew

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