Please Stop Telling Me I Should Be Grateful For This Time With My Family

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With more and more frequency, I hear someone remark – whether it’s from a well-intentioned friend or in an Instagram caption between posts of homemade bread and TikTok dance routines – about how we should be grateful for this time at home. How it’s an unexpected gift that forces us to slow down, gain perspective, and take stock of what matters most.

That, unfortunately, is utter absurdity.

If you are grateful for this time, that’s wonderful. But do not tell me I need to be grateful for it, too.

Because I’m not.

If you are grateful for this time, that’s wonderful. But do not tell me I need to be grateful for it, too.

Yes, of course, I’m grateful for my family, and that we are healthy and safe and together. As hard as it is to cope with our very full house these days, I can’t imagine going through this in total isolation. And as trying as it is for my husband and I to maintain our full-time jobs while jury-rigging homeschooling for our 5-year-old and a day care for our 3-year-old, it’s a privilege that we can work from home and stay with our children.

That all being said, I’d like to repeat: I’m not grateful for this time.

I’m not grateful that I’ve had to loosen my grip on nearly every parenting philosophy I’ve struggled for years to hone. I’m not grateful for the extra hour (or hours) of screen time each day, for using sugary snacks as a distraction when they refuse their plate of carrots and hummus, for letting “free play” turn into couch-jumping wrestling matches that inevitably end in tears. I’m not grateful for allowing marital arguments to take place in plain view because there’s nowhere else to go and no better time for which to wait.

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I’m not grateful for having to start my workday at 6:45 a.m. so that I can tell my coworkers I’m “with the kiddos” two hours later when my husband has to prep for his daily 9 a.m. meeting. I’m not grateful that I’m scrolling through Slack conversations while on a neighborhood walk with my children, and that I’m pulling stats for a report at the dinner table. I’m not grateful that – despite working for a company that offers flexibility – I’m drowning in deadlines I’ll inevitably miss and starting email drafts I’ll never send.

They’ve told us to focus on what really matters. But our attention has never been more divided.

I’m not grateful that my homeschooling shifts are fraught with tension – that I’m hurrying my kids through every single activity because of the relentless ping-pong game that is my husband’s and my work schedules, in which we each only get 45-minute or 90-minute chunks at a time to start a craft project or work on a reading puzzle or build a marble run.

I’m not grateful for the long days or my short fuse. I’m not grateful that at 11:15 p.m., once the kids are asleep and the laundry’s collecting wrinkles in the dryer and the dishes fill the sink and the floors are still sticky from the morning’s spilled syrup, I’m left with the unsatisfying choice of either going to sleep and letting the day’s unfinished business spill into the next or keeping my eyes open for another hour so that I can savor the few precious moments that are mine alone.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I’ve had countless conversations with parents who are struggling, not to find balance, but to find anything short of gross instability in their lives. One parent desperately and futilely researched the FMLA’s COVID-19-specific benefits to see if there was a way to take a leave of absence to care for her young kids. Another mom noticed how, with each passing shelter-in-place day, her employer inched back to its normal expectations of efficiency, as if these past three weeks were just a form of onboarding for a new, more challenging role. A fellow parent negotiated working shorter days, but working seven of them in a row – because that felt more sustainable to her in the long run. And still another planned to use a chunk of her paid vacation time to recharge only to realize after one day off that there was no break from this.

It’d be foolish to forget that these perspectives are among the most privileged – those with two parents sharing the burden without being forced to work outside their home, without fear of missing paychecks or health benefits. If it’s this hard for us, what options are there for those who don’t have such security?

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I’ve heard people tell us – via social media and well-intentioned FaceTime pep talks – to lighten up. To loosen our grip. But spontaneity is unsustainable, and we’re already grasping at the fraying threads of normalcy – of “routine” – as it is.

They’ve told us to slow down. But, in order for us to provide this idealized “simpler existence” for our families, we’re having to work at breakneck speeds to sustain it.

They’ve told us to focus on what really matters. But our attention has never been more divided.

Again, I love my family. I’m grateful for them. I love my job, and I’ve never been more grateful to have it. But in no world will I ever be thankful for having to pit the two against each other so cavalierly.

If anyone needs to take stock of what matters, it’s those who think we should all see this time as an opportunity – as a chance to gain something. For many of us, this time will spread us so thin, we’ll barely recognize ourselves as it passes us by.

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