It goes without saying that the last year has been pretty bleak. It has been hard on the kids, and hard on me, but the one who truly bore the brunt of it all was my wife.
Isolated from friends and family, she found herself locked into an endless repetitive grind of homeschooling, home-making, cooking, cleaning, and generally crumbling into a heap at the end of the day. Something had to give — either she found some space for herself, something that was just for her, or she would snap.
Somehow over the years she had given up on her hobbies and interests as the role of parent swelled out like The Blob, consuming all of her passions, time, and energy. I think this is a not uncommon situation for mothers that they find themselves with little or no space for themselves — before you become a parent you assume that this will be the most fulfilling thing you ever do, that this is your life’s work and that to retain things that solely bring joy to you are somehow selfish. The last 12 months has shown that this is not the case.
Perhaps there are some people out there who only want to parent, and nothing else, but speaking personally, I would go mad. There is an assumption when you become a parent that this is it for you now, this is where you find your rewards — and it is obviously an incredibly challenging, rewarding experience — but for many of us, it can’t be everything. I, therefore, had dozens of hobbies and interests, and never gave much thought to her lack thereof. I think I partly fell into the trap of thinking that being a mother would somehow be enough. It’s not though, is it?
So she set to work finding a hobby, as it was either that or have a nervous breakdown. And this is where the wonders of well-made reality TV comes in, specifically The Great British Sewing Bee. Say what you like about reality TV, and it is a broad church within which resides many vapid, voyeuristic shows, but Sewing Bee is not one of them. Neither is Bake Off or the recently completed Pottery Throw Down, but to be frank more cake is the last thing my waistline needs and while she would love to have a go at pottery, until Lidl start doing potter’s wheels and industrial kilns in the special buys, I think she will stick with the needle work.
So, after devouring several seasons of the show, she has started sewing. And not clothes for the kids made out of curtains like the Von Trapps, or any clothes for me, but just for herself. This wasn’t about finding something creative and rewarding that was also utilitarian and contributed to the running of the house — it was just for her and nobody else. That said, there has been a suggestion that she could let out my trousers to cope with my lockdown expansion programme, but aside from that she has only made things that make her happy. She spends hours in the evening sewing, pinning, cutting, and enthusiastically talking to herself which I take to be a good sign, as it means she is lost in creativity. But while she loves what she is doing, she still feels guilty about having this one small thing that is just for her. She still asks, ‘Do you mind if I go sewing for a while?’ It’s a reminder of my role in all this — that I enabled this situation where her dreams were forgotten about. It’s quite the contrast to my many, many hobbies and how cavalier I am in pursuing them. I’ve spent the duration of our marriage doing pretty much whatever I want in terms of self-fulfillment, quietly assuming that she would find the same rewards in endlessly making sandwiches and doing laundry.
I’m not saying that she was condemned to some sort of Gilead, but there were elements of it in my unconscious attitudes to her. Obviously it’s a great tragedy that it took a global pandemic for me to realise this, but better late than never.
If I could give any advice to new parents it would be to keep something for themselves, something that has nothing to do with parenting, that brings them joy, and to never feel guilt about pursuing it.