In the fourth part of a new series sharing the stories of families learning from home during lockdown, Tamsyn Matchett discovers a new importance in being kind.
As a parent, I frequently find myself talking to my daughter about kindness. I bet it’s a common feature of most parents’ vernacular. It’s a pretty straightforward concept: the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. But, if I’m being honest, my primary use of the word until recently had been to prevent the ensuing rage of a hangry 10-year-old who is two minutes past their snack-used-by-date.
Kindness is something we teach our children to show others. But too often it’s something we neglect to show enough to each other within our families, or invest in ourselves. It’s those closest to us who we put under the most pressure and with whom we forget to share that generosity and care. It’s this lesson we’ve learned during the last seven weeks.
My experience of the lockdown has taught me that not much in life is straightforward. We’ve had to rethink our understanding and interpretation of some of these simple concepts. And I have also started to see the importance of kindness in ways I had never recognised prior to this global pandemic.
For our family, kindness was communicating through co-parenting our daughter through a lockdown. For seven weeks we’ve maintained a bubble with another family, doing what we can to help each other get through each week. Communicating effectively, putting our child first, and being easy on each other – step-parents included.
But kindness didn’t always come easily. I must admit that writing this was a struggle as I tried to recall the examples of acts of affection between my daughter and me; the moments that illustrated obvious signs we were friendly, generous and considerate during the last seven weeks. I could list the various attempts at baking, TikTok dances, recording parody Beyoncé videos, or numerous attempts at Uno, Battleship or Twister. But in listing the obvious triumphs I would be doing a disservice to the things we have learned while trapped inside our own home.
It would also be a false perspective of our time in lockdown to pretend it was only filled with fun. For every moment of obvious generosity, there were equal amounts of grumpiness, growling and tears. (The Beyoncé video never happened, by the way. I wanted it to, and I tried, I truly tried. Apparently, my introverted kid is determined to deny me the moment of internet fame I deserve).
Truthfully, showing kindness has been an entirely different exercise to what I considered before. In taking a different approach to this simplest concept, I’ve realised parents are often making active daily decisions to be gracious and kind. In moments of crisis, we are given an opportunity to see our decisions differently and learn from them.
Personally, I have found kindness comes from being kind to myself. This came to me through the acknowledgement I am a terrible homeschool teacher. I’m not saying I didn’t try, and it wasn’t all a complete disaster. But it’s not news to me or to my spawn that I am not the world’s leading expert in long division. There are only so many “I used to be great at trigonometry” claims she’s willing to indulge me with. As it transpires, Google is better at maths than I am and I’m OK with that. Kindness has come in acknowledging this and knowing the sky won’t fall in as a result.
My attempts at homeschool reminded me about being gracious in failure and realistic with your own abilities. This is especially important to me, raising a child with unyieldingly high expectations of herself. If I can’t try, fail and bounce back, I won’t know how to help her understand she’s capable of the same thing.
During this period of uncertainty, kindness was admitting when I was wrong, saying sorry when I’m not my best self and acknowledging when we can prevent arguments or short tempers (the trampoline is an excellent reset button in this house). When feeling overwhelming pressure and anxiety, allowing myself space to reflect and make amends has been important. Being able to move on from moments I am less proud of has enabled my daughter to do the same. And in doing so she has been kind to me.
Some days we’ve shown each other kindness simply by celebrating getting out of bed and out of our PJs, because some days that’s been an achievement in its own right. It’s hard to escape the pressure of expectation to exercise, bake bread and teach a small person to recite Shakespeare. On the days I have been overly ambitious, promising pancakes at 9am on a day of back-to-back work Skype meetings and still not making it to the kitchen by 3pm, we haven’t always been successful at showing each other generosity. But we’ve learned that it’s the small victories that have provided us connection and I am hopeful we will remember this as we emerge back into society.
In the past seven weeks, I have found overwhelming kindness in co-parenting, continuing to share the responsibility of a child’s care between two houses, during a national lockdown. It is trusting another family to communicate effectively to commit to following the rules to protect each other. When you co-parent under such considerable restrictions, it requires additional processes, patience, and a lot of hand sanitiser.
Extending your small bubble to another family when you can’t see your own parents or grandparents is tough. But in doing so, we ensured that we put our daughter’s needs first, prioritising the bond and relationship she has with her parents. This also extends to step-parents and the important role they play in connecting split families.
All these moments have given my daughter and me security and friendship during lockdown life. Together, we’ve managed to find life lessons in small interactions, big fights, and even bigger cuddles. As she returns to school next week, no doubt divulging the appalling job I did that one time I attempted to give her a maths lesson, I hope she has similar reflections. I hope she finds that kindness is all around her.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.