Guest Post by Brit McGinnis
“There will be a baby boom after coronavirus, and they will all be first children.”
This quote has been circulating the Internet since mid-March, and unfortunately the source has been lost in the ether. But parents and non-parents alike have echoed this sentiment: quarantine with children in the mix is a friggin’ nightmare.
In a weird turn of events, the widespread quarantine against COVID-19 infection has inspired parents to openly voice their frustration about suddenly having to care for their children without the help of teachers, coaches, and extended family. All of a sudden, parents became solely responsible for their children’s’ schooling, entertainment, discipline, and psychological nurturing.
I haven’t seen this kind of desperation in popular discourse in a very long time. Parents are saying they didn’t sign up for this. Parenting 24/7 style “isn’t human.” The farthest thing from a vacation, “Mommy juice” jokes are flowing.
While I’m all for honesty about parenting, I don’t agree with an edge to this sentiment: People who don’t have kids must have it soooooo easy right now. They don’t have to take care of babies and children or deal with teenagers. They have substantially more control over their surroundings. Quarantine must feel like an actual vacation for childfree people.
And you know what? Sometimes it does. It feels nice to have quiet in my house when I really need it to calm down from my existential dread about a global pandemic. But that doesn’t mean I’m enjoying myself during this crisis when forced to stay at home.
Not having children doesn’t mean I feel in complete control of my life right now. I’m on furlough from the first “real” job I’ve had in seven years, even though three days before I was set on furlough I was informed that I was an essential worker in my company. The already notoriously slow unemployment insurance benefits system in my state (Oregon) now faces a flood of applicants. My best case scenario: I hope to resume quasi-normal work at the end of June this year.
Childfree folks and parents share worrisome work realities. Those of us lucky enough to have jobs are working hard and praying that the jobs stay. Most of us are caring for someone, be they children in the here and now or parents far away. Some people without kids are managers working to keep their companies moving (or to bring back people who have been let go, a mental burden I personally can’t fathom). All of us are worried about our parents, loved ones, and people in general who don’t seem to care about the quarantine. Whether or not a person has kids, they’re eagerly taking notes on the best time to visit stores to buy toilet paper.
We all feel the low, pulsing anxiety hum in our lives. We can’t ignore it, and there’s little we can do to alleviate it. All we can do is sit, wait, and try not to go insane. That’s the heart of quarantine stress: A feeling like the world is changing rapidly and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. None of us are in control.
Of course I feel badly for the parents quarantined with their kids. I cannot imagine that because I decided that I didn’t want that possibility for my future. But that’s as far as it goes for me. You won’t see me in the smug corners of the childfree internet that are jeering at the parents finally “facing the consequences” of having kids or whatever. We all feel frustrated. We all have our self-medicating go-to’s (in my case Special Cupcakes). Parents and not, let’s joke about this together. Rather than from two separate camps, let’s focus on getting through this together.
Brit McGinnis is an author and editor from Portland, OR. She writes on Medium, The Salve, and covers weird news for The Stacker. She was named a Hero of Haddonfield by the filmmakers behind Tales of Halloween in 2014.