‘I never thought of you as someone who does DIY,’ was my Dad’s reaction to the news that I’d managed to fix our washing machine. Inspired by the YouTube videos of eSpares.co.uk, I successfully replaced the carbon brushes in our Bosch washer; I keep the worn-out coils in a souvenir box like baby’s first kiss-curls. My Dad was right, I’d never imagined myself that I would be able to repair any kind of domestic appliance, but unable to get a professional round during the Covid crisis, it was time to roll up my sleeves and have a crack at it.
My sleeves were already rolled up from a few weeks of handwashing laundry in our bathtub; at one point I even considered investing in a mangle to squeeze more water out of the dripping wet clothes and towels. Covid lockdown was becoming a stark reality-check on the basics of living together as a family. From laundry and cleaning, constant cooking and washing up, to face-masked grocery shopping, all while trying to keep the kids on track with school, and the ball rolling with work. And I am one of the lucky ones, with a job that I can do from home … on the eye-tiring screen of my laptop, and with a WiFi connection that regularly crashes.
Instability has been a theme for me during Covid, not just for the internet, but psychologically in terms of mental strain, and physically for the health and safety of my family. Before the start of lockdown I was terrified that one of my children was going to catch the virus, and I lay awake at 3am thinking through how I could nurse him, while avoiding contaminating the whole family. The next day, once the children were finally off school, I fed them oranges in the hope of boosting their immune systems, to stand more of a chance of fighting Corona if they got it. As a loving father, I have always tried to shield my children from danger.
Setting boundaries is an important part of parenting, and kids can feel more secure when they have a boundary to kick against. During Covid I also set boundaries for myself, on when I am going to be online with work, when I am present with the family, and frankly when I need time to disconnect on my own. When everyone is on top of each other and going stir crazy, it’s inevitable that tensions will flare up, so communication has been vital, trying to recognise and express our needs to each other. If I have video calls for work, I chalk the times on the IKEA blackboard in our kitchen, alongside our “Family Member of the Day” award (we vote on a winner, and they get a song from Alexa and choose what we watch on Netflix).
A major part of my mental perseveration during Covid, beyond social media distancing, has been walking in our local Luxembourg forests. Taking time each morning to get outdoors, in amazing weather, has been an effective way to clear my head and keep things in balance. It is definitely something that I will try to keep as we emerge into a new normal. There are many things about flexible working and engaging with my family that I’d like to continue, although working from home is certainly going to be less stressful once the kids are back at school. I have mixed feelings about going back to the office, top of mind is booking a holiday! For this Father’s Day, I will be content with the simple pleasure of an empty laundry basket.
By Brian Ballantyne
Author of Confessions of a Working Father