PREST: Parents versus non-parents: a pandemic showdown

Chaos or boredom: which hits harder in the COVID-19 era?

It’s been just about five months since our world changed in previously unimaginable ways, time enough for us to take stock and figure out one important thing: why did we buy so much toilet paper?

No, wait. That’s not the question – some riddles are too dumb to answer. No, what we need to decide is if this pandemic is tougher for those who have young children at home or for those who don’t.

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In this column over the years I’ve mused a lot about the joys and soul-punching aggravation that come with raising children. An unspoken bond develops between parents when they know that they all, at some point, have been drenched in sweat and fear and things much worse than that as they try to clean up a baby’s pant-splosion inside the crowded bathroom of a fancy downtown restaurant.

Hands up if you’ve looked at a piece of clothing, looked at the garbage can, and said, “Uhhh, we can buy more baby hats.” And yes, it CAN get all the way up to the hat. Easily.

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COVID-19 life for you non-parents is just 24/7 patio beers, isn't it?! photo Bridge Brewing

Those were the days, weren’t they? Out in public at a busy restaurant! Remember busy restaurants? It was almost worth the eye rolls from the snooty server when you ordered your kid a $22 piece of plain salmon with cooked peas, none of which actually entered your child’s mouth. Good times.

The pandemic has put an end to that kind of thing, and my own children are long since passed those baby days. I do, however, still have two full-powered boys who are both under the age of 10, and they still pose considerable challenges when cooped up together hiding from a deadly virus for months on end. But they also still bring a lot of excitement and fun into our lives, things that can be in short supply these days.

On the other hand, life for people who are not taking care of young children – singles, DINKS, empty nesters, young couples, and all others in between – has its own pandemic pitfalls and perks.

Of course circumstances can be wildly different for parents and non-parents alike. A single parent in a studio apartment has a vastly different COVID experience than a family living in a big house with a big yard and a big nanny, while a retiree living alone would face very different challenges than a young bachelor who was laid off when the office shut down. But no matter your circumstances, the presence of young children brings with it common peculiarities that are exacerbated by a pandemic. So who has life better these days, parents or non-parents? Let’s check the score.

Level of chaos

The Zoom sessions and conference calls tell the story on this one. I was interviewing someone over the phone the other day when we both heard a screaming, loud and clear, that sounded like rival troops of howler monkeys fighting some sort of treetop death match. What was it? It was my boys trying to decide who would be Player 1 for Mario Kart. I’m still not sure why the loser of the discussion needed to be thrown off a tree.

Meanwhile, from the looks of my Instagram feed, my non-parent friends scattered across the country all appear to be, at this very moment, sitting on or near some kind of a boat. Yes, all of them.

Advantage: Non-parents.

Mobility

Without the worry of how to get children where they need to go safely, childless folks have a lot of freedom to explore far and wide and get out to experience something like a wild Third Beach drum circle. Parents, meanwhile, cannot go to the drum circle.

Enormous advantage: parents.

Personal safety

Parents of school-aged children are in the unenviable position of losing control of their bubble in a few weeks as students are expected to go back to school. Sure, the numbers say kids are much less likely to get the virus and are unlikely to give it to adults, but there’s still a little trepidation that comes with expanding your bubble from, like, nine people, to include dozens of the little jackals your kids go to school with.

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Hands up if you're a little nervous about kids going back to school in a few weeks. file photo North Shore News

Non-parents have some safety risks too, but from what I’ve seen they mostly come when they post on social media about how “bored” they are in the pandemic. The risk from such proclamations is that a parent who has been locked at home with their kids for months on end might find those bored singles and murder them.

Advantage: non-parents.

Entertainment

Sure you singles have your patio beers and government-approved glory holes, but one of the great things about parenting is that entertainment is built into it through things like youth sports or music recitals. Those things are slowly coming back now, and more so for children than adults. I coach baseball, and we’ve been practising without playing any games for the past month, but just in the last week our protocols have been updated to allow for some games. In fact, my kids’ teams will play approximately 57 games over the next week, give or take.  It’s a big highlight of my summer! 

Advantage: parents. Wait, what’s a glory hole? On second thought, don’t answer that. And DO NOT Google it on your work computer!

So where does that leave us? I remain on team “kids make life better,” but oh boy some of these pandemic days are putting that to the test. I might even call this one a draw. I wouldn’t say I envy you, non-parents, but I would say that any time you want to swing by on your boat, I will happily climb aboard for an evening of kid-free fun. Do you have a loud stereo on there? We can go find a drum circle, blast ’em with some Nickleback! Dad rules!

Andy Prest is sports editor for the North Shore News. His humour/lifestyle column runs biweekly. aprest@nsnews.com

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