When the pandemic landed in North America in March, I couldn’t imagine my parenting would change in any meaningful way. I thought we’d be more vigilant about hand-washing, but I didn’t expect to be homeschooling three children a week later or questioning major parenting decisions soon thereafter. But that’s how life goes, doesn’t it?

We are a family who consciously decided to send our children to the neighbourhood public school a few minutes from home. It was convenient, but that wasn’t the whole story. The families at that school were “our people.” The students and teachers were already neighbours, and attending school together thickened our bonds with those we lived amidst. The result was a lovely community. Yet somehow, we found ourselves sending one of our children to a faraway commuter school, adding a two-hour daily commute for me, and losing precious stores of time and community.

Our son is gifted, which sounds like winning the offspring lottery, but I assure you, it’s been quite a headache. He is years ahead of other students his age in nearly every subject and has an enormous capacity to learn. His old school was a salad bar compared to his elephant appetite for learning. This new school promised to meet all of his needs and more, so we reasoned it was worth what we were losing. When COVID-19 brought all the children home for school for several months, it was a chance to evaluate how things were going.

As it turns out, lockdown led to a substantial parenting shift.

Almost immediately, we noticed our three children developing a deeper bond than we’d seen in months. Isolated, they were each other’s best friends. This may have been true to a degree before, but the new school put a new distance between them. Our son was away longer hours than the girls and never saw them during the day at recess or lunch. The extra time under lockdown with all of our children was a gift, even as we struggled to juggle working from home with homeschooling. My schedule suddenly felt much lighter by eliminating the two-hour commute, which I could put into work projects, meals for needy neighbours, and finally finishing a book for book club. Work-life balance is a ghost no one tackles perfectly, but it felt like we were awfully close with our kids home, our son in particular.

But what happens when this all ends? Do we want to go back to normal after the pandemic? What if this is a chance to make the changes we were never brave enough to make?

The pandemic forced us to stop everything and consider what we wanted the new normal to look like. For us, this means homeschooling our gifted son and cutting back on extracurriculars for all three when things begin again. Though not initially drawn to homeschooling (our daughters not being ideal candidates), we see how it can be a custom fit for our son. He’ll have the chance to learn beyond his grade-level, take on passion projects to fuel his curiosity, and spend more time with his sisters. And in the time I was commuting him to school, I’ll be able to guide his learning without adding significantly to my personal schedule.

As parents, we settled into a comfortable, if harried rhythm and never questioned it. School, homework, commuting, activities during the week and on the weekend, playdates, friends, birthday parties, family time, work, and on and on, endlessly. The pandemic pressed paused on life and gave us a blank slate to start over. It gave us the opportunity to reorient around our children and our community, to value time together more than markers of success.

May we have the wisdom to learn the lessons this lockdown is teaching each of us, and the courage to take them to heart.