Better parenting and ditching stale friendships - how lockdown changed us
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With last week’s thaw came the promise of spring, and an increase in our expectations that lockdown might soon be eased, and that we could perhaps start focusing on the shape of things to come.
So, I asked followers on social media to tell me what they had missed in the last year, what they wanted back and how they saw their lives going forward.
I can’t claim this was a scientific survey, but the responses were illuminating none the less, and showed that what people have missed most – and what they want to return to as soon as possible – is spontaneity.
They long to impulsively hug a friend, act on a whim to visit their grandchildren, make a sudden decision to go to the cinema, and so on.
The stuff that people haven’t missed is equally intriguing. In fact, it throws a spotlight on the lives we had before the pandemic, which many individuals now see as complicated, hectic and even bewildering.
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A 55-year old business woman admitted that several aspects of her pre-Covid life now seem trivial and foolish.
She said: "I blush when I remember how I used to become furious and fire off Twitter messages if the six o’clock train from Liverpool Street to Norwich was delayed or cancelled.
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"I’d obviously come to believe it was my right to demand that everything must always run to plan. After the last 11 months of unprecedented uncertainty, I wonder why I was so easily outraged. Also, I can’t fathom why I didn’t just go for a cup of coffee, read a book, and relax till I could get on another train."
She, like many of us, believes that loss of freedom, loss of control, loss of normal life and indeed the loss of over 100,000 lives in this country has changed her for ever.
Several people mentioned that they felt sorry about the fate of city high streets, including Oxford Street and other shopping areas in London, but said they would rarely use them in the future.
A charity worker explained that she customarily spent December in a total sweat, with perpetual backache from lugging home far too many large boxes.
Having spent the run up to last Christmas buying presents on the internet for the first time, she told me there’s no going back. "Quite apart from everything else," she said, "I don’t think I’m going to feel comfortable in large crowds for a long time – if ever."
But it’s not just the internet which has done well, local shops are big winners.
As a consequence, a number of respondents said that their trips to out-of-town superstores would be occasional now, rather than regular.
And one elderly gentleman remarked: "It’s the small businesses who have kept us going through all this, and I’ve been amazed at just how much my little local Co-op stocks. It’s marvellous!"
Several men messaged to say that they had learned to be better parents during this crisis and could see now how unhealthy their pre-pandemic lives were, with their long hours in the office and far too many conferences and business meetings which involved travel, time and tension.
"I’ve seen more of my son in the last year than I have for the previous 12. I and many colleagues now feel we should continue to work from home much of the time and do most meetings on Zoom.
"That way lots of dads are going to be around more to see their kids grow up, which feels like a saner way of life."
Many adults who responded wanted to talk about friendships. The sentence: "I know now who my real friends are and who’s important and who is not," cropped up a lot.
One woman said: "I used to meet the same three pals for coffee every Wednesday before the pandemic.
"This was a routine established over a decade ago and to be honest I’d stopped looking forward to it after the first year!
"The others always seemed to have a litany of complaints about their neighbour’s hedge, their savings losing value, or how their supermarket delivery had brought them blackberries rather than blueberries.
"Talk about first world problems! I haven’t missed them at all. I’m sorry if that sounds uncharitable, but I believe strongly now that life’s too short to spend it with negative people who drag you down and don’t share your values."
Finally, many individuals highlighted the plight of younger friends and relatives and believed we must all support them more – and listen to their views about the planet, and acknowledge that they may well have the answers we need to forge a better life and a fairer society.
A doctor friend said: "Putting it baldly, children, teenagers and young adults have had their lives cruelly put on hold, just to keep us older folk alive!"
I agree with her. We’re in their debt. I hope we never forget it.