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Parenting In A Pandemic

None of us expected to be parenting through a pandemic right now, or ever for that matter. It’s really not one of those things you ever think would happen and therefore it’s only natural that a lot of us are feeling quite far out of our comfort zone. Everyday we’re facing scary news headlines, worry for the health of our loved ones, missing our social interactions and a complete change to our routines. But on top of that we are also having to help our children through this. We have to try to explain to them why they can’t see their friends or their family, why they can’t go to school or the park and why everything has changed overnight. I know I’ve been worrying a lot about the effect this will have on them even once this is all over, Darcie is nearly four and very impressionable, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the best things to say to her about it all. The right things for her won’t be the right things for every child, because every child is different and therefore will be reacting to all of this differently.

I’m not sure the direction that this post will go in, but with so much on my mind I just needed to write something about it all. I’m not sure social media is the right place for this amount of brain splurge so I’m going to dump it all here instead. A place where people have the option whether they read it or not. So if you’re not in the mood for some Corona chat, and trust me I know how that feels, then click away now.

I go through phases of having a lot to say on all of this and then five seconds later not wanting to see or hear a single thing about it. Dan gets news updates to his phone and more often that not I ask him not to tell me what they say. All it takes is a one sentence headline to switch my mood for the next few hours. While I think it’s good to be informed, we also have limits to how much of this information we can take on, especially whilst trying to maintain a happy environment for the kids. At this point in time we are totally locked down, going out for the occasional walk as per government guidance and trying to only go food shopping once a week. So although hearing the news headlines breaks my heart, it also won’t change anything, because this is about as locked down as we could possibly be. I can’t physically do anymore than I already am to protect my family or slow the spread, so for my own mental well-being I’m definitely avoiding overloading myself with information that will lower my mood further.

What’s on my mind?

One thing which has been on my mind a lot is how this will affect Darcie. Ernie, I think, is young enough that this won’t have any serious effect on him, so when I say I’m more concerned with this all for Darcie that’s really just an age thing, and slightly a personality thing. As I’m sure some adults will be effected by all this upheaval for longer than others, I believe it will be the same with children. Darcie is quite naturally antisocial, I’m not saying that as a bad thing, it just seems to be the way she is wired. As a young baby and toddler she was extremely apprehensive of people, with the exception of a select few, and even as her confidence has grown in the last year or so, she still has moments when she just doesn’t enjoy social interaction. Starting at Forest School was a huge leap for us, we had a shaky start and a few wobbles later on too, but generally her confidence and enjoyment of other peoples company has come on in leaps and bounds since attending. And as her mum it’s been the most incredible journey to watch. There’s nothing wrong with liking your own company or being an introvert, but I’ve always had my worries about how it could potentially hold her back at times in life. Since we’ve been at home full time, which for us has been five weeks now, she has barely mentioned her friends or our family. She’s had one moment of saying she would like to go to forest school, but even then followed the statement with a ‘but not today’. And whilst it is nice to not have to be consoling her twenty four seven because she misses her friends and family so much, I’m also slightly concerned by how content she is to be at home, and just with us. And how hard it will be to get her used to socialising again once this is over. She has a few close friends who she will ask for, one being our next door neighbour which is very hard to keep thinking of excuses for, and a couple of family members – but essentially she’s totally fine with limited social interaction. And for now that’s great, and probably makes my life easier than some others, but I’m terrified of her having to start school in September now. It was already going to be a leap going from two days at a lovely open air forest school, to five days in a classroom with 30 other children, but this isolation is surely going to make it even harder.

Will the schools go back before the Summer holidays?

It’s looking unlikely isn’t it?

I’m devastated and quite literally have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes when I think about her never returning to forest school again. I already felt that chapter was going to be too short for her, as she’s a May baby and would have only had one full year there, but now it just feels taken too soon. As I mentioned we had a wobbly start, after months of anticipation on my part. And then just before Christmas she had a pretty major wobble as she was ill and had time off, we got her resettled and happy again through some of the worst weather conditions. The site was flooded at times which was quite hard for everyone, and the amount of mud coming home was unreal. But through it all I just kept thinking how wonderful it would be in the spring and summer months for them. If they were there currently I know they would be hunting for all the signs of spring, planting bulbs, bird watching and doing all sorts of incredible activities that Darcie thrives on and that just won’t be offered at school in the same way.

Heartbroken is an understatement. It seems like such a trivial issue in the grand scheme of the world’s problems right now but it’s also a big chapter of my little girls life changed forever.

I’m grateful for this extra time together

Despite everything I have just said, I am so grateful for this extra time I am having with her and as a family. I had been debating whether to increase her forest school hours to build up to starting school in September (lol how irrelevant that is now) but had decided against it to make the most of all this time with both my children at home that I would never get back. And in a way the universe has granted me even more time that I didn’t think I would have. I suppose my upset comes from the fact that I really liked the balance we had of two days a week of preschool. It gave Ernie and I some time together (time I can get with Darcie while Ernie naps) and I also had the opportunity to  work during Ernie’s naps on those days.

But anyway, back to the gratitude. I really am seeing this time as extra time. We’re so lucky to have a garden (my heart goes out to all parents who don’t have an outside space right now) and the weather has been so beautiful that within our little bubble of home, it has all been quite lovely being at home together. Am I even allowed to say that? I don’t know? I’m sure there are some people who would be mad at the thought of anyone enjoying this time but the way I see it, we’re going to be in this thing for a while, we might as well find the joy and positives where we can.

You know that quote that goes around every year about how we only get eighteen summers with our kids, that makes us all miserable and we feel like we’re not doing enough or appreciating it enough? Well, I feel like we’ve been given an extra summer. It’s time with our kids that none of us thought we would get. It goes without saying that everyone is in a different personal situation right now, but some people are currently on 80% pay, not working, at home with their children, who they wouldn’t usually get to see much throughout the week. When will that ever happen again?

But it’s not all roses

For those of us who already work from home, or who are now having to work from home, around our children being here full time, and no option of help from any family – it can feel bloody impossible. I know that personally I haven’t got much work coming in right now, which is the same for a lot of freelancers, and in a way it’s a relief because I don’t know how I would get it done around the kids. But also, it’s money that isn’t coming in. And even though there isn’t much work coming in, there is still a lot to be done to keep everything ticking over in the meantime. I still need to keep creating content – you can’t just fall of the face of the earth during a pandemic and then expect to carry on as normal afterwards. This online world moves very fast and doing what I do, it’s quite important not to be forgotten. However it is SO hard to know what to post. Everyone is, understandably, highly sensitive right now, and it seems like no matter what I post it’s not what someone wants to see. But anyway I’m not about to go off on a tangent here – we’re talking parenting right now.

So the big question…

How much should we be telling our kids about all of this? I need to just say right now that I do not know the answer to this, nobody does, and if they say they do – they’re wrong. Every child is different, our circumstances are different and age plays a huge factor too. So how am I approaching it? Day by day really. Darcie is a sensitive child, she takes things to heart and she holds onto them. She’s highly impressionable, and emotional, and intelligent, which is a pretty rubbish combination for this particular scenario. She’s clever enough that if I breach the subject with her she will question me at every turn, but also so sensitive that she will be upset at the truth. I’m also generally not a fan of lying to children, if you’d have asked me six weeks ago I would have said honesty is the best policy but right now I’m not convinced.

I haven’t sat her down and told her what’s going on. Preschool is only usually twice a week for her and as she’s had time off for other reasons it’s not that unusual for her to not be there. When she’s asked me why she hasn’t been in a while I’ve told her we’re currently on holiday from preschool, which is essentially true. With all the uncertainty around when the schools will reopen, when she has asked me if she will be going again, I’ve said ‘hopefully’ which seems to be an okay answer for now. I’m sure she does think she’ll be going again which could mean a very difficult conversation if that turns out not to be the case. Her forest school do run a holiday club which I was planning on sending her to anyway, so in one way or another she will go there again even if it’s just for the odd day.

The hardest moment we’ve had so far is when we went to drop off something at her Great Nana’s house. In hindsight I shouldn’t have taken them with me, but at the time (before lockdown) I thought they would enjoy waving through the window. After we left she was asking me lots of questions about why we couldn’t see Great Nana properly or give her a cuddle. I tried to simply explain that right now there are lots of germs that we wouldn’t want to give to Nana. This was the part where she got upset and said that a) she didn’t  have germs, and b) even if she did, she definitely wouldn’t give them to Great Nana because she’s always kind. It was at this moment that I realised I didn’t want to do the germ thing with her. She knows about germs and hand washing, and is very good at it anyway. But I don’t think a three year old can grasp the science of it all enough to understand that it doesn’t make us mean if we spread germs by accident, or understand all the ways that they can be spread. For some kids it will be fine, but for Darcie it won’t.

As I mentioned she is incredibly sensitive and impressionable and so I know that if I repeatedly tell her that we can’t go to the park because of the germs, and we can’t go to soft play because of the germs, and we can’t see our family because of the germs – I will end up with a severely germ-phobic Darcie on my hands. I just can’t personally find a way to explain it to her in a way that doesn’t worry her. Because she’s intelligent enough to realise that this is a scary situation, and I don’t want to put that on her little shoulders. So for now, and don’t judge me for this, I’m winging it day by day, and little white lie by little white lie.

We can’t go to the parks right now because they’re all being cleaned ready for summer, we can’t go to the shops whenever we like because lots of the staff are on holiday, we can’t go to the prize machine because it’s broken, we can’t see our family because they’re busy or ill or working or on holiday.

But mostly we aren’t talking about any of that much because I’m making sure that home is the best place in the world right now. The kids love being at home anyway, and are relishing having Daddy at home (even though they are yet to grasp that he is working not just ready to play at all times). Obviously the weather right now is glorious and they have a garden full of lovely things to keep them happy, including a brand new mud kitchen that Dan created from some pallets this weekend. We’ve made Disney Princesses out of footprints, played in the garden a lot, discovered lego, baked a cake (success), and bread (disaster but Dan ate it). I haven’t been planning activities, that’s never been my style, but I’ve been trying to be engaged and present with them as much as I can. If anything I’m seeing this as a time to slow down. As I mentioned, I have less work emails coming in, which is a shame, but also that means I can be more present with the kids and less on my phone or computer. I’m reading more stories and having more conversations, we’ve made dens out of blankets and played silly games for hours. I’ve enjoyed just making them laugh and watching them play and their bond get stronger. I’m not going to pretend they’re not fighting and winding each other up but they are also loving spending time together and they can happily disappear into their own world for a while. I’m very grateful that they have each other right now.

Three thousand words later…

I’m reading this back a week later – as I mentioned I’m finding it impossible to have any time to write – and I’m just thinking ‘Hanna, you keep conflicting yourself!’ And I guess that sums it all up really – I’m feeling so many conflicting emotions on a daily basis that my head is totally fried. I’ll feel happy about something and then another little thought will fly in and say ‘remember me’ and before you know it I’m laughing and crying and opening a bottle of wine at 3.59pm. Hopefully someone will be reading this and feeling less alone, or maybe I really have just totally lost the plot.

I suppose I just want to end this post by reminding you that none of us were prepared for this. We have ALL been caught off guard and I’m pretty sure that there is no right or wrong way to be feeling right now. Allow yourself the liberty of feeling how you feel and try not to add too much extra pressure to yourself. No matter how relentless it all feels right now, this won’t last forever.

And I know some people don’t like this saying, but it’s true so I will say it – you HAVE got this.

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