It is only March and we can already be certain that 2020 will never be forgotten. In decades to come we will recount stories of social restrictions on a global scale, never seen before. The phrase of the year will certainly be “social distancing” and Covid-19 or the coronavirus will never be forgotten by us or our children. I hope somebody out there with a psychology background is carefully studying this as it unfolds. I would love to read about the variety of reactions and coping mechanisms adopted by Irish people during these unprecedented times
It is eleven days since every school in the country closed their doors. The learning curve as a parent and newly appointed primary school teacher has been steep and the adventure is only beginning. Here is what I have learned so far.
Slowing down is no bad thing.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and the lining to this very dark cloud is that slowing down every now and then is good for us. The restrictions are no fun and the scale and severity of what we are dealing with is not lost on me. Nevertheless, I can appreciate how nice it is not to be clockwatching. There is no pressure to leave the house by a designated time, for school, drama or swimming – all while trying to squeeze food shopping, cooking and running my business into the too few hours in any given day. It is intense being at home with 3 children all of the time. I fit in a short walk on my own many evenings in order to clear my head and recharge for the next day. Instead of worrying about how long the situation may continue, I am focusing on enjoying the slower pace of life.
Children are resilient.
As a mother of children who love after-school activities and playdates with friends, I wondered how I was going to entertain them within the confines of our home and garden. We have enjoyed a short walk or cycle most days, greeting the very few friends and neighbours we see from a safe distance. For the most part we are at home on our own. The kids have dealt with it brilliantly. Yes, there are more emotional outbursts than normal, sleep (mine and the children’s) is a little disturbed, arguments are more plentiful but overall, they are enjoying life as much as they always have. They have adapted well to doing schoolwork at home with me. I am learning what works and what doesn’t. For one thing, a 2 year old can and will cause chaos in the middle of my kitchen classroom. They ask some questions about the virus and I try to be careful about how I word my answers. They know enough to understand the importance of keeping our distance from everyone but hopefully not enough to frighten them too much. As a result, they are not looking to meet their friends or go too many places. They have improvised by shouting and waving at their friend two doors up from the top of the trees in our garden. I believe they will learn a lot from how they see my husband and I deal with this. I tell them it’s all new for us too and we don’t know when things will go back to normal. But I can reassure them that we can deal with the new way of doing things for however long it takes.
Laughter really is a tonic.
I have laughed more every day than I ever have before. I am talking tears streaming down my face, belly laughing at the countless memes and videos doing the rounds. It does not take away from the seriousness of what is happening but humour will play a big part in how I cope with this mayhem.
Social Media has a benefit after all.
It turns out social media is not just a black hole where I lose more hours than I am willing to admit with mindless scrolling. I spend far too much time looking at how other people live their lives, or more correctly how they carefully portray a version of their lives that makes the rest of us feel inadequate or jealous. At a time when so much freedom has been taken away from us, social media allows people to keep in contact, to enjoy live streamed music events from artists’ homes, to attend live online classes and so much more. But it can be more than a social outlet now. It is also beginning to fill huge gaps in essential services. The necessary hospital restrictions mean many women will not have an antenatal class or breastfeeding class to help them prepare for the birth of their baby. As an antenatal educator and volunteer breastfeeding counsellor, I see and hear the distress, worry and anxiety this is causing for women and their families. I, like many, have taken many of my Pregnancy to Parenthood classes online. My Antenatal Ireland colleagues and I have been working tirelessly to get information to the women who need it and social media is helping us do that. Free videos available on our social media pages and the Antenatal Ireland YouTube channel cannot replace a face to face antenatal class, but it certainly better than no antenatal class at all.
My To-Do list will remain undone
Even a nationwide advisory to stay at home will not make me tackle some of the items that have sat comfortably on my to do list for a very long time. It turns out children who are at home all day eat all day long! Any time freed up by cancelled activities has been taken up by preparing tons of snacks every day. Sorting our wardrobes will have to wait a little longer and I am not all that disappointed about that.
I am happy with my efforts
Parents are under pressure. Many are trying to somehow combine working from home and caring full-time for their children with taking on the role of sole educator and entertainer. Teachers have kindly prepared lessons to be completed at home. Emails and texts arrive with instructions of how to make up for lost sporting, music, dance and drama classes. Social media is full of free school resources that instead of helping, may make many feel they are failing at homeschooling if they are not completing it all. Snippets of amazing parenting achievements online heap additional pressure on parents to replicate some utopian learning environment. Even though homeschooling would not be my choice, it is also not a negative experience. I don’t aim to equal the school day in time or educational achievements but we can manage a little bit of each of the school books each day, combined with some printed worksheets, a little reading and some of our own games. The structure helps me to maintain some semblance of normality. I took the easy option on Friday using YouTube videos for nature and geography lessons while I enjoyed a sneaky coffee. It reminded me of teachers wheeling in the massive TV on Friday afternoons to watch “educational” videos. I can’t make up for the loss of the classroom environment but we have created our own semi-structured learning time at home and it works okay for us most days. And if it is a little chaotic sometimes I am okay with that too. We are parenting in very different times.
It is hard to see this ending any time soon. The uncertainty is not easy to live with. My survival plan is to stay home as much as possible, not just because that is the right thing to do, it is also where the impact of the restrictions is less obvious. It feels eerie and disconcerting when I leave the house. So many local businesses have decided to close and many people in the first couple of days were quiet and obviously worried. I enjoy short excursions with the kids but feel uneasy if I see people not adhering to the recommendations around social distancing. Control the controllables they say, so I will stay home with my little family where I have more control. Oh and I will try to put the phone away to save myself from the onslaught of WhatsApp messages and social media posts.