As we approach the end of the 95th (that’s right isn’t it?) week of lockdown and social distancing, I have been reflecting on how our lives have changed over recent months, as we all do what we can to stop the spread of coronavirus. I have huge admiration for all of the key workers who are putting themselves at risk to make sure that the NHS runs smoothly, people who need help are cared for and that we’re able to put food on our table. As an employment lawyer, I don’t have to leave the house. I’m fortunate to be set up at home with the IT and equipment I need to continue “business as usual”, supporting clients and colleagues as we continue to navigate the changing world and the frequent updates to the coronavirus job retention scheme (why are the updates always over a weekend or late at night?) But things aren’t “business as usual”, are they?
I have three, delightful, young cherubs (aged 6, 4 and “just” 2) who I adore, but flipping heck, it’s tough trying to juggle work, life, home schooling and entertainment for them. My husband and I are working flexibly to juggle childcare and our work commitments, which helps, but our routines are all out of sync, activities are cancelled, and we are together. All the time! The days feel exhausting and draining. I find it hard to switch off from work, when home is my office. It’s also difficult to get any “down time” once the kids are in bed, as for some reason (even though we are barely leaving the house) none of the jobs seem to get done. The washing piles up, dishes need doing, and we seem to permanently need to go to a supermarket. The kids eat SO much! I was exasperated last night trying to make my escape once the children were in bed, to watch TV, when my 6-year old, in an attempt to delay his bed time further, wanted to have a detailed conversation about the concept of “infinity”, that would have made Brian Cox proud. Thank goodness for Google!
When we first locked down, I was convinced that we could do everything. Social media has a lot to answer for! I realised (thankfully pretty quickly) that the rosy pictures that some people post of their successful and harmonious days of schooling their children in line with national curriculum, probably aren’t accurate. I bet they have “off” days too: when the kids just don’t want to do their maths, or practise their phonics, but just want to build a den out of the living room sofa cushions (which are now ruined) or snuggle up and watch a movie. Probably Frozen 2. For the 56th time.
The education photographs of my eldest’s peers posted by others on Facebook and our school’s Twitter account don’t show the times their kids have (inevitably) kicked off because they’ve not been allowed to eat Easter eggs for breakfast, or they’ve had to go on Thinking Time for hitting a sibling with a mega blok, or drawn on some furniture/ a wall/ the carpet with a felt tipped pen, or the times Mammy or Daddy had to deal with an email or take a call and so plonked them in front of the TV for half an hour. This happens to us all, doesn’t it?
I find it so reassuring when I’m on conference calls with clients and colleagues, and I hear Peppa Pig music playing in the background or a little voice telling their parent that they “need a poo”, or that someone has been mean to them (in our house, that’s usually one of my children complaining about my husband!). All the above have happened in our house!
I used to feel embarrassed when one of my children burst in while I was on a video conference and wanted to have a chat – but I’ve come to realise that this is just the way things are at the moment, and that’s fine. My children are (largely) happy, secure and content, any my husband and I are (for the most part) still sane and talking to each other.
A few coping strategies that I have developed:
- Talking. It’s tough being apart from colleagues, families and friends, and so I’m trying hard to make sure that I talk to people: face to face (on video link) where possible. Sometimes even seeing a friendly face is enough to cheer me up on a difficult day, and equally hopefully I can do the same for others on “down” days. An added benefit of our video calls is that you get to see the interiors of so many homes and get inspiration for home makeovers. I’m already planning for the inevitable complete redecoration of my house once we come out of lockdown, given that every single one of our rooms is trashed!
- Chocolate. My kids have created a fictional character, known as the “chocolate stealer”. This person comes occasionally overnight while they sleep and steals their chocolate/ sweets, leaving no trace at all. Sometimes the chocolate stealer feels guilty and replaces the confectionary at a later date: but sometimes this disappears too. If anything, it gives us something to talk about and it’s helping them develop their skills of deduction. That’s got to be educational, surely;
- Running. I’ve always enjoyed exercising and it’s a big part of our family’s life. My weekly mileage has gone through the roof since lockdown – and I try to head out for a sanity run (adhering to social distancing rules, of course) and some fresh air, for my daily exercise. Rather than getting faster, I’m finding that my pace sometimes slows down if I’ve had a tough day with fractious kids. Some days I just enjoy being outside and alone for a little while, without anyone shouting “Mammy” and so take my time!
- Switch off. It’s so easy to work at home that sometimes there can be a temptation to check and reply to emails overnight or at weekends. I’m trying (but not always succeeding!) to avoid this where I can and make sure I spend quality time with my family, or just have a chat with my husband, or watch the tele or read a book;
- Be kind to yourself. Some days I feel like I can take on the world, and other days, it’s tough. I miss my family and friends, and this “new” life can be fairly isolating. I’m not a teacher, but I’m doing the best I can for our children and trying to support them to do a little bit of work, and not let myself be overwhelmed by all of the online resources available to support their learning, and all of the fabulous things that people are posting on social media. We’ve got to do what works for us.
I hope that this note resonates with some of you who may be beating yourself up about trying to do everything well (and I bet you are). And please don’t apologise if you’re distracted when we next talk, or if a child or pet bursts in when we’re on a video call. It’s a lovely and welcome reminder that we’re all in a similar position, and just doing the best that we can to be the best that we can, in these difficult times.
Be safe and take care.