Sunday, 19 July 2020

The Pandemic That Proved I Can Parent

A photo I took on the last school run before lockdown. It feels really strange to remember it was still spring.

Back in September last year, when I was noting down term dates and realised that this year's summer holiday would be seven weeks long, I felt a vague sense of dread. I've always been daunted by school holidays. I stress myself out wondering how on earth I'll keep both kids happy, healthy and entertained. Seven whole weeks? Didn't bear thinking about.

Ah, 2019 me, so naive, so blind to what was coming.

Here I am at the beginning of that seven week holiday. How do I feel? A little worried, yes. But nowhere near the dread I used to feel. After all, it's now seventeen weeks since schools closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Aside from Preschooler having two days a week at the childminder's for the last seven weeks, and Girl Child having two hours at school on the last day of term to get to know her new teacher, I've looked after both children for all that time. Without recourse to playgrounds, libraries, cafes or anywhere interesting, really.

I realise now how much I used to doubt my abilities as a mum. I worried about screen time, I worried about providing enriching activities, I worried about the kids getting enough exercise, enough time outdoors, enough time with other children. Enough, enough, enough. I worried I wasn't enough.

Have I been the perfect parent over the last seventeen weeks? No. Have the kids had the optimum amount of screen time, education, exercise etc etc? Also no. Have I managed to stop myself from shouting until I'm hoarse some days? A big, emphatic no. Does it seem to have damaged their development irrevocably? I don't think so. I am concerned about the early education Preschooler has missed out on, and I weep for the progress Girl Child has lost - she was having such a good year. But it hasn't been nearly as horrendous as I thought it would be when I saw the news that schools were closing and terror gripped my heart.

I have to say I'm fortunate in many ways. I haven't had to worry about working from home like many other parents. I have a laptop and a printer, which made doing school work at home a lot easier. My husband has been able to work from home, which meant he could occasionally step in to help during the day (although it also posed the challenge of keeping the kids quiet during conference calls!) so I haven't had to do it totally alone. And, thankfully, we've all stayed healthy. But even so, I never thought I'd be able to cope in this situation. And I have. The kids are OK. And at the moment, OK is good enough.

I've said before that I don't want to home educate. This experience has very much confirmed that view! While I'm aware that home education normally involves going places and meeting up with other home ed families, I know that I would not have the patience. Preschooler only started at the childminder's last September so I was only just getting used to time alone when lockdown hit, but my word have I missed it. And I'm neither mentally disciplined enough to create a solid home learning routine, nor relaxed enough to go down the unschooling route. If it hadn't been for the work school provided I would have really struggled to know what or how to 'teach' Girl Child. And my efforts to teach her meant that Preschooler was often left to watch TV as I just couldn't find any other way to occupy him.

I have, however, loved having time with Girl Child again. It was like a return to the days before school, when I wasn't just getting the scraps of her in the evenings and weekends. I've seen her creativity, her intelligence, her humour and her affection in whole new depths. I've also seen the bond between her and Preschooler grow even further. In many ways, it's been lovely. But at the same time I know I will breathe a sigh of relief when she returns to school in September!

I wish it hadn't taken a pandemic to have these revelations. It's been devastating and terrifying seeing what's happening in our world and our country. My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones. I'm in no way making light of the situation. But I now know that I am a better mum than I thought I was, and I'm stronger than I thought I was. And my kids are far more resilient than I give them credit for. We'll get through this, hopefully with our health intact, knowing that we can cope with more than we realise.

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