I am writing my column this week from isolation. Unfortunately, coronavirus has found its way into our house, and my wife and I are currently recovering from its effects.
We are lucky not to have suffered too badly, and we are both grateful to have avoided having to receive hospital treatment. Our thoughts are with those families who have been much more adversely affected by this horrific virus and for those who have lost loved ones.
I am especially thankful that it has had little impact on our young son, but the biggest effect has been on us as parents. As anyone with a toddler will tell you, two healthy adults struggle to match the energy levels of a 2.5-year-old at the best of times; with Coronavirus on top, this becomes a mountainous task.
Thinking further about the challenges all parents have faced during the lockdown, and the roadmap back to normality which the Prime Minister announced last week, I felt it was appropriate to focus this week on the unique circumstances which parents, children, and teachers have had to handle during the outbreak, and reflect on the challenges of the months to come.
I asked some other parents, of children of various ages, about their experiences during the lockdown, and each has faced their own challenges:
“It’s difficult keeping a little’un entertained and educated, and trying to work from home at the same time. As time goes on, she misses her school friends more and more, so it’s been difficult for her too.”
“It’s been really challenging homeschooling two children of different ages, one primary school and one high school, both of very different abilities. It’s been quite a number of years since I studied Year 7 maths and science, so Google has been our best friend.”
“The hardest thing about lockdown for me has been the guilt I feel towards my family. My family are lucky in many ways because we haven’t been furloughed, both mine and my husbands jobs are secure - but that means that work life has had to continue as normal, and as a result, the kids haven’t got that total one-on-one time if they want it.”
“Some days the kids wake up full of energy and motivation, we cook, we take walks, we do school work - this then means I have to do my own work in the evenings. Other days, the kids wake up with no appetite for school work or going out. These days are hard. My youngest son is 7 and when his mood is low, school work is hard to achieve. Some days - we don’t get any school work done. I’m a working mum, and there are limits as to what I can achieve.”
These are just a snapshot of the challenges which many parents have been facing up and down the country, with many people not able to rely on their usual network of support, whether it be through school, family or friends.
Every ‘key worker’ has been able to send their child to school throughout the lockdown but, understandably, many have opted to keep them at home in any case; only 2% of pupils have been in class recently. I want to thank all our schools and teachers who have enabled children of key workers to still attend school. Now, all key workers are being encouraged to send their children to school, and if and only if the virus stays under control, all pupils in early years, reception, year 1, and year 6 will be back from 1st June.
I understand the concerns of parents and teachers who believe this is too early; I have the same instinct to protect my son. I know it is difficult, but we need to take a step back, and take a wider view: children are less susceptible to the virus, and every month’s lost education and social contact will take a much higher toll than the effects of the lockdown on our entire community.
Schools often provide much greater support for families than just educating our children and many especially will be struggling without that support now. I know charities and voluntary groups have been stepping up to support many of our more vulnerable families. So, I would like to especially thank them for their incredible efforts. I know many never get the recognition they deserve, and I would encourage people to go to my website to nominate any organisation or individual who has been making a difference in these challenging times for my unsung hero awards which I launched last week.
The Prime Minister has taken a cautious and conditionally limited approach to start moving our country back to normality. In the last week people have been able to do more exercise outside and more people encouraged back to work if they are not able to from home. But these changes are extremely limited with significant restrictions and social distancing continuing for as long as is necessary. Gradual easing of the lockdown, making small step by step changes that are conditional on a declining outbreak is clearly the most sensible way out of this situation.
This article appeared originally in The Sentinel, 18th May 2020.