Parenting through the pandemic

Parenting through the pandemic

The past 12 months has been challenging for all of us in many different ways, whether you share a household with children or not. Lately, however, I have found myself speaking to many other parents about their experiences of lockdown. Feelings of isolation seem to have dominated and a sense of comfort then derived from realising that in fact their experiences are shared by others. This gave rise to the idea of a blog post where folks could share some of their experiences and the hope that maybe this would maybe be cathartic for the person who shared a story or of comfort to the one who reads it. Thank you to everyone who contributed a snapshot of your year.

Parent to a 3 & 4 year old, working FT 

Jealousy. I feel it all the time since roughly March of 2020. I see viral memes and TikToks about how everyone is 'Bored in the house and I'm in the house bored'. People on Facebook complaining how they've reached the 'End of netflix', or showing off their latest garden renovation or project. Meanwhile I am so jealous I think my skin is actually turning green. 

" DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH I WISH I COULD BE BORED?!?!" I desperately wish I could scream at anyone and everyone who whinges about the tedium of lockdown life.

Anyone who is a parent can tell you how difficult having small children is, but throw on top of that the nurseries and parks being shut, still being expected to deliver the same full-time work output and having most of your family and friends roughly 4,000 miles's a special kind of torture. The first lockdown was a shock, but there was a newness and an edge of fear of the unknown. Now I find it an endless 'groundhog day' juggle where I'm constantly busy and frustrated and exhausted. 

I love my kids but I did not sign up for this. I knew parenting was not for the faint of heart but this was never something I fathomed having to live through. Above all, I just want to be bored.

Parent to a 2 year old

I certainly had highs and lows during 2020, but I was lucky that, when Covid-19 reared its head I was in the position that my day top day life wouldn’t change a great deal. I was still looking after our young son full time, and he hadn’t yet reached two years of age. My wife was commuting back and forth to Edinburgh on the train everyday, since returning to work after maternity leave the previous August. Our son, B was due to start nursery in a few weeks, at which point, I’d be able to get back into some kind of work, albeit part-time. We were continuing the same regular routine, which usually involved a walk to one of B’s daily classes, or toddler/parent groups. Since B was only a few weeks old, this had always included a daily visit to Steampunk,. We’d normally spend at least 30 minutes there, chatting to the staff and other regulars. 

B had always enjoyed hikes and bike rides with me, but being winter, these had become more and more sporadic - little did I know how important these bike rides would become over the next six months. As the cafe, and B’s groups grew noticeably quieter on a daily basis, I took assurance from the fact, according to various sources at the time, that healthy people, had nothing to worry about; I think advice, simply highlighted the importance of hand washing. These toddler groups were the highlight of B’s week, and we didn’t want to worry him, and with C still commuting by public transport, it’s not as if we could hide from this thing. We would carry on as normal, until told otherwise.

When Lockdown did happen, I remember it was incredibly cold. Our walk to the beach that Saturday morning, seemed somewhat ominous. As we sat on a bench, enjoying our coffee and biscuit - not sure whether a picnic was now frowned upon - it was hard to envision how the next few weeks and months were going to pan out. Thankfully, the cold weather was not to last, and I was able to get my shorts on, unseasonably early. C began working from home, but the start of lockdown coincided with her Easter holiday, which was good. So, apart from the classes and groups, which had been cancelled, our day to day life wouldn’t change a great deal, but we’d have to stay out of C’s way as much as possible, when she was working.

B is lucky that we were able to spend a little time with his Scottish Grandparents when restrictions allowed us to during the summer, but we haven’t been able to see his London Grandparents for well over 12 months now, which is very sad. Because of C’s job, we chose not to push our luck with restrictions, and didn’t venture far in 2020. It was quite frustrating to see people from all over the world descend on the Highlands and Islands, but we’re lucky to live in such a beautiful spot here, and count ourselves lucky, to have so much open space on our doorstep. Hopefully, it wont be too long before we can visit London, and the rest of Scotland - fingers crossed!

Now that we’re in Lockdown yet again, but with much worse weather, we haven’t been able to explore nearly as much, but we’re doing a fair bit - this time with the running buggy, which keeps B nice and warm. But, like the previous 11 months, I’ve learned, that it’s the simple things in life which keep B occupied the best - plenty fresh air and sunshine, a walk to the beach, a ride on his balance bike, or watching the birds in our garden with his binoculars...and plenty Fireman Sam - I’m not very good at doing arts and crafts with him, but hopefully nursery will start again soon!

FT Parent to a 3 & 5 year old

"Covid-19 education at home" is hard.  It's fucking hard. I've got a PhD and a Masters, I've project-managed projects as long as 3 years, interacting with both public and private sector stakeholders, local, national and international. I've also been a volunteer community sports coach for 20 years. "Covid-19 education at home" is still hard.

It's no reflection on us.  This is unlikely to be our strength.  Sure, we'll definitely have some transferable skills that will help, but these will be different for each of us.

So talk on the phone (remember that?) to your friends.  Listen. Message your friends. Save the messages.  Steal your friends' tips. Try them. Adapt them. Keep what works for you and your family. It's not wise or always legal to meet up and chat. So, if you can, use technology. Use the designated support resources at school, they really want you to succeed as much as you want to.

Schoolteachers have support staff and line-managers, they have mentors, they have cleaners, they have secretarial staff, they have other teachers they can talk to. That helps. A lot! Don't get me wrong, teachers don't have it easier now either; online work, classroom work, increased administrative burdens, keeping themselves well, managing their interpersonal relationships, having downtime, and caring for others….

We've been doing this for nearly a year on and off.  Any novelty has likely worn off. We've put parts of our life on what feels like permanent hold, the bits that we've been able to, and we've muddled through the rest of it. I kept a tally one day of the longest amount of time to myself I got in one day between 8am and 8pm.  It was 14 minutes. That didn't include any coffee breaks, I multitasked them. Lunch? Took with the wee-ones. I'm dead on my feet after putting the children to bed, I've been in bed before 9pm more times in the past year than the 30 combined before that.

(With the kindest of hearts) To those without children, who think "Just plonk them in front of the TV and take a break, you need and deserve it!"  Young children get bored of CBeebies etc. quicker than you think! If you’re lucky enough to not be feeling under pressure, with or without children, great, but remember most of us are, be kind to us.

There's no easy way out of this. This isn't a solution post, it’s a reminder.  You are not alone, so many people are likely feeling JUST LIKE YOU, you probably just don't know it. What's worked for me?  Being led by the children: school suggests Maths at 9:30-10:00? Wee one wants to do reading from 9:00-10:00? Do the reading. Fit in the Maths later, if you can. If they don't want to read about “Ziggity and the Wombat,” but really, really, really, really want to read a book about castles, let them read. Then write about castles, then draw a castle, then make a castle, count castles on a map. My Dad said something that stuck with me (I'll paraphrase and embellish) As long as they return to school with a love of learning the same or greater than they started lockdown with, that's probably pretty damn good. Let them discover their educational passions. My 5yo has, and it wasn't what I expected, they now know more about these subjects at 5 than I did at 18.

But I'm still tired, with a mountain of unread books, a cluttered house, exercise skipped, and TV series left un-binged, there will hopefully be plenty of time to remedy that. I'm muddling through, I hope you are. Keep strong.


Parent to a 14 & 17 year old, working FT

Compared to parents of very young children, I feel I have gotten off relatively lightly through lockdown. At least when it comes to day to day care and busyness. In fact my worry is kind of the opposite. I hardly see my kids as they have retreated into their rooms and online connections with friends (and a whole hell of a lot of Netflix). What wakes me in the middle of the night (as the teenager heads to the kitchen for a snack) is the long term effects on mental health that isolation at this key stage of development may be causing. I am also saddened by the key life milestones they are missing. Exams, nope. Final dance, nope. School trips, nope. Hanging out with friends, almost none and certainly not in groups as would be normal at this age.

Technology has taken over. Screen time was something I strictly limited when they were young but when lockdown first hit it seemed cruel to cut off their only access to their peers and socialising. I had no idea that a year later they would still be at home, behind closed doors with the WiFi whirring day and night. Nights quickly swapped over with days as the teen tendency to be nocturnal failed to hit the normal obstacle of waking for school. Trying to encourage more structure which I did increasingly forcefully for the younger one was simply met with resistance and stony moods that actually became counter productive. I’ve learned you can lead a teen to schoolwork but you cannot make them do it much like the proverbial horse and water. Schoolwork is given weekly so they are facing the sort of time management challenges at 14 (and younger) that are normally only confronted once off to Higher education. Maybe some highly organised and motivated kids or those with parents who can be much more involved can cope with this. Our combination of a fiercely independent teen and a full time working single parent has not been conducive to getting much learning done. This leads to a heap of guilt on both sides.

I feel like a year plus of life has been lost. I had been trying to travel more with my kids while they were still living at home and tolerated travelling with their Mum and it feels like we will have lost our last opportunities to do this. We live in a small place so getting out and seeing the wider world felt like an important thing for me to contribute to their education. Our regular nights out for food are also gone. Travel and food were the two things we were still all able to agree on and enjoy together at our span of ages and they vanished (poof!) last March. Although these are trivial in the grand scheme of things this was the fun part, they were the bits where we connected and laid down memories. What is left is the daily grind - schoolwork, housework, grabbing a bite to eat, WFH, nagging about schoolwork, more WFH, nagging about sleeping patterns….

When this pandemic started I wanted my kids to stay away from school, safe at home. Now, although I still agree for the safely of the public’s health as a whole people should be at home, I increasingly question how safe it is for the mental health of our kids to be isolated in this way. I’m worried about the long term scars this isolation may be leaving.


Parent of 3 and 5 year olds 

I have to admit to having a wee bit of envy during lockdown of those people for whom childcare isn't a factor. The social media discussions about which Netflix series to indulge in next. The endless lounging in pyjamas. The time and space to pick up a new hobby and immerse oneself in it.  Of course I know it's definitely not all roses. kids are all-consuming.

Lockdown has been the biggest test of endurance and patience ever, and I haven't always passed. I have longed to hide under blankets on the couch, cry, sleep more, take yoga classes in the middle of the day, basically slow myself down to Lockdown Speed. None of that is an option. I plaster a smile on my face, I mould myself into the rock they need to cling to, even as I am unravelling on the inside.

Because even at such young ages, their worlds are turned upside down: something isn't right but they just don't understand. So I hold them as they cry, watch them as they sleep or hide under blankets, and allow them to watch unhealthy amounts of Paw Patrol. We craft, we play, we bake (oh the stress!). They ask why we can't go to North Berwick about 57 times a week. I attempt to homeschool, but who am I kidding with a three year old who desperately needs the same attention as her neurodiverse older sibling gets?

My biggest wish is that they look back on this time as a time when we came together as a family and felt safe and loved. Honestly, though, most days there are tears from all of us. None of this is healthy, not this time round. It's hard and feels endless.


Parent of teen and pre teens

Whilst the confinements of Covid restrictions have been undoubtedly challenging and emotional for most, the changes they have brought to teenagers seem to me to be amongst the most profound.

I look back a year and a half ago, when my now 16 year old was offered a tantalising glimpse at the nectar of adult life – earning his own money, going to the cinema, flirting, hanging out on a Friday night with friends. Then suddenly the venus flytrap unexpectedly closed tight, and his world diminished dramatically to the confines of his bedroom.

We are lucky. He has not suffered the angst and trauma borne by others, but it has been difficult to witness lethargy gradually pushing aside enthusiasm and enjoyment for life. The constantly shifting targets of Higher assessments have made it difficult to focus on studies. Even now it is unclear when they will be tested, and what on. So how can there be any incentive to get up and get the books out? Inevitably, evenings become later and mornings almost non-existent.

Younger ones are able to go the park or play football in the street with friends, bringing much needed social interaction and fun. Teenagers are not permitted this light relief which would afford a chance to put things in perspective, and to forget the stresses of exams, Covid, families.

There is no interest in family walks, baking a cake or charades on Zoom. Thankfully, though, he has a connection with friends over his Playstation, and we are grateful to hear snatches of animated conversation and laughter through the closed door.

For now, as parents, we continue to feel quite helpless. We can encourage him to get outside in daylight hours, eat well, and try to keep up his studies, but beyond that were is little we can do to make up for his loss of a social life. We all desperately look forward to seeing him back on the rugby pitch with his friends, and will never again grumble at having to wait anxiously for him to return from a night out. 

Mom of 2 boys, 10 and soon to be 9.

I talk to myself pretty much all day. Sometimes I talk myself up: “Come on, just another half hour of focusing on school, then you can let them take a break.” And sometimes I talk myself down: “Breathe. Just breathe. He’s only 10 and this is hard. Breathe in, breathe out.”

I try to talk to myself the way I talk to them, with compassion and patience and a firm, steady voice. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes they ask me to do things for them that they could do for themselves. Sitting at the table reading, “Mooom, can you get me some water?” Getting ready to go outside, “Moooom I can’t find any socks.” The socks are in his drawer, he just needs to look. The glasses and tap aren’t too high for him to reach anymore, he’s just being lazy.

Sometimes they get frustrated because learning from home, without a qualified teacher - just your mom - is hard. “Mom, I hate writing. I can’t do it. It’s too hard. I’m NOT doing it.” “Mom I know how to alphabetize things, this is stupid. I’m NOT doing it.” They convince themselves they can’t do things, and then dig in their heels and insist that no, they won’t do it. Or they convince themselves they shouldn’t have to do things, and then won’t.

The incentives and punishments are lined up like an arsenal, ready to be employed. The trick is to get just the right balance. Take away all the screen time and they have zero incentive to cooperate or listen for the rest of the day. And then your day sucks because you don’t get any time away from them.

Most days I lose my shit at least once. I consider it a pretty good day if I don’t shout at anyone. But the kids lose their shit a few times a day each.

Things I say regularly:

“If you throw your glasses and they break, you won’t be getting new ones.”

“If you rip up your paper and can’t submit your work, I’ll print it out again and you’ll have to do it over.”

“It’s not my fault this sucks, don’t take it out on me.”

“Stop taking it out on your brother.”

I sound like a robot a lot of the time. It makes me hate the sound of my own voice.

We talk a lot about things we can control and things we can’t control. We can’t control Covid-19 and we can’t control what assignments the teachers set. We can do our best not to get sick or make other people sick. We can control whether or not we throw jotters and pens across the room and shout at Mom.

Because so much of schooling from home is done through gritted teeth, we all get a pass when it comes to other things in daily life. Chicken tenders and chips for dinner? Yup. Plain spaghetti with butter and cheese the next night? Sure. Breakfast and lunch are nebulous affairs. The older one hates showers, so he may not have one as often as he should. There are limits though: brush teeth and clean underwear every day, always eat a fruit or veg before having any sweets or chocolate. I try to pick my battles.

The younger one is turning 9 this week. Planning a kids birthday party under lockdown is challenging. Especially when there’s gale-force winds and freezing rain forecast. We’ll make the best of it: waffles with an array of toppings, friends at the park despite the weather, cake and ice cream at home with our family bubble, movie night and popcorn. And a leopard gecko as a gift. I’m hoping the gecko and the waffles and the movie night will eclipse the memory that it wasn’t a normal birthday at a trampoline gym with all his friends singing before he blew out the candles.

They miss school. I miss work. We’re all just hanging on tight and waiting for this to be over. I try to find spots of brightness and lightness in the day. My first coffee in the morning. Going for a walk with my girlfriend and seeing the snowdrops are up. Having the 10-year-old ask if he can go running with me. Journaling with the almost 9-year-old and seeing him write what he’s grateful for (cookies, snow, Friday...). I’m pretty grateful for cookies, too, to be honest.


Remember, you are not alone!

Here are some local resources for young people and families struggling during the pandemic and lockdown:


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