Just over a year on from when we were declared on a national lockdown, it seems as though we are slowly, slowly, finding our way back to normal. When I learnt that I would be furloughed from my day job in March 2020, it was a relief because working from home with the kids presented a real challenge but one thing I really wanted to avoid was becoming unproductive. I was also expecting my second child at the time, but little did I know that I would be navigating the ever-changing dynamic of what would become a life-altering pandemic while taking on a new role as the mother of two.
Parenting in itself can be challenging but the COVID-19 pandemic amplified this. It wasn’t only our own mental health we had to think about but that of our children who undoubtedly were feeling the effects of losing their routine, being unable to socialise with their friends and peers, or play in parks and soft plays and essentially withdraw from their familiar childhood. And for a five year old, the fact we were in the middle of a serious pandemic, was not a satisfying explanation.
As if my son didn’t already have the struggles of losing his routine and structure, the arrival of a new sibling in the midst of lockdown could easily have been the straw to break the camel’s back. And if the outlook wasn’t fragile enough, my daughter was born only a week before his fifth Halloween birthday.
Did I mention it was the middle of a lockdown?! Here’s to hoping we can leave lockdown birthdays in 2021.
Lockdown really put things into perspective when it came to parenting and it forced me to take a step back and consider my responses, tactics and behaviour when it came to being the supportive and understanding parent I felt my children needed, even moreso in that moment.
I try to empathise with my son’s behaviour.
At the start of the pandemic, my son was only four and still in nursery. Unfortunately, one of the direct effects of him losing that relevant social interaction was a switch in his behaviour and not for the better. He became more aggressive in his response to not being able to have his way, he didn’t have any focus to do anything with me that wasn’t on television or his tablet and he eventually displayed confusion and sadness about why he was unable to see his friends.
Because of his age, intially I really did diminish the effect such a lockdown would have on him, all while I was ever-present in how I was feeling about it all myself. Making a connection to his drastic switch in behaviour and our new circumstances was the first step to me really approaching his outbursts and tantrums in a more supportive and positive way. As overwhelming as it was to see (I felt like he was regressing), it was important to me that he not feel like any of his uncertainty and insecurities surrounding these changes were reflected in our relationship.
I learnt to pause before I reacted and I really tried to understand his perspective; analyze his facial expressions to determine his emotions were geniuine and acknowledge them and think about the best way to respond.
As a result, I feel like my son and I now have a healthy dynamic as far as communication and he knows when I’m genuinely angry or upset about something and when I’m simply explaining to him why I may not be happy about his behaviour or something he’s doing. It doesn’t result in tantrums anymore but rather positive exchanges which leave us both happy.
I give more choices.
I don’t class myself as an overly strict mum, generally. However, I rely on having a sound structure and order to my day-to-day with the kids, although I’ve learnt the hard way that’s not always feasible. When lockdown began and it had become apparent that I’d have to find ways to occupy not only the attention of my four year old son but also my seven year old niece, I went with the approach of having all the activities for the day, lunch and dinner planned out. I felt the more organised I was, the less stressed I would be. Well, that lasted maybe about a week. The intial excitement of not having to go to school and “staying home doing fun things with Auntie Ashley” quickly transformed into boredom and a lack of enthusiasm. I soon came to realise that providing them with choices of what they could do or have and allowing both children to express what they were interested in giving a try, lead to more time spent doing the activity, more productivity for me and just a more pleasant experience overall.
Growing up as child, giving children choices wasn’t exactly practiced- you know, a child’s place and all that. But now, I feel like giving my son choices allows him to feel some level of control in a time when he really doesn’t have any and once I give him choices I agree to, I’m providing him security without sacrificing authority.
I indulge in quality time to myself.
I pride myself in being an attentive parent and with my son, I was always on-hand in our free time to do something with him whether it be playing a game, doing some colouring or reading a book. With the lockdown and his loss of routine there was a constant pressure to not let him become dependent on spending all of his time on his tablet or in front of the TV- I felt like we had a healthy balance once I became furloughed so in an effort not to jeopardize that, I found that having time to myself often revolved around what I had planned for the children for the day. With the loss of my own productivity, there was a certain level of guilt experienced when kicking back and putting my feet up.
Once baby #2 came along, I was prepared to fall into my bad habit of cleaning and organising and basically doing anything but rest so any time to myself had a bleak outlook. But being on lockdown changed my perspective on needing everything to be spick and span, perfect or organised. I had come to the realization- we’re not having people over, I have little chance of swapping my sweatpants for jeans and seeing anyone the next day and my son being on the tablet for a few extra hours a day, doesnt make me a bad mum. I had tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that so one day every now and then, I could dedicate some time to myself.
Without the guilt.
I reached out and exposed myself to other mums.
I’ve always been quite confident in my parenting. Two years in the baby industry meant lots of research about children and babies and once I had my own, I felt like I applied a lot of what I had studied and experienced, successfully. I’ve also always been the only person in my friends group or network to have children so I often relied on a lot of my own information to parent and therefore had a lot of my own opinions.
However, there was nothing more isolating than having a baby in the middle of a lockdown. You realise that even after the lockdown, you will now have even less in common with the people around you and a new baby who will require your presence and attention more than a five year old. The closure of mum groups and baby play groups meant that connecting with other mothers was unlikely.
Now that we’re slowly getting back to normal, I have felt the urge to reach out to other women with children my age and really immerse myself in communities that offer support for mums and I even find myself more open to advice from others and willing to help other mums who may be feeling isolated or lost or just want someone to talk to.
As a parent, all you want to do is protect yourchild and the rise of this pandemic challenged that. To label parenting through this pandemic a struggle would be an understatement; I felt that lockdown had really begun to take a toll on my motherhood. But I’m grateful for the lessons it taught me.
Now, I pause. I listen, really listen, to my son when he’s struggling with his behaviour. I take time for myself when I need it and have a generally more relaxed outlook on life and its intricacies overall.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain”.- Vivian Greene