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Families have been under incredible pressure because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary public health response. Overnight workplaces, schools and childcare settings were closed, and parents and children locked down into their homes reliant on each other for support.
Life has totally altered for us all, with parents and carers front and centre of this, trying to do the best for their children in this strange new reality. Parents and carers have been grappling with a huge variety of issues from trying to work from home while home schooling to negotiating the benefits system for the first time and ensuring that there’s enough to eat and pay the bills.
Every family’s story is different, and every family has its own story which is why Parenting across Scotland started its Lives in Lockdown project. We’re asking families to tell us what’s been happening to them in lockdown. Knowing how the pandemic is affecting families will help us let Government know what issues parents are facing and what support they need.
So far, the accounts have been very varied and cover a wide range of topics. Home schooling while working from home and concerns about mental health top the list. Parents have also told us about losing their jobs, shopping for relatives, not having any support with children with additional support needs. On the positive side parents have talked about having more time at home with their children and not having to rush out to work.
Challenges of home schooling
Home schooling has been an enormous issue for parents. Trying to work from home while home schooling a child is not an easy feat for anyone.
Carolyn told us about her family’s timetable:
“First day of the week when both husband and I work. At first, we divided the day into four shifts and took turns doing parenting and working, but that felt quite frantic. So, we’re now doing half days each, which is more manageable.”
Others have pre-school children at home they’re trying to keep occupied while they work. Toddlers photobombing Zoom meetings is an amusing image; the pressure of trying to get your job done and keep children happy at the same time not so much.
So far, without exception parents have told us that they are find home schooling challenging. Trying to do two things simultaneously that are both full-time jobs is no easy task. Local authorities, schools and individual teachers take different approaches and have differing expectations. Parents themselves have different resources.
“We are helped a lot by the attitude of our headteacher, who has made it clear that schoolwork comes second to doing whatever we think is necessary to keep our children safe and well.”, mother of one, Lucy told us.
But it’s much harder when the school doesn’t take that line, or for parents who don’t have the resources to home school, for single parents and parents whose children have additional support needs.
Another parent, Elizabeth, told us: “I worry that I might be confusing the kids while trying to help them learn. I know I will have a massive problem with at least one child when it comes time to go back as they are very much "at home" staying in.”
It looks like we may be home schooling for some time to come; children won’t be going back to school on a full-time basis anytime soon. We need to find answers that work for families: a Scotland wide virtual school, as Jenifer Johnston’s Reform Scotland blog suggested, might be one of them.
Concerns about mental health
Parents are concerned about the impact this has had on mental health, either their own, or their child’s.
Michelle is worried about the effect lockdown is having on her four-year-old son: “I'm watching him lose the joy, the confidence he had, in his life. The looking forward to starting school in the autumn.”
Helen who’s pregnant with her second child told us: “I cannot cope with providing full time childcare at home for him because he triggers very severe anxiety in me and because I’m pregnant and having to rest and not expose myself to excessive stress.”
Lockdown is hard on people’s mental health, both exacerbating existing problems and creating new ones. Support for the mental health of parents and children will be vital as we move out of lockdown.
Rising poverty levels
Even before COVID-19 struck, as many as one child in four was living in poverty with families struggling to put food on the table and many forced to resort to food banks. The pandemic has seen many more have lost their jobs or be furloughed and has plunged families who were only just managing into poverty.
Michelle, a single parent, told us:
“I am on Universal Credit. I have had to leave my own home to care for mother who is very poorly with last stage COPD so is isolating herself.
I am affected by the third child cap… I cannot find any extra help to pay for necessities and feel that I get passed from pillar to post. I don’t know how we will manage. How do I afford everything and provide for my children?”
As we emerge from lockdown, we will be facing increased levels of poverty and economic insecurity. Addressing this must be a priority: families need to have their basic needs met in order to thrive.
Appreciating the positives
And yet among all the difficulties, parents are managing to find positives. Parents told us that they value the extra one to one time that they’ve had with their children. One kinship carer whose account of life under lockdown seemed hard told us she felt ‘blessed’ because she had a garden and that life is even harder for others.
Charlotte, who’s recently had a baby, told us:
“It’s nice not having to get the house, the baby or myself ready for visitors. There’s been no one telling me how to be a mother; we are all finding our own way through reading advice, trying, and making changes slowly.”
A tremendous ethic of solidarity between parents and communities has come to the fore during lockdown: of standing together, of helping each other and of making the effort to lockdown for the benefit of other families as well as our own.
As we emerge into a strangely altered new world, we must listen to parents and carers about what support they need, and ensure that we support each other to continue the ethos of kindness and mutual support that has helped families through the dark times.
Other articles published in June 2020 newsletter.