Parents admit to struggling with their own wellbeing during the pandemic

Being a parent can be a tough at the best of times, but throw in a pandemic, working from home and homeschooling and it gets a whole lot harder, writes HELEN MCGURK
Belfast mum-of-two Helen McClements with her daughtersBelfast mum-of-two Helen McClements with her daughters
Belfast mum-of-two Helen McClements with her daughters

According to a survey by Parenting NI, parents have reported a significant drop in their mental and emotional wellbeing due to Covid-19.

The charity said parents have found this most recent lock down the most difficult, many noting that they are working from home and trying to support their children’s home-schooling simultaneously which is enormously difficult.

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Charlene Brooks, Parenting NI ceo, said: “A common thread of concern was parents worried about their children and young people, with the majority of them noting that their young people were having little/no issues pre-pandemic but now that they are having little or no contact with friends, family and the wider community, combined with lengthy periods of home learning, was having a hugely detrimental impact.

Charlene Brooks, Parenting NICharlene Brooks, Parenting NI
Charlene Brooks, Parenting NI

“This is equally true for those parents of teenagers, 87 per cent of whom reported in the study that social isolation was the most common cause for concern, closely followed by education, exam results and access to devices all weighing heavy on their minds as well.”

The survey found that when looking at support available the majority of families indicated that they were unaware of what services had on offer.

Ms Brooks added: “An even more worrying trend, perhaps, was that parents and families that were aware of support, had not made use of it. They cited various reasons for this, but largely they were concerned about the stigma in asking for help and were unsure of what service would best suit their needs.

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“Much more needs to be done to normalise the use of services and supports for parents and families. There are many great organisations who have trained and experienced staff and volunteers to provide parents with that much needed listening ear, with access to programmes and workshops and to tailor services to suit their situations.”

Like many parents, Belfast mum-of-two and blogger Helen McClements said the most stressful element of her day at the moment is “definitely the home-schooling”.

“I quickly get frustrated when I see that my children’s academic progress has gone into a swift decline since lockdown began. When I look at what they are producing presently I turn into a raging harpy. ‘Have you ever HEARD of a full stop?’ ‘Yes, 55 take away 14 is indeed 41 but since that is a PLUS sign so the answer is 69.’ There is much sniping and sighing when I have the audacity to point out these mistakes. When I asked for my nine-year-old to give me a couple of adjectives last week she replied: ‘Mean and nasty’. That was encouraging.

“I dug out some of the school-books from previous years, and there was the evidence that my home-schooling techniques are rubbish. A quick flick through and I saw plenty of positive comments and gold stars- ‘Go you! Amazing! Wow!’ What is abundantly clear is that they lack both the inclination and the ability to concentrate at their work at home.”

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Helen added: “Last lockdown my husband used to blithely say ‘Send them up to me!’ when he heard raised voices below.

“Since then, he has installed two large monitors on the desk where they used to sit. ‘Not much room for them here,’ he says.

“Since the start of January he has a significantly larger number of meetings for which is attendance is, apparently, mandatory. Obviously, I am not remotely suspicious about any of this.”

Sometimes Helen said she tries to do housework while her children work, but discovered this is “a complete waste of time”.

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“The See-Saw app they use can be fiddly, so if I’m not at their shoulder to oversee what they’re doing they merrily press ‘send’ and send their teacher a load of rubbish. Some of the work coming home is new, and while teachers patiently and with enormous effort, post explanatory videos, I still need to sit with them as they do most of the activities.

“Afternoons are spent with my trying to avoid a visit to A&E as they treat our living room furniture like a jungle gym. Last Lockdown my husband had to screw the leg back into the sofa and so far this time we have bid farewell to a kitchen chair.”

She added: “And yet, when I am not strung out multi-tasking, I often feel a sense of relief.

“Latterly when I was teaching in a local grammar school, I was aware of the huge amount of pressure which staff and pupils alike where struggling under. This was the result of not knowing whether exams were taking or place or not and the fact students felt worried about what they had missed.

“Tensions ran exceptionally high.

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“Two weeks ago when it snowed it seemed like a gift- we took the children to the local meadow with their sleds and played for hours. I didn’t have to navigate icy roads and sit at home wondering whether the school would be open or not.

“We have established new traditions together and now always eat our meal in the evenings together.

“Friday night is take-out night, and we take turns choosing what it will be. There is always a sense of celebration when the weekend arrives.

“Late afternoon I escape, lighting a candle and doing some yoga.

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“Even if it’s just a fifteen-minute practice I feel like it’s something ‘just for me.’ Also, just for me, is the can of wine which I crack open every evening at seven.

“I realize, that although life is strange and frightening, that I am lucky.

Annoying as they can be, I have a family and a menagerie of pets to keep me busy and (sometimes) amused. Being on my own would be infinitely worse, so when I feel myself close to losing my temper I try to remember this.”

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