Tip toeing and dive bombing back to normality

As my young child stood at the door for their first day back at school, yelling at me that we were going to be late, I felt my emotions pulling me all over the place.

I felt relieved that this little person was buoyed and excited. I felt sad that my long days at home with her were coming to an end. I felt a bubbling of nerves in my tummy. Yet, overwhelmingly, I felt that she was ready.

My emotions were that of many a first-time parent sending their child off to school. However, this was a first day like no other. This was the first day of S.P.R.

School. Post. Restrictions.

Seemingly on my own, but in the company of millions of other parents around the world, I had steered my offspring through a life like no other. For now, at least, it was time to release the reins a little and let her have a glimpse of the normal.

Parenting during a pandemic has seen the mental health of many parents come crashing to the ground. None of us had trained for this, there was no Parenting Bootcamp for 2020. What was asked of us was near on impossible and whether we waltzed out of lockdown declaring a new lease of life and intending to homeschool forever – or if we hauled ourselves over the line, our eyes firmly fixed on the school gates dragging our iPad clutching offspring behind us … we all deserve a firm pat on the back. As do our children.

Kids had no inkling of how their lives were going to change when they left school on that final Friday yelling to their friends that they would see them on Monday. Pandemic-related jargon now so familiar to us must have felt strange and intimidating to their tender ears. The loss of community contact felt to the core by so many adults would have been bewildering to them. Fun at first, when house rules inevitably slackened, and snack intake increased exponentially… but then as the novelty wore off questions were asked – where did this come from and when will it go away?

Will I get sick? Will you get sick? Will Grandma die?

At least, this was the way it was in our home.

Whilst restrictions are easing, and Australian life does seem to be moving in a direction for which we can all be grateful, we should acknowledge that our lives will contain a degree of uncertainty for the foreseeable future. And, like anything else that we cannot personally control, we must get comfortable with that disconcerting feeling.

I believe this is key for our kids too. They must be comfortable. How they look back on this time and how their future mental health is impacted, I believe, depends very much on their level of comfort now.

The impact of the virus on our mental health is well documented; the Victorian government has published frightening statistics suggesting that without urgent action the next three years will see 370,000 Victorians hospitalised or seeking treatment for mental health issues directly related to this COVID-19 outbreak.

Parenting during a pandemic has seen the mental health of many parents come crashing to the ground. None of us had trained for this, there was no Parenting Bootcamp for 2020.

This is not meant to be fearmongering. As a person with a tendency to let anxiety take hold, I take comfort in the fact that we live in an age where predominantly mental health is valued and protected. With communication, conversation and free access to professionals when required I hope that the above statistics will prove to be inflated.

I recognise the need to take gentle care of my mental health as we transition to the next stage of this crisis – whatever that might entail. I blew an isolation bubble to protect my loved ones – now Daniel Andrews is holding a pin to that closely guarded bubble and he intends to pop it. I must start getting comfortable with the gentle easing in of the outside world.

I’m a huge believer in open and honest communication with children; for me, it’s ok that my kids know that the health crisis shook me to my core. Yet it is imperative that they feel safe. It is fine for me to feel nervous about us all stepping back into the big, bad world but I need for them to feel stable and confident to do so.

There is no COVID-related secrecy or taboo in our household. Weird and wonderful questions are welcomed – even when the question “how did it jump from species to species” sees me inadvertently debating the potential of a romantic union of a bat and a pangolin. We also have our basics covered. The kids know the simple safety measures they must take. They know that we might all retreat into our homes and resume our wearing of day pyjamas once more. They know that Australia has been fortunate. They know that they are in safe hands. They know that we are in this together, and vitally they know that there is an end in sight.

Just as I have open communication with my kids, I also need it with my friends. For now, we’ll keep our catchups digital, each finding comfort in the fact that we’re feeling our way blindly, but competently, through
this together.

By Charlie Golding, Melbourne mama and author of When The World Went Inside – a book talking to young kids about COVID-19.