Parenting in a Pandemic – F*#ked, fantastic or somewhere in between

Not long ago, I asked our Jump Up For Kids community to share their stories of their Covid19 experience. I had asked people to share the good, the bad and the ugly and we got it. Actually we got the bad and the ugly. Which has left me pondering for a week what to do about this. I’ve been left tossing up the following:

  • Everyone is stressed with the amount of change and uncertainty related to Covid19 and I don’t want to make things worse by sharing ‘bad news stories’
  • I know there are lots of wonderful things happening every single day in many families, communities and around the world
  • People who have shared stories have something to say and this may be their only opportunity to share their experience. I had made a commitment to share these stories in a respectful manner
  • Our experience in this very unusual time provides us with a unique opportunity to reflect on what works, what doesn’t (both before and during Covid 19) and how we want things to work moving forward.

And so after much reflection, I would like to give you a snapshot of some of the things families have found really hard during the Covid19 experience. I am hopeful by identifying some of the tough stuff, we can acknowledge it and make plans for change in the future. I also hope that it amplifies the voice of families so that they may get the support they need to come out of the pandemic as a cohesive family unit with their mental health intact. Finally, I hope these stories help us more fully appreciate that everybody’s journey is different, not just during this pandemic, but always and we should always be mindful and respectful of this.

Some of these stories you will relate to, some will be outside your experience, but all of them are real.

My hours as a social worker overseeing emergency relief and direct services have doubled since COVID began. I’d love to be able to have the time to be at home with my kids and use the opportunity to be involved with their education more (for a limited time of course ), but I also value my work and feel that I can contribute to the lives of others who are really in need, so we have made the decision to both continue working on site and send the kids to school. We looked at the kids staying with their grandparents, but the technology aspect would be difficult for them to manage and we would be potentially exposing high risk grandparents and a small baby staying with them by having the kids there and coming home to us. This was a difficult decision to make.

The neighbours called the local police because our child is so loud!
He is, but the intolerance shocked and upset me.
I have heard I am not alone about this, it has happened to others.

I cannot cope with the work being sent home from school. I have 3 children in 3 different grades and 2 of them have learning difficulties. I keep asking the school for help, I have even cried but they keep sending so much work. I am worried my children will fall behind. I don’t know what to do.

My son is unwell. Sometimes he is violent and now we are all at home all the time. We try really hard to keep him calm and get support but because he doesn’t have a diagnosis, it doesn’t seem to fit into anyone’s job description. Last time he was violent and threatened to kill me, 4 neighbours called the police. The police didn’t even come into the house to check. It is 3 weeks since that night and child safety has visited us once and we are still waiting for mental health support. I hope no one in our house is killed during the pandemic.

How can I work from home and make sure my kids are doing their school work too. If I don’t work, I’ll be fired but if I’m not sitting with my kids they don’t get anything done. I don’t know how to make this work.

These are not all the stories we received but they present some of the common themes that we hear from families. What strikes me in all of these stories is:

  • individual people and families trying their very best to juggle all the different roles that are being asked of them right now
  • stress on families is often magnified by external systems placing unrealistic demands on them, particularly education and employment systems
  • the lack of right support in the right place at the right time…police there when nothing is happening, but not there when something is…mental health support that is slow to respond.

We have heard it a million times, THESE ARE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES. So the expectation that we will all switch on computers and continue as normal is unrealistic and very damaging to everyone’s physical and mental health. Now more than ever we need individual approaches to individual people and families. Now more than ever, we need to accept that what may work for some may not work for others.

This requires understanding, kindness, innovation and flexibility. Typically, big systems such as health and education, are renowned for being unwieldy, inefficient and slow to respond to change. However in the past few months, all businesses both public and private have demonstrated an extraordinary ability to assess changing needs and pivot their business models to meet these needs. So change is possible and it can happen quickly.

I implore each of us working within these systems, to take time to reflect on whether our day to day work meets the needs of the children and families we are working with…really meets their needs in a meaningful way that helps the family unit and the individuals within it function effectively, not just in a way that fits our care pathways and curriculum plans. If your system, work place, role description is not meeting the needs of families then challenge it and work toward change. Work towards meeting the needs of individuals and families in a positive way, well beyond the Covid19 event.

For the parents who are feeling that this pandemic is more f*#ked than fantastic, you are not alone. If you want to share your stories we are here to listen and will provide support as needed. In the meantime, here’s a few ideas that might help (& I recognise are far easier to write than implement):

  • Establish the top three priorities for your family for right now. They might change as things return to normal, they might not). Do not let others impose priorities on your family.
  • Redefine success – it does not mean doing it all but instead what is important to you well
  • Look after yourselves – if you are coping well you are providing a great model for your children about how to cope with stress. If you have a bad day/week, accept it for what it is, figure out what you might do differently next time and talk about this with your children
  • Talk honestly with your children – paraphrase their questions, reassure them, empathise but don’t rush in with solutions
  • Strengthen family ties – do things together & if you can get outdoors that’s even better
  • Encourage everyone in the family to identify 3 things they are grateful for each day
  • Get some exercise – make it fun and playful
  • Try to get a good night’s sleep.

This is a difficult time for everyone and no one really knows what the ‘right’ thing to do is right now. If we can approach everyone in our lives with kindness and understanding, then we can go a long way to supporting the mental and physical health of those around us. And let’s not forget that this current strange situation we find ourselves in is because the world has stopped to put health first.

Jump Up For Kids is open during the Covid19 event. We provide face to face and telehealth services. If you would like to talk to someone about how we can help, please contact us via our website www.jumpupforkids.com or emailing admin@jumpupforkids.com.au.

Written by: Madeline Avci, Director Jump Up for Kids

Madeline Avci is the Director of Jump Up For Kids and is a huge advocate of children balancing their time in front of screens with time playing outside where they ignite all of their senses. At work and through her own children, she sees the joy in children’s eyes as they rise up to meet the challenges that nature provides. Jump Up For Kids brings together over twenty years of Madeline’s experience in Occupational Therapy, teaching and parenting, to offer children and their families a ‘just right’ experience in a world that often feels hurried and stressed.

Jump Up For Kids combines expert knowledge of the demands of the modern world, the education system and child development to provide a service that advocates and promotes a common sense approach to raising children in the modern world.

Jump Up For Kids Occupational Therapists work alongside children, families, educators and industry leaders to help develop and promote the independence and resilience children and young people need to do the things they need to do each day and the things they want to do. Jump Up For Kids strives to maintain outstanding levels of service for our clients and strives to place itself at the forefront of Child Development within the Health, Education and Community Development industries.

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