I've never had ALL the answers for my children, but now I've none, writes Amanda Cassidy
“How many days until we go back to school,” my nine-year-old daughter asks me hopefully as we load the shopping trolley down with yet more baking ingredients.
I’m afraid to tell her. I’m afraid the goalposts will change again. Disappointment is the backdrop to the children’s lives for the past year. They’ve stopped complaining and that’s not a good sign.
Dr Niall Muldoon is the Ombudsman for Children. He wrote recently about the quiet lethargy of the nation’s children as we continue to suffer one of the most restrictive and lengthy lockdowns in the world. “They’ve lost six months of their experience in school and the habits and routine and social life that used to keep them safe is gone. The long-term mental health impacts shouldn’t be underestimated.”
I can’t prepare them for what comes next.
My children still believe me to be an oracle. I’m the person who usually has most the answers for them; Can they go to their friend’s house? Can they have a gymnastics party? Can we go to the zoo this weekend?
But for the past year, I can’t prepare them for what comes next. I can’t do my job effectively. I can’t tell them what or when or with who. Everything they know has been whipped away from them – grandparent hugs, sleepovers, school, sports.
Creating routine and stability is an important part of fostering a secure environmen – that’s what we do, as parents. And although parents around the country are trying their best to do that in their 5km pocket of the world, it is no substitute for the life they’ve known – the one they’ve built.
Their lives have shrunken down, shriveled into pancakes, movies, and yet another walk. They don’t learn from friends, push boundaries, test limits, learn turn-taking amongst peers, learn conflict resolution, laugh with pals, hug their friends.
The way this government has structured it, they can’t even go out and play soccer with their teammates or have friends over to help them blow out the candles on their cake. How can they possibly understand and adapt to this last lost year without a negative impact?
Mummy and Daddy are often working, while also trying to process the daily anxieties that come with living with Gardaí around the corner checking you are behaving, financial worries, the lack of human interaction ourselves, a killer virus on every surface we might touch.
Marriages are failing, teens are isolated, eating disorders on the rise. There is such a lack of hope on the horizon – the pandemic stretching out like a vast endless night.
We’ll cope – we’ve learned how over the years. But there will be an entire generation that has lost at least some essential milestones, coming of age experiences… confidence.
The most important lesson we can offer our children right now is letting them watch how we deal with such uncertainty, how we have to lean on others when we are finding things tough, adapt to survive.
For my youngest, almost a quarter of her life has been under lockdown.
“We have to have a really elastic mind at the moment, while Covid is still around,” I tell my three children whenever they ask anything these days. “We have to be ready to bend whichever way things go so we can bounce right back again.”
Being vague helps too, but only in the short-term. We risk eroding their trust in us if we push it too far. “We’ll go to the zoo someday soon and it will be the best day ever,”‘ I whisper when I tuck them in at night, acutely aware that for my youngest, almost a quarter of her life has been under lockdown.
Parenting without any answers is frustrating, the hardest thing we’ve had to do, for them and for me. Some of their friends are now coming into their second year of celebrating their birthday while stuck at home.
It’s time we started prioritising children’s well-being, unlock them from this cruel life prison.
I’d happily never do anything ever again as long as they were given back their team sports, their ability to have friends at their birthday party, and the joy of watching the penguins at the zoo in the Phoenix Park.