I’ve spent the last few weeks talking to women in business who are also Mums of young children. The verdict is in, this lockdown life is hard. Never before have we had to be in such close quarters with our loved ones for so long. Relationships are becoming strained and the long-term impact on our mental wellbeing is now becoming very present in people’s minds.
I’ve heard many stories of screaming Mums, multi-tasking Mums, teacher Mums, chef Mums, crying Mums, and they all have one thing in common in the end – guilt, oh so much guilt. Platitudes of you’re doing a great job, this won’t last forever, they’ll be fine are not soothing or inspiring. Even the coach Mums are struggling, and they have all the tools that are supposed to help with this.
Fundamentally we are all in this together, we are all, despite being isolated from each other, swimming in the same shit. I don’t know about you but that does not improve my outlook one iota. Knowing that my neighbour is also screaming at her kids because it’s past school check in time and the teacher is probably about to call in the middle of an important business zoom call, does not make me feel better. In fact, it’s sending home to me just how big this challenge is. I’m left wondering how many of us are battling against odds that are most definitely not in our favour.
And yet, we are also content. We’re in a better routine now. We recognise that there will be good days and bad. We’ve had the painful truth that our teenager has been YouTubing rather than attending their class. We’ve abandoned online lessons in acceptance of the fact it’s just not how our child learns. We’ve adapted our work schedule around the school timetable and can play a mean game of parent tag when the diaries clash. We’ve established new habits and most of us have found that there are aspects of lockdown that we very much hope to take with us into the next iteration of normal.
Our households are chaotic, the iron feels abandoned, and the dishwasher is exhausted. Once precious lawns are now a patchy mess from all of the ball games, body slides and dog zoomies. We’ve become used to masked strangers knocking on our doors and then running away. It’s our current normal and we’ve become (at some level) comfortable within it.
The stresses of how we are going to get everything done have been replaced with how are we going to fill our day productively? The anxiety of how much screen time our kids get has transformed into what is it they’re spending their screen time on and have they had enough to get schoolwork completed? The worry of how we’re going to earn enough to pay our bills is now a worry about whether what we are being given is going to be enough to feed everyone? It’s a messed-up normal but we’re managing it.
So, it’s really hard, now that we’ve settled into a rhythm and pace that we are at least familiar (if not entirely happy) with, that it’s all about to change again.
Very soon we are being told that some of our kids will return to school, we have been given patchy pieces of information and our already exhausted brains are trying to fill in the missing pieces. Many of the Mums I spoke to are genuinely afraid of this next step and are struggling to make strong decisions that are not fear based.
We are being asked to release from our care our most vulnerable and precious members of our family back into an environment that we have now become deeply fearful of. Our schools are working hard to find the safest and most sustainable way of making it all happen, but they are fundamentally afraid too. Some business owners are beginning to call back their employees from furlough, back into performing business functions in an environment that we are all still very afraid of.
There is a growing sense of urgency to prepare for the return to work, the school runs and the inevitable trauma of separating from our youngest children who have become very used to the smaller world we have been living in. Uncertainty of how it will work, will it be safe and why is it happening that way, mean we are all very, very afraid.
Every day I hear references to this life experience being a repeating rollercoaster. We’ve all had to weather the highs and lows, the unexpected turns and twists, the stomach churning surprises and then the relief as it appears to slow pace and we can breathe again. This next transition into re-entry feels like someone has turned up the speed to very bloody fast.
These extreme levels of fear in post lockdown situations have been extensively recorded and researched from previous quarantine events, and they give us uncomfortable insight about what is about to happen to our mental health and wellbeing. A recent review of studies highlighted one which stated that 28% of parents who have been in extended periods of quarantine were diagnosed with a “trauma-related mental health disorder”. We have been very slow in providing support and services that support the mental health of those in need, the first line efforts of charities and volunteer groups are becoming more and more indispensable. Without higher level support and funding, these groups are likely to burn out and be in need of support themselves.
So what can we do? We know it’s inevitable that we will all return to some degree of socialised existence. In my discussions with Mums in business, amongst the fear and anxiety were dreams of planning future gatherings with loved ones, parties with friends and fantasising of the elusive holidays they might be able to enjoy some day.
There is optimism buried under the fear. There is hope riding on the back of our anxiety. There is a new normal out there waiting for us.
No one knows what it will look like, what the path we are walking will present us with. There will be bumps and potholes and diversions for sure but it’s still going to be a path that will take us forward. We will need to call on our resilience and bravery to navigate it. There is no map with directions for where we need to go so, we will have to rely on our internal compass to guide us. It won’t help us to blame ineffective governments and policymakers, they too are working with the information they have and are experiencing the same stresses and challenges we are. Depending exclusively on external direction will only get us all lost in the end.
But if we trust that the path leads to our future, if we commit to supporting each other along the way, and if we can find tolerance and understanding for those walking out front with the big compass who are doing the best they can, then we will, I believe, navigate ourselves towards a future that will serve us all.
The next phase of our journey may well be even tougher to navigate but look back, to the first day of lockdown, when we all were afraid of how we could possibly endure it and see where you are now. You got this far, you learned a lot about yourself and your ability to be resilient, adaptable and strong. Use that knowledge now to make decisions and take actions that you know are right for you and your family.
I am saying, and I may get hell for this but I’m past caring, if you are worrying about the level of fear and anxiety it will bring to your family to send your kids back to school; if you believe that, at this time, it is likely to impact their mental health and/or wellbeing, then trust your instincts and stay at home. If you believe that returning to school and your business are what you and your family need to do in order to overcome depression, loneliness and isolation, then trust that it is what is right for you and do it. And please for the love of PPE, let’s be kind to each other about the decisions that we make. There is no right or wrong, we do have to be brave and step back out into the world and there is not a single person out there who has all the answers. We are going to make mistakes, learn new skills and develop necessary resources. So, before we fall back into a culture of competition and possession, let’s phase shift to a new world where we share what we learn for the benefit of all and be a committed stand for community and collaboration.
You know what is right for you and your family, make your decisions from love and hope and confidence and share it all with the world so you can help others make great decisions too. Our next generation are getting a reset of sorts, let’s show them how we’ve learned from our mistakes and how with our resilience and passion, we can recover our communities and maybe even our world.