I’m a qualified teacher, so is my husband. We both work and, before now, had shared the responsibilities of running a household and raising four children. However, like with so many women, the lion’s share of home schooling (and cooking, cleaning, etc.) during Covid-19 has fallen on my shoulders. For reasons I still can’t fully explain or believe, throughout this pandemic I have approached my new reality with the gentle acceptance, stoicism and strong sense of purpose of a ‘Trad Wife’.
Actually, that’s not true. It hasn’t been gentle acceptance or stoicism at all. As a mother, it’s the sense of purpose to make life okay for my children that has seen me through this. That, and naivety. I’d spent the best part of 15 years in the classroom and had many an “outstanding” lesson observation. I was convinced that I could handle it. I was wrong. Very wrong.
During lockdown I have been the matriarch of a family of 7; my husband and I, four children and the boyfriend of my eldest daughter who had returned from university. When she arrived home with her boyfriend, despite him being another mouth to feed, I knew I wasn’t going to need to worry about them. They had each other and they had learned to be somewhat self-sufficient while living away from home. Over the months they have entertained us, and each other, and reached out to old and new friends to maintain the connections they had made.
Prior to lockdown, my second eldest – a 13-year-old daughter – had been thriving at her secondary school, both academically and socially. I wasn’t worried about her either, though I should’ve been. While my eldest daughter is able to identify what she needs and take steps to get it – be it connection, validation or to be seen – she wasn’t. She started off keen and engaged with home learning and felt a sense of achievement in meeting the challenges of working independently. Quickly, the lack of feedback and engagement from her school lead to disappointment then disengagement. She has since lost her sense of purpose. Though it is the lack of connection with her friends and peers has had a profound effect on her wellbeing. It has been heartbreaking to watch and even more heartbreaking to realise that she will be a different person because of this.
My 8 year old twins both have their own challenges. Twin 2, a girl, has been loving the extra attention and clearly enjoying being at home with all of us. Twin 1, a boy, was another story altogether. He is autistic and had only just begun attending school full-time when we found ourselves back at home again. The twins have really struggled with learning from home. The remote-learning lessons have been completely inaccessible and I have found myself having to re-write each and every lesson for both of them. It’s worth noting that Twinkl.com and BBC Bitesize have been lifesavers and the gratitude I have for NumBots is immeasurable however, it has not been enough.
Like many other children with educational challenges, the twins have tried to engage. However, they have preferred engaging in the zeitgeist of lockdown with rainbow painting, seed planting and being outdoors. And who can blame them? In this less structured environment, they have found joy, and thrived whereas my 13 year old daughter has struggled.
As time goes on, there is less and less work sent home, and, worryingly, less and less engagement from their school and their teachers. Even for the twins who don’t love school like my 13 year old, the lack of engagement from the children’s schools has been damaging. The twins are even more disengaged, while my daughter is now demoralised and disengaged with a system which had previously given her such a sense of connection and achievement.
What I’ve learnt through all of this is that it’s not just missing out on their learning that’s the problem. Maintaining their friendships and having contact with their peers outside of school has been the most difficult. They are missing the comfort and joy of those connections and shared experiences. Children need those connections. They need to feel valued by others. They need to feel a sense of purpose. And, they need their peers. As much as we try, through video-conferencing and planning virtual social events for our children, as parents we cannot replace the connections that schools offer.
Schools are where most of our children are able to connect with their peers. Without opportunity for those connections, our children struggle. The impact of Covid-19 on our families has not yet been realised, and won’t be for some time. However, there are daily reports from across the world of the how the lockdown is negatively affecting our children’s mental health. The issues with missing out on learning can be easily fixed over time. The issue of our children’s mental health is much more difficult, much further reaching and much more of a problem. This is the real issue we need to be concerned with. This is the real threat and the legacy of Covid-19 that worries me most about its impact on my children.
Jules Ashley-Higgins is a former school leader, educator and Director of Beacon Education Services, a part of Beacon Family Services. Beacon Family Services works with families, schools and communities to provide therapy sessions which help build relationships and connections with others. They have continued to offer their services throughout Covid-19, providing valuable connections and acting as a lifeline to struggling families.
You can find out more about how Beacon help families, vulnerable or at-risk pupils, or learn more about developing your practice as a therapist through training at beaconservices.com.