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Aspire2lead: January Update

Aspire2lead is a project part-funded by the European Social Fund that supports women in employment and SMEs across the York and North Yorkshire LEP area.

On the day of posting, we are starting the 7th week of a 3rd national lockdown. So, this month we wanted to do a REAL blog, from one of our incredible team members at aspire2lead.

The Thoughts of a Working Lockdown Parent

My name is Ellie. I’m creeping ever closer to 30 and I have two children, Arthur, aged 5 and Delilah, aged 2. I’m married and live a little outside of York where the internet is slow and everyone knows what everyone else in the village is doing.

I’ve worked for aspire2lead since November 2020 and my role is as the Women’s Ambassador Facilitator and Training Coordinator. This role includes working with women in more senior positions in organisations in the York and North Yorkshire area and curating and creating Women’s Support Networks for working women.

I am extremely lucky to work for the organisation and with the team that I do. I remember my excitement when I came across the job advert, after a particularly difficult day in a previous role and decided I that I had never needed a job more.

Starting a new job during a pandemic is something many of us have had to tackle in the last year. Who would have thought, this time a year ago, with gentle murmurings of ‘pandemic’ and Boris Johnson’s dreaded evening announcements looming in the near future – that over a year on – we would still be in the position of zoom calls, home schooling and running on stress, fear and anxiety.

It has been a ride – to say the least.

With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my perspective of raising children as a working mother during the pandemic.

Kids. I love them.

But I – and every other parent in the history of the world – did not sign up to bear offspring who spend 24 hours a day with you, 7 days a week. Especially not without a deadline date or end in sight.

I’ve spent many a blissful time daydreaming about being able to drop children off at their grandparents house and run away as quickly a humanely possible. I can imagine my glee at being able to jump back into bed and catch up from at least a year of lost sleep.

Oh my – I would eat snacks without sharing, drink hot mugs of coffee, walk freely without a child clinging to my leg. WALK FREELY, not dragging one leg behind me, the leg with a child wrapped around it. I’ve forgotten what that feels like.

 Daydreams however, are not reality. I try not to spend too much time imagining a life after the pandemic – the ‘new normal’ (which I cannot wait to stop hearing please and thank you).

It is painful. It’s painful imagining all of the hugs you and your children have missed this year. It’s painful knowing you haven’t been able to spend time with loved ones, attend funerals, leave the house without worrying you could potentially bring a terrible illness home to your family.

The impact of the pandemic and the government response on adults is difficult enough, but for children, the experience will have long lasting effects.

Families are being driven into worsening poverty, with families being more likely to lose their jobs is their roles if not classed as essential or cannot be conducted at home (such as industries like retail or hospitality). Furlough remains at 80% of a wage, while other expenses remain exactly the same – stretching already stretched finances. During lockdown it is more difficult to flee domestic violence and to access support. Children are reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety. Life has completely changed, with babies growing up having little to no interaction with other people outside of their immediate family. Schools are closed for the majority of children and learning conducted remotely with teachers working incredibly hard to facilitate this. Routine health appointments have been cancelled or delayed.

The long-term impact certainly cannot be known – but it is certain to have life long effects.

I’m extraordinarily lucky.

My work are and have been nothing but supportive – an achievement I know I personally I have not always experienced in my working life since I became a mother. I’m the only team member who has very young children, which makes the effort to allow for support and flexibility even more impressive.

Despite this, I have still felt throughout the majority of the pandemic like I am failing – fundamentally as a person, but particularly as a parent. I remember the deep sense of dread in the pit of my stomach listening to Boris Johnson’s announcement that we would be going into to Lockdown 1.0. The fear and overwhelm and uncertainty. What would this mean for our family?

I’d sometimes lose myself, falling down a rabbit hole of other peoples social media posts about their incredible ability to home school their children, whilst I felt incapable – unable to work and teach my eldest child at the same time. I couldn’t juggle work, home, children, sanity like all of the other parents. I hadn’t organised or even attended zoom quizzes or family video chats because I mostly fell asleep when the children did. My mental health took a big hit.

I couldn’t understand why my child was never remotely interested in the craft I set out to play, or the learning resources I used all of my printer ink to print. He was mildly interested in painting some rocks to hide in our village, which I almost cried about I was so happy. He despised trying to read to me – preferring to be read to.

He would complain “it’s boring”, “I’m hungry”, “Lets stop now Mummy” more times then I could count.

However, this child, whilst at school, would engage, would craft, would read. Why wouldn’t he do it for me?

As a working parent – and I speak only from my own experience of a working mother – parenting is hard enough. If you are a stay at home parent, the ‘work’ never, ever stops – at least leaving the house for a job, not being disturbed by someone asking you to get them snacks and being able to use the toilet alone and have grown up conversations provides some respite from the relentless effort required with being a parent. I adore my children – more than anything in the whole world and they bring me happiness I never thought I could have – but also more sleepless nights, more stress, more worry, more frustration – than I ever thought could be possible.

The pandemic changed life for so many people. Children being able to play with their friends, socialise and burn off energy. Being in a structured learning environment and being taught by people who obtained an actual degree and ongoing education to be able to teach children the things they need to know.

For me – I miss most the routine. Waking up each morning and putting on clothing that isn’t pyjamas or something I slept in. Washing my hair, instead of only special occasions, like an important zoom meeting (I like to tell people I am ‘training’ my hair which seems to work). I miss exercising regularly – finding I feel so unmotivated and tired that the thought I’d getting sweaty feels like too much effort at the moment. Plus, trying to exercise with children is about as fun as it sounds. I once tried a martial arts youtube video, but unfortunately the only room to do it in used the living room TV and the kids managed to spend the whole time loudly whinging I’d interrupted important Peppa Pig watching that I eventually just stopped and lay on the floor for a bit trying to calm down. I did almost kick my eldest too when he tried to get the remote from my hand (accidentally!) – so I gave that up as a bad job and haven’t bothered since. I’ve managed to swap my usual habits of trying to eat a somewhat balanced diet by becoming the worlds biggest consumer of jaffa cakes, perhaps in the world. I miss my friends – I want to go out and drink too many Guinness and blackcurrants (yes that is my drink of choice) and dance on a revolving dancefloor in some dodgy club. I want to meet inspiring women I work with and get to understand the barriers they face and build a rapport that video calls doesn’t quite manage to fulfil.

What I am trying to say is – this is hard. This is really really hard. There is support available and it’s so important to keep trying to reach out to your support network and not try to tackle this alone. Speak to your children’s school, decide to have a midweek day off from home-schooling if you are turning into that shouty parent because you are so burnt out and exhausted you cant think straight. Speak to your employer about how they can be more supportive of your role as mother. Keep talking. Keep sharing. This will pass. We don’t know when, we don’t know how. But this too shall pass.

Aspire2lead is a project part-funded by the European Social Fund that helps support women in employment and SMEs in York and North Yorkshire. We offer support for those returning to work and to the companies they may be returning to.

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