Coronavirus. COVID-19. Lockdown. Isolation. Homeschooling. All these phrases have become second nature to parents worldwide who are living an experience not seen for over a hundred years – and perhaps not even then, since the world is a very different place today to what it was during the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic.
With the news covering the impact of coronavirus on the economy along with arguments for and against the closing of schools and child care, we thought we’d speak directly to Australian parents to see how they’re experiencing these unique times – and how they just might be utilised to create a brighter future despite all that has been lost.
Concerns over interruption of formal learning at this time were common among those we interviewed. Ipswich mum of two Linda Monteith shares:
‘As a mother who doesn’t have natural teaching skills, or much patience, it is incredibly daunting taking on the education of my daughters during what are very important years in their development (prep and kindy). My comfort is that all the children in their classes will be in the same situation.’
But the Monteith family is using this time to create memories – including a series of videos finding humour in their unique situation.
Meanwhile, the Jarvis family, from Narara on NSW’s Central Coast, have found that isolation has enabled their children to access new learning opportunities and gain skills that go beyond the academic.
“Over the weekend Tiffany baked a batch of cupcakes by herself with minimal supervision. She was very proud of that.
The cooking activities also build on her problem solving and maths skills.” – Haley Jarvis, parent to Tiffany, 11
Planting vegetables (complete with building planter box), self esteem and gratitude journals, and independent cooking along with the traditional spelling and maths has kept the family occupied – although it’s youngest child Malachi who is most enjoying the change.
In Mum Haley’s words:
‘Older kids are eager for life to get back to normal, but Malachi has never been happier. His tribe is all together at home, and there are endless cuddles!’
Haley’s comments call to mind studies that show that early bonding with close caregivers is vital to brain development. Perhaps the unique situation in which parents now find themselves will prove to our society what so many mums and dads have been saying for years: that caring for your children is one of the most valuable – not only emotionally, but mentally, physically and economically – ways to spend your time.
Social media has been alive with this thought, with one Life of Dad user asking: “Any other Dads realising how much time they were missing out with their kids before quarantine? I don’t know how I’m going to cope going back to ‘normal’.”
We ask: do we have to accept a world where parents are separated from their children more than they would like as ‘normal’? Will an outcome of COVID-19 – beyond an over supply of toilet paper and rotten watermelons – be the prioritisation of emotional well-being in our society? Will this pandemic teach us to support the various societal changes that support such outcomes, and focus on relationships over GDP?
This is certainly Linda’s hope. She shares that – “My daughters (5 &4yrs) get to stay together rather than being apart every day….Our weekends have been really busy the last few months so the purposeful slow down has been welcome.”
This ‘slowing down’ of life and increased family time is a natural byproduct of a world where schools are closed, sporting fields abandoned and tracking down toilet paper requires an exploration prize. But it’s also a recommended lifestyle, with Forbes endorsing ‘slowness’ for professional success, whilst emotion scientist Barbara Fredrickson speaks about how it’s in small moments that children feel their parents’ love.
“These moments of positive connection that parents can develop with their kids are, as an affective neuroscientist described, like fertiliser for the brain. They support brain development and social skill development.” – Emotion scientist Barbara Fredrickson
Linda also adds that despite the international debate over the effectiveness of various COVID-19 responses – which can range from threatened teacher strikes to a comparison of the world’s female vs male leaders – she is feeling at peace with current guidelines: ‘I understand that this is a once in a century situation, and that our government is doing the best it can with the information it has.’
At the moment, all eyes are on our country’s Members of Parliament as they seek to respond to the challenge of coronavirus with a minimum of impact on Australians’ economic and personal well-being.
One such member is Queensland State Member for Southern Downs, James Lister MP. His rural constituency has been inundated with issues for locals, farmers and truckers around the border closure between New South Wales and Queensland.
However, between calls he’s managed to snatch a few moments with his and wife Belinda’s two boys to go over Australian History and to discuss Federation. A sight currently repeated in homes all over Australia.
Brisbane Mum Catherine Toomey is facilitating home learning with her two preschool aged children whilst heading up an Integrated Marketing and Communications Agency from home.
One recent activity saw the family create ‘de stress balls’ made from socks and balloons filled with rice, oats and flour. Catherine’s profession means that all is documented on Instagram – where many parents are finding inspiration as they educate their children during one of the most unique moments in modern history.
Catherine also shares that their family is grateful to be in isolation in Australia where outdoor activities and backyards give everyone a bit of breathing space – compared to her one time home in Europe where apartments are the order of the day.
Along with many families across Australia, the Toomeys have struggled with separation from grandparents – but when there’s a will there’s a way, as their creation of a balloon rose bush and hand written letters (to be dropped at the door) attest.
REMEMBERING THE MOST VULNERABLE
With a focus on our elderly Australians as a result of their increased risk of coronavirus, perhaps this will be a time when we gain new appreciation and respect for the most vulnerable in our social economy.
For the Kelly family from Queensland’s Fraser Coast, coronavirus has impacted both teacher Joelle, Head of Inclusive Learning at a K-12 school and her daughter Josee, a 7yo who accesses various therapies which are now being carried out online.
Joelle shares their experience….
“I watched Josee for a while this morning and then decided to try to talk to her about why we are staying home.
“Josee, do you know why we are staying home?”
“Because, home school Mummy”
“Mmmm … everyone has to stay home”
“Everyone…. everyone home?”
“Yes everyone… we are trying to stop everyone from getting sick”
“Yes honey, a big germ. Have you heard people talk about the Corona Virus?”
She nods. “And Down syndrome too”
I smile. “Yes we talk about Down syndrome too”
“Josee we have to stay home, we have to wash our hands, we have to try and not touch our faces. Everyone is staying home so people don’t get sick. We are staying home for a long time”.
“Ok” … and off she skips.
When you have a child with an intellectual disability you never quite know what is understood, remembered, or can be applied later.
Her vulnerability is what makes her beautiful, yet fragile and innocent in this world.”
These families’ stories are just a few of the thousands of unique changes happening in families all over Australia as we experience a year unlike any other. Despite great loss worldwide, this is a time to re-evaluate, to prioritise, for our entire society to rally behind families and the vulnerable to create a future where every family is strong and honoured for the great work they do.
After all – “There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.” Leo Christopher