Mothers in Lockdown: Amy

Name: Amy

Children’s ages: 6 and 1

Location:  Chorlton, manchester

What were your initial thoughts about how lockdown would affect you?
How the hell am I going to do this? I panicked that it was going to be a heck of a lot to juggle and that we’d just been getting into our new rhythm and this would turn things upside down. I’d literally just returned to work about three weeks earlier after a long mat leave with my second baby. I initially worried about being trapped back at home, I’d got to the point where I was sick of those four walls and was excited to be back at work and selfishly I felt a little dread at being forced back home.

At work I’d negotiated a jobshare and was trying to figure out the balance there, while also trying to come to a new balance at home – making sure my work was prioritised on those three days, getting my eldest used to me not being on all the school runs, settling the youngest into nursery, coming up with new routines with my husband to take some of the slack from me….and trying to navigate that switch between ‘mum’ and ‘worker’.

After dreading going back and worrying I’d miss the baby, I was just beginning to enjoy being back in the office, being ‘worker’ again, when BAM, lockdown…My initial thoughts were utter worry I’d not be able to do my job properly from home, panic about no childcare, worry about being overwhelmed, worry about how the kids would cope with it, worry about any of us or our relatives getting sick…just general panic about all the organising and pressure…

What was the reality of those first few weeks of lockdown for you?
Early lockdown was tough. I had to negotiate shifts at work to fit around childcare of two kids, and a husband who works nights. It meant moving to a late shift at work – finishing at 10pm. After which, my husband would go straight to work and I’d be on night duty with the baby, then while my husband slept I’d be up, walking the dog, looking after the baby and attempting home school, THEN I’d log on and work. Those days each week felt like a hamster wheel that never ended.  I felt like I didn’t sleep enough, didn’t do well enough with home school, wasn’t entertaining the baby enough, wasn’t achieving enough at work, wasn’t getting any time with my husband, wasn’t getting any ‘me’ time….It felt utterly relentless, and only took a tantrum from one of the kids to tip me over the edge….

Has lockdown changed over time for you as the restrictions have been eased? Lockdown changed as I found a rhythm. After some crisis talks about balance, my husband and I reached a point where we both knew what we could manage and what we could achieve, and that meant defining our roles a bit more and also learning to let some things go. I started to find my feet again at work and enjoy it – mainly through allowing myself to let go of some of the pressure I put on what I could realistically achieve,  (although I have felt like I’ve permanently apologised for my kids appearing in zoom calls, or for having to swap shifts to look after them) people have been way more forgiving of this in lockdown than in general life. 

I found home-schooling a real challenge, trying to teach things I didn’t know myself to an unwilling six year old, while looking after a baby and knowing I had work too, well, I hated it and it caused tension, especially as our views of the importance of – and what constituted –  home schooling really were very different. It felt an impossible task to find time to sit down and give each child the attention they deserved and it could at times feel like I was failing at everything – and being pulled in all directions.

I think lockdown has been tough mentally on a lot of people – asking around I think parents generally have felt a heck of a lot of pressure to perform in many different guises. I worried my daughter might be falling behind at school or mentally struggling. It was the main cause of tension, and once our eldest was able to go back to school it took off a major layer of stress. I feel very lucky we were able to send her back. I think it was really good for her to have some normality and be able to see her friends, and good for us in terms of being able to concentrate on looking after the baby or working. The guilt has lifted a little.

Lockdown changed mainly though once I stopped putting so much pressure on myself, after a few weeks of feeling utterly burnt out, I made some changes – I realised it didn’t matter if the house wasn’t tidy (no-one was going to see it anyway!). I stopped beating myself up if we didn’t get through all the school work sent online and made it more about keeping the kids happy, and making it into an ‘experience’, and although I continued to work hard, I stopped trying to ‘prove something’ and realised it was OK to show up, work hard, and let it go  – I think moving into a ‘just get through it’ mindset really helped. I also realised how lucky I was to have a job, to have two beautiful, happy, healthy kids, and once we started to look for and appreciate the small things, everything felt a bit better, I know a lot of people who’ve lost work or lost their jobs or who are isolating alone, or have health issues and this is a terrifying time. For once, I realise we’re in a really fortunate position. 

Have there been easy/positive aspects of lockdown? We’ve really come together as a family.  My husband used to work away a lot and obviously that’s not been possible, so he’s been around a lot more, and after some initial stress we’ve defined our roles a bit  – he does the big shop and cooks a lot and we eat together as a family every night. Although we’ve barely had a second together without the kids, we’ve definitely had more time to discuss things (no more communicating via email).

I’ve also gone from having a baby to having a toddler and been around to see her start walking and talking – things I might have missed had I been at work. I’ve seen the girls interact and become happy little sisters. I’ve realised that we don’t need to constantly be ‘doing’ stuff all the time, and the kids have been as happy playing in their mud kitchen in the garden as anywhere I could have paid to take them. I’ve slowed down a lot, and just learnt to appreciate the small stuff in life. It took a while though, those first weeks were hard, the comparison and the guilt and the exhaustion and the worry….I’ve also enjoyed all the stuff I’ve been able to cut out and let go of…with my first daughter I was always telling myself I ‘should’ be doing things a certain way,  I ‘should’ be here or there or doing this or that, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. Lockdown actually removed a lot of that as there was nowhere we could go, no baby classes etc and I’ve been able to follow my gut instincts a lot more and just slow down and enjoy being a mum.

I’ve particularly enjoyed not having to be the one who worries about all of the extra stuff – the world book day outfit, remembering parties and presents, sorting uniform and PE kit…all of that extra stuff has been stripped away and in a way it’s a relief. It’s also made me realise we’re ok. We’ve had some hard times in the past – working freelance, being made redundant, health issues. And this had made me look inwards etc and see we’re going to be ok through this, and we need to appreciate that.

Have there been difficult/negative aspects of lockdown? I’ve struggled with the lack of structure and routine and the lack of options. Some days have felt like they dragged on forever. The kids haven’t been tired enough and bedtimes have sometimes been a nightmarish battle. Working from home was particularly difficult – how can you explain to kids that, ‘no you can’t come into a bedroom in your own home and talk to your own mum because she’s busy working’ (especially as I’d been so available to them during my maternity leave). Also, finding that balance in our relationship because I was still at home, but no longer on maternity leave.

The guilt and comparison of social media in the early days with SO many groups suggesting things to do from people who clearly had better crafting and teaching skills than I do. The relentlessness of each day made me feel like – despite being with the kids 24/7 – they weren’t getting the best of me. I felt tired and stressed and snappy. I missed having friends to chat to, relatives to take the strain of childcare, I missed school and nursery.  I found that I sometimes butted heads with my husband as naturally it was me who was expected to change shifts to fit childcare, and trying to illicit that change from me being ‘off’ (on mat leave) to working again and needing to prioritise was sometimes a challenge to communicate.

Has your work been affected? 
I’m incredibly fortunate. Having freelanced for most of my working life I’ve been in a staff job for the past couple of years working in news, and if there’s one thing we’re not short of, and people need right now, it’s news updates. So I’m privileged that in those terms, work wasn’t a worry. We’ve had times in the past where there’s been no work or we’ve been made redundant, so we know that right now we’re really fortunate. 

What WAS difficult was navigating a return from maternity leave during lockdown. I felt it was hard to reassert myself and be taken seriously while shouting at my kids to stop eating soil or ‘get back in bed’. I think for some people, it’s difficult to understand and I worry I’ve been ‘written off’ as ‘just a mum’ or that in trying to be kind, people haven’t come to me for projects because they think I have too much on my plate (maybe they are right!), but in a strange way I noticed more respect from some colleagues. They got to see my life exactly as it was – there’s been several serious work zoom calls with my baby on my knee or home school happening at the side of me (and the same from other colleagues too) I’ve heard ‘I don’t know how you do it’ several times.

Yet I’ve had kids for nearly seven years and no one’s really said that before, and I personally feel the juggle was just as hard when I had a commute and nursery drop offs, but no one really asked about it then. People have been really great when I’ve said ‘I’m so sorry, I have to take 5 minutes, the baby’s woken up’ or I’ve had to start late to sort childcare. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable at all asking for such leniency before lockdown.

I think it’s opened people’s eyes to the reality of life for many mums trying to balance work and parenting. I think it has also made a lot of people realise that, guess what? Mums CAN juggle working and their kids – often at exactly the same time. And it’s because mums are awesome multitaskers. We have so many excellent skills borne from being a mum and hopefully they are finally being recognised. It’s my one hope – that when I do return to the office, this newfound respect and compassion for the parents on the team continues….maybe it’s up to me to ensure it does.

What has helped you get through lockdown? 
My kids…yes they’ve driven me nuts and worn me out, but they really have got me through. ‘They’re only young once’ as the saying goes, so I’ve tried to make the most of my time with them through lockdown. It’s been non-stop, but seeing a little baby take utter joy in digging in the mud in the garden right at the moment you’re having an existential crisis about being worst parent in the world really makes you put things in perspective. Watching my six-year-old take things in her stride has taught me a lesson too.  You also don’t get time to be bored or wallow when you’ve got a baby who’s just learnt to walk, bowling round the house.

Technology has also helped – the ability to facetime grandparents and hold zoom birthday parties has been great.  And getting outdoors, I’ve made the most of my allocated time to go for a walk and take in a bit of nature and start jogging again.  My husband’s pretty cool too (he made me say that).

Have you learnt anything, during lockdown, that you will want carry forward as it is eased? That I’m actually good at my job. I’m a good mum. My kids are happy. None of us need all the shit I thought we did. They don’t need to go here and there at the weekends, they need us, loving them, they need a walk and some exercise and a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.

I’ve learnt that I’m really bloody fortunate. I got my two girls who are happy and healthy, I’ve got a house, a garden and a staff job, had we still been freelancing I really don’t know what our situation would be right now. I’ve learnt that we aren’t meant to live in isolation and it really does take a village to raise a child. I’ll miss having the kids around though and my husband being at home a lot once he starts to work away again. I’ll miss being slow. I haven’t missed that awful rush to get the kids to school and nursery and be at my desk dead on a certain time. I utterly hated that. 

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