Mothers in lockdown: Gemma

Name: Gemma

Children’s ages:
5 & 8


What were your initial thoughts about how lockdown would affect you? 
FUCK!!!!! How am I going to work, look after the kids, keep them from killing each other, look after my mental health, stay fit, etc etc. This quickly turned to, ‘okay, what a great opportunity. I have always wondered about home schooling, this is going to be positive. Omg, I’m going to have so much free time without a commute’.

What was the reality of those first few weeks of lockdown for you? 
Well, there was no free time! It was a real combination of the above two initial thoughts. Each day had highs and lows. Some days the lows massively outweighed the highs but at the start, at least, it was better than I expected. I tried to work and home school. All of us set up at the dining table ‘I can do this’ attitude in hand, but it took me only a few hours (maybe minutes) to realise there is a reason people don’t home school their kids alongside a full time job (if you are reading this and you successfully home school your kids alongside a full time job I take my metaphorical hat off to you, you are superhuman). It became obvious very quickly that I couldn’t do my normal day job AND get any school work done with the kids. I have heard of people setting their children up with activities and then getting work done but that just did not work for us. At the beginning they needed constant supervision and hand-holding with work or I had to be their referee for the inevitable fall outs and melt downs.  

As the weeks have gone on, the big bonus to come out of this is that they can actually now be in each other’s company for more than 5 minutes without trying to murder one another. We have found a few activities which they enjoy doing together and this has been an eyeopener. We have gone on adventures together; my 5 year old learned to ride his bike without stabilisers in the first few weeks and that was a godsend as it meant we could get out and about and kill a few hours. On the days where I have the energy, and a positive attitude, we have got good amounts of school work done and had some fun with experiments, arts and crafts etc. However, there have also been a lot of arguments. 

I have learned a lot about my children from spending this time with them. It has been intense and it has held a mirror up to me and how I parent. I have realised I am so busy all the time I don’t always stop to notice them. I have learned more about what they’re good at, what their fears are and what pushes my buttons. I have learned to spot meltdowns before they start and diffuse them a bit better. I think I am more able to do this as I’m not in a hurry to be anywhere.

Has lockdown changed over time for you as the restrictions have been eased? As the restrictions have eased, in some ways my anxieties have increased. I have been relieved to be able to spend more time with people but I am in no hurry to go anywhere really. I don’t feel comfortable right now with the thought of going to a pub or restaurant and I don’t think we will be booking any holidays abroad for a long time. One of the hardest things has been not seeing my sister and nephew who live in London. He turned 1 in June and I just feel like we have missed out on so much. We are just figuring out how we can see each other and I would sacrifice all the restaurants and pubs and gyms just to be in the same room as them. 

Have there been easy/positive aspects of lockdown? Yes. The kids have connected with each other, and we have proved we can survive a day (many!) in the house together without a complicated itinerary. My credit card bill has been much smaller and I have kept some house plants alive as I’ve been at home to water them.

Have there been difficult/negative aspects of lockdown? 
So many difficult aspects. There have been days when I have cried on the kitchen floor because it all felt too hard. In those moments I felt alone, and useless. I felt guilty that I didn’t want to be with the boys all the time, and that I didn’t have patience to calmly explain (again) what a subordinate conjunction was, and that the thought of cooking ANOTHER meal was making me angry, and that I was cross my house looked lived in, and that I was worried about putting on weight, and that sometimes I just wanted to lose myself down a social media/news coverage rabbit hole, or that I really did not want to play lego or ninjas or power rangers thank you very much. I felt like there were women all over the world doing much harder things day in day out and so I must be very selfish and incapable.

Then I would call or text one of several wise mums and they would talk or text me down. And I would cook that meal, or play lego and then treat myself to some ice cream and an extra large glass of wine (or 4) that night, and just try again the next day. I feel dramatic even writing this, but I know I’m not the only one who had this experience. I’m sure we will all look back on this in years to come and remember the long sunny days, and paddling pools and pyjama days but I know I’m not alone in having some incredibly dark days in the last 3 months. 

Has your work been affected? Massively, in that I haven’t really managed to do much. I have only worked hours when my husband has not been working. I have done the vast majority of school work, and looking after the house, which is what we agreed would happen at the start as my job allowed me some more flexibility. I have felt so guilty though. I know that my colleagues have picked up the slack for me and I will always be grateful for that. No one ever put any pressure on me but I certainly put it on myself. I am not one for slacking off and it has been hard to accept the change in emphasis away from work.

What has helped you get through lockdown? 
Wine (I wish I had shares in a vineyard right now as I’m sure I’m not alone in breaking the no wine on a school night rule). And catching up on Modern Family. Long walks WITH NO CHILDREN. Calls and regular texts with friends although after a while it felt sad that I couldn’t see people and this has felt really inadequate.

Have you learnt anything, during lockdown, that you will want carry forward as it is eased? Are there things that you might even miss?
I have learned that I spread myself too thinly and I need to slow down. Once all the kids’ clubs are open again and I can see whoever I want, I am sure my diary will fill up as it always has done. Then I will miss lazy mornings and small credit card bills. When I’m back in the office and the kids are back at school I will miss bike rides on a weekday afternoon because we have all decided we had enough of school work. 

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