I think we can all agree that the past 6 months have been hard, anxiety-causing and thought-provoking. I have recently been thinking back to the beginning of lockdown, and I’m amazed at how quickly life did a complete 180. As a young, single parent, I’m used to facing adversity, and dealing with unexpected and stressful situations; life has to continue and you have to continue to be a constant, loving support for your child no matter what. But this lockdown definitely threw me for six, and challenged me in ways I never imagined.
As we start to come out the other side, slowly edging towards the light at the end of the tunnel, I have reflected on what I have learnt through these testing times. It’s only now that I’ve done this reflection that I have truly understood the importance of the saying ‘find good in everything’ – I think we can all learn a huge amount from this experience that we can use to improve our parenting and lives in general.
Lesson 1: How amazing our natural world is:
Living on the South Coast my whole life, I have memories of my childhood spent cycling in the South Downs, sailing, walking and crabbing, but as a child, I never fully appreciated what was around me. I always knew I wanted a similar upbringing for my children, however with a full-time job, full-time nursery and weekends packed with ticking off to-do lists, I didn’t spend as much time outdoors with my daughter as I would have liked. Come lockdown however, our daily routine centred around being outdoors, and the positive effect on myself and my daughter was evident. Fewer tantrums, lots of wholesome fun and the occasional social contact via a socially-distanced wave to a neighbour.
Within a few weeks, we had made raised beds and planted vegetables, built dams in our local river and enjoyed cycle rides down to the sea. I developed a love for walking, and with my daughter in my hiking backpack, we explored areas locally that I previously hadn’t known existed, and we became avid foragers! Now we are coming out of lockdown, spending time outside has remained key for us, and it is a lovely feeling knowing that our weekends are spent enjoying nature rather than being sat indoors in front of the TV.
Lesson 2: The importance of a healthy mind:
Before lockdown, I liked to think of myself as a pretty resilient person, who could handle emotions and put on a brave face. Come lockdown however, I found myself really struggling. When in isolation for an extended period of time, with your only regular contact being with a 2 year old, you have a lot of time to think. And oftentimes, we can find ourselves getting stuck in a spiral of our thoughts, letting them get out of control, or catastrophizing them, and getting anxious or down about an issue that previously we may have been able to put to one side. Putting thoughts to one side, I realised, was something I did a lot before lockdown, and I have really learnt the importance of dealing with negative thoughts head on when they first make an appearance. I read a lot about mindfulness over lockdown, and walking for me has been revolutionary for my mental health – not only does it get you out of the house and leaves you feeling energised, but it also allows you to relax. I still make sure I have a long walk every day after dropping my daughter at nursery; putting on a motivational or funny podcast and taking in my surroundings always leaves me feeling better.
Lesson 3: Children are amazing
Okay, so I kind of already knew this (I mean, we all think our children are amazing!), but I never truly appreciated how resilient and adaptable they are. Going from 5 days a week in nursery to being at home with me every day, my daughter found the initial few weeks a real challenge (as I did…!) and it really showed in her behaviour. However, she soon adapted and embraced isolation life, and having her around really helped my mindset too. Young children aren’t too aware of the major changes in the world, and her ability to wake up every morning with a smile on her face, not a care in the world, with her only dilemma being what cereal she wanted for breakfast was a refreshing change from the constant negative media and outlook of the public. Similarly, when nurseries went back, she settled back into her old routine quickly and happily. My relationship with her has without a doubt grown much deeper, and I know that we can get through anything that life throws at us.
Lesson 4: How much I value community
‘It takes a village’ is a phrase I’m sure most of us are familiar with, and before having children, and really even before lockdown, I don’t think I truly appreciated the importance of community in raising my child. Being a single parent from early pregnancy, I was welcomed back home to live with my family, and still live with them today (I was offered a flat during lockdown but didn’t feel it was the right time to move). Having an extra few sets of hands, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on has been something I couldn’t have done without during lockdown. Being able to have a few hours to myself whilst someone else looks after my daughter, or having someone to have a glass of wine with in the evenings made me feel not so alone, and well-supported in my decisions as a parent. I hadn’t truly appreciated the importance of the wider community however on my life as a parent until I didn’t have it during lockdown; friends to meet up with in the park to rant about the terrible twos, social groups to meet with in the evening to let our hair down with, churches, local pubs and restaurants etc. Since these services have slowly started coming back into our lives, I have felt happier, more supported and more motivated.
My final lesson, lesson 5: Technology is a blessing and a curse:
The transition to working from home full-time during lockdown was much easier than I thought, and I was extremely grateful to have the technology to allow me to do this. Similarly, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, zoom calls with friends and virtual quiz nights really helped with my mood and to still feel connected with people close to me. I quickly realised however, that technology was simultaneously having a negative effect on my mental wellbeing too; its ever so easy to be drawn into the world of social media, especially Instagram, and everywhere you looked there were picture-perfect mothers home-schooling their children whilst managing the look effortlessly beautiful, no tantrum in sight and constant comments of how lockdown is going so well. We all know that Instagram doesn’t portray reality, but when you are flooded with a perfectionist vision of life it is all too easy to start believing that the snapshot we see of people’s lives is truth. Deleting my Instagram and Facebook accounts has made a huge positive impact, both on my mental wellbeing but also now that I don’t have an excuse to sit around mindlessly scrolling on my phone. Instead, my daughter and I play more together, bake, draw, garden etc. and tv is rarely part of our day-to-day life.
So looking back, lockdown has probably been the hardest mental challenge of my life, however I am proud of coming out the other end having reflected and learned from my experiences. I would urge other young parents to get involved with the community as much as possible, whether that’s joining a community gardening scheme, meeting other parents at a local toddler group or even just chatting to locals in the park.