Becoming a parent and navigating parenthood is no easy task at the best of time. Although we were lucky enough to have all of our children pre-pandemic, they are now 3, 5 and 8 years old. We were very grateful for the maternity and paternity leave that we both had. It allowed us to experience baby classes, visits to the farm, coffees with friends and mum and baby support groups. I take my hat off to any parent who has given birth and raised a baby in the last 12 months without that early support network.
As a parent of three young children, we have found the last twelve months incredibly hard and rewarding in equal measures. If you have given birth for the first time in the last year and are worried that your child has in some way missed out, please don’t. Your baby will not care that you didn’t take that baby massage or baby sensory course, and they will become no less rounded as a result. This is a lesson we learned after doing absolutely everything with our eldest as a newborn. Then when our daughter came along three years later, everything had to fit our first borns schedule, so we didn’t make every class, and it’s not bothered or hindered her in any way. In fact, the only thing we missed out on was the socialisation with other adults.
New parents over the last year haven’t had the luxury of browsing high street stores for the perfect pushchair or nursery furniture. There’s something special as a first-time parent of being able to touch a product and try it out before making a purchase; after all, these are things for your special new arrival, and you want everything to be perfect. Having to rely on online reviews and browsing without seeing a product first has become the new normal. You should know that’s ok! You can get everything you need online from retailers such as Mothercare at Boots without setting foot in a store. In fact, in some ways, it’s better because you can filter products by what’s important to you and to suit your budget. Also, you can get it all delivered to your home without having to walk around the shops, something my wife never enjoyed in late pregnancy.
It’s important to remember newborns need very little in those early days. As long as you have a baby car seat to bring them home in, baby clothing, and a baby pushchair to get out for some fresh air each day and somewhere to sleep, on-demand nourishment and love, they are pretty much happy.
As parents, our lives were turned upside down last March along with the rest of the world when we were put into lockdown for the first time. There was no more school, no more nursery, no more swimming and ballet classes, and no more meeting up with friends and family at the weekend. It was just our little bubble of five and the prospect of homeschooling while trying to hold down a job remotely. However, we did get a lot of those DIY tasks done we had been putting off. For example, we updated the baby nursery with some decorative items, which we hadn’t gotten round to doing since we moved six months earlier. We even finished unpacking every box, a task I’m sure would have taken us years had we not had the extra time.
We were blessed with great weather for the first lockdown. It meant we could make use of our garden space and play outdoors without actually having to go outside. We got a trampoline and paddling pool, and for the first few weeks, it was pretty nice to do very little and not have the pressures and appointments that daily life brings. Making sure we were well stocked with everything our children needed. If you have a newborn baby, I can highly recommend purchasing a play mat such as the Mothercare into the wild themed one. This doubles as somewhere your baby will both be stimulated and able to play and somewhere you can pop them down while you entertain any older children or just drink your coffee.
Homeschooling did not come naturally to me. We had to do school work in little and often chunks; some days we did loads, and some days nothing educational happened in our house. The school were brilliant at keeping us updated with activities to encourage learning and reading stories online. Homeschooling and working at the same time was difficult. They needed a lot of help, and I had my deadlines to meet. They were also missing out on the foundations of their education. It does feel like a tremendous pressure and worry that your child will fall behind, and you are responsible for keeping them on track.
I’ve found that it’s important to remember that every child in school, regardless of age, is going through the same thing. They might be behind, but the teachers are committed to making sure any gaps in learning are addressed. My wife had a phone call at one point with the headteacher during the most recent lockdown. She advised me that it’s unreasonable for everyone to expect children attending school to follow the curriculum as they would at school and that parents can only do what they can. The children just don’t have the social interaction and group learning experience that cannot be recreated at home.
The most recent lockdown, which thankfully we are just emerging from, has undoubtedly been the hardest. We and everyone else are just tired of the situation and uncertainty in our lives. The days were shorter, darker and colder. We spent much of January in the house playing games and watching films snuggled up on our robes, like these pink and blue ones from Mothercare at Boots.
It was nice in some ways, but the lack of social contact for all of us was getting us down by this point. Staying in touch with friends and family via video messaging was the only time we got to see other people. When I think about what got us through it, I have to say keeping a routine helped even when there was nothing to keep us on a schedule. We made sure we got up at the normal time, did school work at 9 am. I logged into work at the same time. We would go for walks in our bubble. When I felt overwhelmed with being a parent 24/7 without a break or the respite of work, I would walk with a friend. I cannot recommend how good a catch up with a good friend in person has been good for my soul and got me mentally back to a happier place.
Now we can get out, and about I recommend taking some lessons from lockdown life and slowing down. Your child doesn’t need to be enrolled into every class going, but if you need the social interaction like we do, head to a couple of mum and baby groups. If your toddler has grown into a preschooler over lockdown, it might be time to update your baby car seat and get a high back booster seat instead. If you’ve been blessed with a new arrival, perhaps a second car seat to go in nanny and grandad’s car like this one from Mothercare at Boots is needed when restrictions are further relaxed later this month.
It can be hard to see the positives of Lockdown because it has taken so much of our lives, but what it has given us is an abundance of family time. I feel that I have gained some extra months with my son and daughters that I otherwise would have spent in the office. I suspect this is true for many new fathers who have been able to work from home through lockdown rather than returning to work after two weeks at home with a newborn. Whatever stage of parenting you are at, the last year has brought us challenges we couldn’t even imagine, and by supporting each other and not being hard on ourselves, we can enjoy the experience for what it is and look forward to brighter times ahead.
This post is in conjunction with Boots UK but all thoughts are my own