So, is this enforced isolation/ lock down or is it enforced bonding? I have been reflecting on the last few weeks, reminding myself of those 6-8 weeks four years ago when munchkin first came to live with me.
I was a single adopter who was opening up my home and heart to a struggling six-year-old who had been taken away from her brothers and the countryside she knew. She moved from living in a horse farm foster placement to a third floor flat on the south circular in London!
Looking back, I was filled with a similar dread to that of a potential lock down. The real difference now is our living situation and the fact that I am working. In the last four years I have also acquired a partner and a couple of older step-sons.
Munchkin has built a lovely relationship with 17-year-old M (who has stayed at his mum’s during the lock down) as we have spent lots of weekends and holidays together and there is a deep trust and fun between them. However, with A (20) there have been less opportunities to build a relationship.
Having seen the writing in the wall about lock down, I took the decision to move munchkin and I over to my partner’s house. As soon as school closed, I knew that working at home three days a week with her was a no-no. She sees my laptop as something that keeps us apart, and her behaviour can become quite destructive. Therefore, whilst my partner is working at home full time and I am working three to four days a week, we hoped we could manage the juggle better together!
Munchkin could have had a spot at school, as she is seen as a vulnerable child and I am a key worker. I took the risk of turning it down as I couldn’t work out how I could pick her up on work days, plus the school was joining with the sister school, her teacher is off pregnant and none of her friends would be in class.
On the Friday before the last day of school I basically packed up her whole room, a spare TV, the PS3 and a few clothes and my partners son loaded up the car! Best decision ever… after weeks of watching other parents on the Whatsapp group tear their hair out, I am not sure if I am smug, relieved or simply happy!
There are times when it has been tricky. My partners work is global so he can be on line all day and night. I work for Public Health England so working days can be 7-7. Sometimes the internet crashes, and we are faced by scowls of a bored, lonely and probably frightened 20 year old when we ask him to go off line for his PS4. There are irritations – when working parents only get a 10-minute break to feed their 10-year-old but the older child has taken over the kitchen to cook 4 eggs for breakfast at midday – but hey-ho!
I have had a breakdown once – worry, irritation & tiredness. My partner had two days of heightened irritation with work that could have created a kick off. We have had a few 20 year old tantrums – see above PS 4 and eggs, boredom….. and no – filling the dishwasher does not constitute washing up!
But the one person who has fared the best is 10-year-old munchkin! It’s not rocket science and of course we are used to therapeutic parenting. She loves learning, loves school and loves the computer so home-schooling has been a dream. We have also been lucky from school with great support: We get a weekly timetable with loads of links to fun based learning. This is supplemented by daily tasks, extra access to music lessons & French. It has been made clear that all work is optional but her teacher understands that munchkin needs structure and needs to be focused on work.
I would love it if she could just chill, but now is not the time to take away coping mechanisms as the world is scary enough! Her teacher has an email conversation with her most days, with actual feedback on the work which is what she needs. There are also joke Tuesdays: once a week all the kids get a video from their teacher and there has been a class zoom meet up once a week!
I have been setting up a timetable each day to cover the 9-5 period. It starts with Joe Wicks and ends with another physical activity; either a gymnastics home class or dance class. Due to good weather there has also been outside skipping midday. We have worked out that she will happily get on with her work downstairs with my partner working next to her on the table. However, I am banished to the bedroom – a crippled back being a small price to pay!
The real winners have been relationship building between the 20-year-old with munchkin and me. Plus, the strengthening of his relationship with his dad. Munchkin has loved it – reduced transitions, no needing to be perfect at school and no worries that we will forget to pick her up from school.
I believe that the structure that we put in place every day and the amount of time we have just being together has benefited everyone. It has also made me realise how emotionally literate we are. My partner’s son was reflecting the other night on how it hadn’t been as bad as he thought it would be and this was due to us being open & honest about how we were feeling. We have modelled it for him even though we didn’t realise we were. He said he was glad that he had decided to stay with us as he wouldn’t have been allowed to express emotions or irritations at his mum’s. There, all the kids (five, from 17 to 26) would have been in their individual rooms on their PS4s and if someone was having an off-day it would be seen as rudeness, defiance and a slight to his mum & step-dad.
I was worried about how the two-week Easter break would work. I didn’t want her to spend it learning so we decided to take leave. Sometimes both of us and sometimes one of us. If I am honest, there were too many crisps, too much ice cream, Netflix and Mario carts. But there were also three shared meals a day and some joint chores, shared meal planning/ cooking and shared movie nights – though we cannot find popcorn kernels – but this is a first world problem! We have also played numerous board games. The 20-year-old has taught the 10-year-old chess.
I don’t want to paint a picture that everything is perfect, as yesterday I changed the schedule – I planned to pick up something from our flat and then decided it wasn’t essential and man alive, yesterday was a rough day! But it was as simple as that – I changed the plan. Lessons learnt (yet again): Do not say you are going to do something and then not do it!
My biggest fear now is it all ending! The fear that that chane could raise for both the children in this house. But I am hoping that, leaky jugs that they are, they’re topped up enough to prevent too many leaks in their lives going forward.