For three hours, my children put COVID-19 out of the picture
Everyone is feeling the impact of dramatic changes due to COVID-19. As with the virus itself, no-one is immune to the effects of our changed world. You don’t need to have had the virus to experience the changes in lifestyle. For families, this is especially relevant as they struggle with the challenges facing them at home and school, and also, within the context of the wider community. Families are experiencing stress and feeling of helplessness that comes with the responsibility of keeping them and their children safe. We’re bombarded with messages and health advice every day, “wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, stay at home”. Families with younger children in particular, face a significantly increased load, as they find ways to juggle the needs of work and children.
Children also face changes brought on by COVID-19. Every child by now, will have participated in a home school learning setup, as they live life in isolation. Juggling learning tasks, Zoom meetings, more tasks, meal breaks, Zooming friends for children of varying grade levels, makes for hectic days, and that’s without the usual household duties! Being stuck at home 24/7, participating in a home-schooling environment has proven to be a momentous challenge in itself.
Many children live with parents who need to work to keep the family in a stable financial position. Other families are faced with the reality of no or reduced income with no certainty of when ‘normal’ might return. Nobody knows what our new ‘normal’ will look like. The stress of keeping food on the table and keeping everyone feeling warm and safe can be likened to living with a pressure pot that is teetering on the point of explosion, you just never know when the top will blow. With such emotionally uncertain conditions, many people may find themselves succumbing to such pressures.
Children are not exempt from stressors as they witness what is happening around them every day. Most parents do our very best to shield our little ones from the influx of daily information; the increasing death toll, the strain on our health care services and the bleak picture. I’m already concerned about what my children are likely to face as adults. Will they have the same sense of freedom we’ve enjoyed until this point? Will they have learnt from our many mistakes? Will they do a better job? All we can do is give them every opportunity possible by educating them, showing them what it looks like to be a respectful person, how to love and care for another person, and to be a person with good values. In doing so, all we can do is hope we’re guiding and setting them up for parenthood and being a positive role model when that time comes for them. For now, our priority must be to ensure our children see us as the strong adults who will protect them. Besides teachers, who play an influential role, as parents we’re the most influential adults in our children’s lives.
Often, we may think or hope that the little people in our lives are oblivious to what’s going on in the ‘real world’. However, our children are quite aware of everything going on around them, but without the coping skills of an adult. As children grow, their minds take in new knowledge and information like a sponge and are smart enough and vulnerable enough to be able to make sense of what they are taking in; if only in small parts, it can be enough to trouble their young minds without us realising.
“I don’t want Daddy to go to work and get the coronavirus.”
As expressed by my two daughters, aged eight and six.
What do you say to two young and impressionable children in response to such as statement? This is their childhood reality. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, the girls clearly comprehend that something is wrong and it’s a threat to us as human beings. Trying to reassure them everything will somehow magically be okay because Mum said so, isn’t enough to ease their minds; they need explanations. I knew I had to explain clearly why I felt confident that their dad would be okay. If I appeared to be confident, they too could feel at ease. And so, I reassured them that Dad does takes all the necessary precautions we’ve talked about. Explaining the steps he takes to ensure he’s as safe as possible when at work. As we talk, it becomes apparent that a shift in mood is needed on this particular car ride home. Instead of completely changing the topic, I direct the conversation into something a little more light-hearted.
“Maybe we should get a bunch of garbage bags and sticky tape and make him a suit to wear too!”
This brings much laughter and further joking around about the idea:
“Do you think he’d really wear it?”
“What if he rips it?”
The girls are highly amused by the thought of Dad wearing a suit made out of garbage bags. The car fills with laughter. I knew however, it will be only a matter of time before the next occurrence of stress and worry. Despite having grown up in my own world of considerably stressful circumstances, I had no more insight into how to best help my two young children through such difficult times. How do I respond to their comments, questions and expressed worries and concerns? I should know what to do, surely it should come instinctively with all my lived experience.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that my own behaviours and passion towards something that was just for me, photography, was beginning to have a similar impact on my daughters. This in turn has been providing snippets of “feeling good” about themselves and being able to be kids again.
With this in mind, reflecting on the weekend just passed, on a chilly winter’s Sunday afternoon, the three of us decided to grab our cameras and head down to the waterfront for ice-cream (of all things!) and to get some shots of the scenery. It was to be just a short trip, enough to get the girls out and about; to give them some time outside of the walls of our house. Interestingly, in recent weeks, they’ve been inquisitive about my website. They’ve begun asking about the blog writing I do and how I decide on which pictures to use for a blog (because they see that I take so many!). They’ve come to know that when Mum goes out somewhere, you can bet she’s going to take her camera; it’s become an extension of my own body.
Likewise, the girls are becoming more observant and aware of their surroundings. Recently one morning, an amazing sunrise that filled the sky was enough to coax them out of bed to see the colours in all their glory. The three of us hurried around getting our cameras out so we could capture the moment. Their comments reminded me of me! ‘Oh, what a beautiful sky, it’s so beautiful Mum isn’t it?” Followed by them scurrying around on a quest to get that ‘perfect shot’. They also shared with me that they have learnt a little about the technique of post-processing, ‘Look Mum, look how I changed this colour in this photo’, ‘Can you see the difference in this photo now?’ I realise suddenly that my children have been acutely aware of everything I do. They’ve developed an interest in photography and are proud to display their efforts.
As we drove to the waterfront, the conversations began. “Can we put some of our pictures up on your website?” “You do the writing and we take the photos.” Initially hesitant, I soon came around as I thought, what an exciting and great opportunity for them to have. Every so often, why not? I do have the ability to make that call and so I suggested they could be my co-photographers for The Picture Healer! “Wow, we’re going to be famous!” Now, I’m not sure they really understood what that role actually meant, but it sure sounded good so they were 100% on board. And as I observed them, eager to get out of the car to begin the afternoon’s task of taking photos for Mum’s website, I knew I wasn’t the only person benefiting from that camera I received for Mother’s Day last year. My daughters too were receiving much needed distraction and a little something to look forward to.
Before we knew it, we were out scooting around the waterfront, capturing all kinds of images. The girls kept coming back to show me what they had took, commenting on such things as blurriness and ‘it’s a shame because those images can’t be used’. I watched them ‘framing their shots’ and getting into different positions to capture a different point of view, they really had been watching and were now little photographers doing their own work. I could see people admiring the three of us as we went about our day with an important mission in mind. What those onlookers didn’t know was that this very outing in itself was a significantly therapeutic outing for all of us.
For that one afternoon, all thoughts of COVID-19 went out the window (expect when it came to hand sanitizing) as they observed from a distance a young boy who caught a seahorse with his fishing rod, a large clam shell that had become stuck in the claws of one of the large fishing boats and how we might get it out, and how unusually smooth and calm the water was that day. Before I knew it, three hours had passed and it was time to head home, but not before my two little budding photographers had the chance to capture one or two more shots.
Take Home Message
We as parents have much power to make a difference in the lives of our children during frightening and uncertain times. Yet it’s difficult because we too are in pain and disbelief. If you’re like me, you likely have been on the receiving end of many well intended sources of advice. So, based on this advice, here are my thoughts when helping our children navigate their way through difficult times.
- Listen to what your child has to say, listen as they describe how they are feeling. Let them speak and then have your turn, recognising and validating the feelings they are describing. “Yes, I understand that it doesn’t feel fair to not be able to hug your best friend and that it makes you sad”. Empathise with them because we understand, we’re all living the same hell whether we care to admit it or not. Feel your child’s pain but don’t try to fix it because truth be told, you can’t.
- Give lots of hugs and just be close by. Express your unconditional love in words, likewise in actions. Tell them they are loved and valued no matter what. Reassure them that you aren’t going anywhere.
- Be a positive presence in your child’s life. After having listened and acknowledged their feelings, give reassurance that although it may feel like it, this situation isn’t going to be forever, we just need to have a little patience. Maybe suggest they make a card for a loved one or even the lady living alone up the street. Anything that will give them some much needed positive feelings, something to feel proud of.
If all else fails, offer an outsider’s insight and seek professional guidance with a qualified therapist who works specifically with children.