Come on then, hands up if you’re feeling absolutely overwhelmed at the moment.
I’m sorry if you just dropped your phone because you were so quick to put your hands in the air there.
Of course you’re overwhelmed. I think probably everybody is right now. And anybody who says they aren’t overwhelmed, is lying.
I’m sure I don’t need to go into the reason behind our collective feelings of panic. But just in case you’re reading this from the Year 3000, it’s probably because of COVID-19.
The teeny tiny microscopic virus that suddenly appeared and turned the World upside down. The virus that’s decided that 2020 isn’t going to be our year. No matter how many diets we go on, resolutions we made, or plans we had, erm, planned.
It’s all stopped. The World as we know it, has just ground to a halt. Pretty much everything has closed, plunging people who weren’t already on the breadline, firmly underneath it, desperately praying for some kind of helpline to keep going a little while longer.
But those of us who were already on the breadline, are now in a pretty dangerous position : financially and mentally.
It’s a tough time for everyone right now, but for single parents, it’s even bloody harder. And incredibly overwhelming.
That’s not to say that two-parent households aren’t struggling. But chances are, if you are one, you’re socially distancing with your children and a partner that you’re happily loved up with. You have other adult contact. Someone to cuddle up to and tell you things will be ok. Someone who can wipe away your tears, give you a reassuring cuddle and watch the kids for 2 minutes so you can pee in peace.
Single parents don’t have that. We are completely, utterly alone, trying to steer our children through a very overwhelming period in their lives.
Most of us, have trusted friends or family members that we usually visit or have visit us.
Somebody that makes us feel less alone in our daily lives. And a lot of us have jobs with colleagues that we can talk to about something other than TikTok or Roblox. 🙄
Well, we did have. But it’s hard to hold down a job when the schools are closed to all but keyworkers. When wrap around childcare is closed too. And/or your family are self isolating or extremely vulnerable to catching the virus.
Reasons for feeling overwhelmed.
It might be that your usual routine of packed lunches, school runs, work, laundry, cooking, homework, shopping and taxiing children all over the place never gives you enough time to feel lonely usually. But when your entire routine is taken out of your hands, and you’re faced with long days with no end in sight, it’s inevitable that you’ll feel lonely.
Think about it. Think how many people you come into contact with on a normal day of going about your life. These could be
- Other parents at the school gates
- Teachers/support staff
- Dog walkers
- Supermarket staff
- Other parents at an after-school activity
- Random people you bump into
- Doctors, Dentists, receptionists
The list could go on and on, but you get the point. Social distancing means that you’re not having any of that contact all of a sudden. And that can make you feel overwhelmed and lonely.
Humans aren’t designed to be lonely. There’s been research into the effects loneliness can have on people’s health. But it’s probably best not to read it if you’re already feeling overwhelmed.
If you are interested though, you can read more about those effects here : Here’s what happens to your body when you’re lonely.
Limited outdoor time stress
There are so many different kinds of stress. Just because you aren’t running to a strict timetable currently, doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to feel stressed.
Staying at home for long periods is stressful. We’re not on holiday, we’re not free to nip down the park for a bit, we’re not free to meet up with friends. But we are in charge of small people who don’t understand why they can’t see their friends or go on picnics to the park in the beautiful sunshine we’ve currently got.
Children aren’t meant to be cooped up. If they were, there wouldn’t be break time or outdoor PE. Forcing them to stay indoors and not run around free is really stressful. Especially when they don’t feel ill and don’t understand why they have to stay in. We are incredibly lucky that we have a small back garden, and live within walking distance of the beach. So at the moment they can sit outside, and we can have one daily walk with the dog to the beach. But I really feel for those parents who don’t have that option.
Negate that stress as much as you can
You are allowed to leave your house once a day for some activity. Go for a walk. It doesn’t have to be far. Even walking around the block for 15 minutes is enough to get a bit of headspace and fresh air. It doesn’t sound much, I know. But a tiny little break can make the difference from being overwhelmingly overwhelmed and minimally overwhelmed.
Ideas for bringing the outdoors indoors
Take some paper and some crayons and make some rubbings. Whether that’s a tree, a wall or even the pavement. Compare the different patterns when you get home and see if your children can explain why they are so different.
Take a magnifying glass if you have one and see how many ants you can find.
Take some string and measure how wide different trees are. See if your children can work out why some trees are wider than other ones.
Collect different kinds of leaves and then use them to make a collage, use them for printing with some paint and paper, or use them to identify what kind of tree they are from.
It doesn’t sound much, but just doing those simple things on a little walk, can keep your children occupied for ages when you get home again. It might not be the kind of work that school have set, but it’s using what’s around you to investigate, explore, compare, measure and create art. All good things.
Other reasons to be overwhelmed
I don’t know about you, but just looking at my bank account makes me feel overwhelmed. Unlike Biggy, we’ve got No money and Mo problems.
Limited spare cash when you have your children at home is really difficult. It’s tempting to go online and buy a bunch of craft materials to try and entertain them with, but if you don’t have the spare money. Don’t do it.
If you have suddenly been thrust into no-man’s land because you can’t work or your place of work is closed, there is help out there. Check out Gov.Uk to find out what you might be able to claim to help you through this.
Contact any creditors now to inform them your income has dropped due to the COVID-19 situation. It’s better to get ahead of things now, than have the added worry and stress of missing payments and getting letters demanding payment.
Free school meals entitlement
If you were already on a low income, check whether your children are entitled to free school meals. If they are (whether or not you send your child with a packed lunch anyway) schools are offering supermarket vouchers or bags of food to be collected from school. Again, it might not be a lot, but every little helps.
Please check if you are in a group that can access free school meals. Because it isn’t just about the meals. You don’t have to take up the offer of the meals. For each child that is eligible, their school receives additional funding called ‘pupil premium’. This is additional income on top of what every school receives from Government each year. This additional funding can help with school trip costs, extra support for disadvantaged children, more teaching assistants etc. Schools can only spend this money on things that will bring benefit to the children in this group.
Even if your child doesn’t take the school dinners, it’s still extra income for their school, which will help ease their overwhelmed budget in the long run. You can apply on the link above and check eligibility.
Stress of never being alone
This one is probably the number one reason I feel so overwhelmed right now. It’s been a really long time since I had all 4 of my children at home for extended periods of time. And even when they were, we still had the option of meeting up with friends, swapping play dates, seeing family members or going out for whole afternoons.
Now, I suddenly find myself overwhelmed because there is NO personal space. We all joke about never being able to go to the toilet alone, but it’s a reality at the minute. As is never being able to get on with any kind of task, showering alone, dressing alone or popping to the shops alone. Everywhere I turn there is at least one child. And I’m not ashamed to say that I feel hugely overwhelmed because of this.
It doesn’t mean I don’t love my children. It doesn’t mean that I ‘shouldn’t have had them’ as I’ve seen suggested in various social media posts, when people have bravely admitted they are overwhelmed. But it does mean that I miss being able to spend more than 25 seconds in a toilet without an audience, a scrap or children yelling my name.
It’s a really really hard situation.
Stress of home schooling
I’m going to be completely honest with you now. Trying to home school is enough to turn me into a raging alcoholic. Unless you happen to have children of the exact same age and ability, you’re going to be overseeing at least a couple of different levels of school work.
It’s not sustainable. I know teachers who are struggling. It’s one thing teaching a group of children the same age, sitting in school, wearing school uniforms and abiding by the school rules.
It is a completely different kettle of fish having a few children working on different things (half of which you don’t understand) who are wearing home clothes in their home environment and fighting with siblings. For children usually in education, home is associated with downtime, minimal learning and snack requests.
How do teachers do it?
If you’ve ever even attempted working from home, you’ll know how hard it is to be disciplined enough to actually work and ignore all the distractions in your house. So it’s not going to be any easier for children is it?
At the moment, schools who are open to children of key workers aren’t following the national curriculum right now. There aren’t enough staff for a start. Which means your children are not missing out on their education. Which means you are NOT failing your children by being overwhelmed by the idea of home schooling or struggling to understand their work.
Let up on yourself a bit. Nobody is expecting you to give your children world-class education at home. A bit of reading here and there is fine. Practice spellings by asking your child to write a shopping list, or even a letter to their friend is fine. Baking and getting the children to weigh and measure stuff to practice maths is fine.
What is not fine, is you putting yourself under pressure to do a job people train for years to do, and do it day in, day out.
Teachers rarely have their own children in their class, because their children find it hard to switch between the “Mum” role and “Teacher” role.
Give yourself a break.
Please. Take the pressure off yourself. We are currently living in unprecedented times. It genuinely doesn’t matter if you can’t teach Spanish because you learnt French 20 odd (+) years ago at school. It doesn’t matter if you can’t explain an endothermic reaction, because you spent Science lessons obsessing over a boy in the year above you who smiled at you once.
What does matter is your health, mental, emotional and physical. And your children’s health too. Teachers would far rather you spent this time being a family than being a stressed out, totally overwhelmed, burnt out, anxiety ridden family. Teachers would much rather children came back to school (at some point in the future) happy, relaxed, healthy and eager to learn, than anxious, withdrawn children who associate learning with their parents losing their shit.
It’s just not worth it.
So please, remove as much as you can from your life that is making you feel so overwhelmed. Stop telling yourself that you’re failing. Because you aren’t. Stop feeling alone, because you aren’t. There will be loads of other people you know stuck in the same situation. It doesn’t matter if you’ve barely said two words to them since High School. Reach out. They will be as pleased to hear from you as you will be having someone else to share the stresses with.
There are 2 million other single parents in the UK that are feeling the same way. If they all had 2 children, that’s 4 million kids at home who need love, cuddles, reassurance and fun much more than they need to see their parents breakdown because it’s all too hard.
Eat cake for breakfast. Eat coco pops for lunch. Whatever. As long as you’re eating something, you’re winning.
Get Disney+ and rewatch all the programs you loved as a child. And share those memories with your children. Tell them about the time you watched The Lion King at school in year 11 as an end of term treat.
And maybe, you won’t feel overwhelmingly overwhelmed.