Early on in lockdown I was taking my 10-year-old son on a bike ride around the lanes where we live. He’d decided to dress up in a tutu because he thought it might make people smile if they saw him cycle past. Whilst we were cycling, we were aimlessly talking and he turned around and said without prompting “Mum, do you know what the best thing about lockdown is? I get to spend more time with you!”
That got me thinking – maybe there are some good things that have come out of this situation after all? For as many difficulties as we’ve all had to face, and some far more than others, every one of us has had to find new ways to survive and adapt as a family unit and with that comes huge positives as well as negatives.
May 15th is International Day of Families and I wanted to explore the impact this crisis has had on us and our relatives, both young and old, drawing from my own personal experiences.
On the face of it, COVID-19 and the social measures that have been put in place around it have had, and will continue to have, far reaching detrimental impacts on society and family life in general. The latest report from the ONS exhibits a number of worrying statistics with 80% of adults stating they were concerned about the impact COVID-19 was having on their life, 48% saying that their well-being has been affected, and over 3 in 10 (31%) of those stating it was making their mental health worse.
Even more worrying, a recent report from LinkedIn revealed an astonishing 56% of 2,000 adults surveyed said their mental health had deteriorated since lockdown began on 23rd March.
As families are forced to spend time with each other, combining work, home life and schooling, unsurprisingly, 25% of adults are saying they're concerned about the strain this has on their relationships.
From my perspective, as I’m sure many others will echo, trying to work, parent and home school can be testing at times to say the least. Rullion's Talent Acquisition Partner Laura Hewes shares her advice on managing this here. Although my kids are older, they come with their own challenges. I’ve had my entire newly painted white kitchen covered in coffee following a failed TikTok experiment, and have had to break up constant fights, usually around who has stolen the other’s Haribo they hid in the back of the cupboard or whose turn it is to go on the Xbox!
At the other end of the spectrum, isolation can also prevent people from seeing their nearest and dearest and create feelings of loneliness, with the most recent ONS statistics citing that 30% of adults said they were spending too much time alone. Isolation and confinement, even for a relatively short period of time, have the potential to cause lasting anxiety. Older parents and grandparents as well as those who live alone are particularly impacted by this. As we miss milestone events such as birthdays and major celebrations, it becomes especially difficult. I’ve never wanted to hug my mum and dad as much as I do now.
Spare a thought as well for those directly affected by close family members who have been hospitalized, or worse, by COVID-19. My cousin, who is in his 50’s with no underlying health issues, was unfortunate to catch the virus earlier this year and remained unconscious in intensive care for over seven weeks. This was an incredibly stressful and worrying time for his children and close family, with none of them able to visit him. Thankfully, although he’s still in intensive care, he’s now regained consciousness and can communicate with them virtually.
Many articles I’ve read mention the potential for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a recent feature written for the Guardian by Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist in the department of psychiatry, University of British Columbia, and the author of The Psychology of Pandemics, discussed the development of “Covid Stress Syndrome”. Ongoing psychological problems are likely to be far more prevalent among those infected by the virus.
As a mother of a teenager (now dubbed “Quaranteen” according to the Urban Dictionary), I’ve been keeping a particularly close eye on my 13-year-old daughter, who can be prone to mood swings and occasional bouts of anxiety at the best of times. According to YPulse, who have conducted research on the impact of COVID-19 on Generation Z, 13-39-year olds are more likely than most to suffer from stress and mental health issues as an ongoing effect of the pandemic.
Technology already forms a significant part of younger people’s lives. Lockdown has meant that this has now become their only way of communicating with the outside world – whether through TikTok or Instagram in my daughter’s case, or through shouting very loudly to his friends through headphones during heated games of Fortnite on the XBox in my son’s. Studies have suggested that this over reliance on technology can in some instances cause people to withdraw from the outside world almost completely, unwilling to venture out of the home to be in big crowds or populated areas.
A major cause of stress for the younger generation in particular could be uncertainty about the future world of work. With rapidly rising unemployment and many jobs changing beyond recognition as we settle into the “new normal”, parents will need to help their children navigate their fears and adapt to these new challenges. We all need to be resilient and flexible and through leading by example, I hope that my children will also be able to develop these important qualities which are more vital than ever to be able to thrive and survive.
Which brings me to my next point. As a race, we have always had an innate ability to survive. In our history, we’ve already lived through major global pandemics, world wars and natural disasters and it’s our capacity to learn and adapt that’s allowed us to get through them. As our environment flourishes through a general reduction in pollution, the family unit has also in many ways been able to flourish as a result of the very crisis that has threatened to tear us apart.
For all the negative connotations that can be associated with technology, it has become the saving grace not just of the workplace, but also of the family. The ONS has revealed that in the last 10 days, 81.6% of those surveyed said that staying in touch with friends and family remotely helped them to cope with the current circumstances. As well as TikTok and Xbox helping my kids to stay in touch with their friends, as a family we’ve also used FaceTime, taken part in Zoom quizzes and enjoyed virtual House Parties. I’ve also subjected the children to various music live streams in the evenings and at the weekend. A staggering 1.6 million people tuned in to watch the first Hacienda House Party in April, helping to unite friends and families across the globe. The kids have now developed even more of an appreciation for 70’s disco, alternative 80’s and 90’s house music, but less of one for my over enthusiastic dancing.
The situation has also in many ways helped to restore family values. Now the children and I are together more we make the best of it whenever we can and make sure we spend quality time with each other. We exercise together, making the most of our daily walks and bike rides (although I have to admit I gave up on Joe Wicks on day one), I’ve learnt to play football, the kids are doing more cooking and we laugh together more than we fall out. Research by LinkedIn, in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, found that almost half of those surveyed (44%) reported that they feel more connected to their families. The same piece of research also revealed that, despite increased feelings of anxiety and stress, there were some benefits to working from home more often. Of those surveyed, almost a quarter (24%) said they had more time to exercise, while 17% said they are eating more healthily.
Finally, I really believe that one of the more positive impacts on family life has been helping to instill and benefit from a sense of community. Recently, we commemorated VE Day and although it has been 75 years since we first celebrated this momentous occasion, the “Blitz spirit” that was often referenced during the Second World War, is still very much alive and well in 2020. The recent ONS survey reports that just under two in three adults (64%) said other local community members would support them if they needed help and eight in ten adults (80%) said they thought people were doing more to help others since the coronavirus pandemic. My children have helped fill local food banks and we’ve supported local shops and producers, changing our buying habits as far as possible. The neighbours on the estate I live on all look out for each other and help where we can – the picture below (which clearly shows my son's dubious home hair styling) is courtesy of one of the local residents who took “lockdown photos” of all the families living here as part of a charity project, with all proceeds going to the nurses of the NHS.
So, if we all take a step back, maybe in some small way we will become a little more resilient and learn some valuable lessons from the situation that we find ourselves in. Hopefully we will learn to value our families more and cherish the time that we can spend with them, making the most of it rather than always being too busy to listen to our children, visit our parents or support our local communities.
Since lockdown started, I’ve become an expert on making TikTok videos, amateur hairdressing, goal keeping, refereeing (both football and fights), Cardi B, super cars, carpet stain removal, decorating, Fortnite and fractions. We’ve got to know our neighbours (although the frequent music on at full volume may be a slight bone of contention) and I’ve taken more time to speak to my mum and dad, finding out how they are both physically and mentally, and what they’re up to. I feel more content and connected with those that I love than I have done in years.
As Walt Disney once said
“Life is beautiful.
It’s about giving.
It’s about family.”