Like most of the world, I have been living under the COVID lockdown for the last few months. However, I am one of the lucky ‘golden ticket’ winners who, due to their underlying health condition, has to follow stricter lockdown rules (I received a letter from the NHS saying I was allowed to open a window, woohoo!). I rebelliously flout this to leave the house to empty the bins, which is now a joyous weekly event that I look forward to. I also pass my time staring enviously, or probably disconcertingly, out the window at people walking by like a child who has been grounded for the summer holidays while their friends openly go out to play.
I am also a co-parent to two teenage boys who, prior to the lockdown, used to come to me at weekends and for extended periods during the school holidays. I haven’t physically seen my boys for over two months. As a point of note, both my boys have autism. I say this because structure, routine and consistency is extremely important in their lives, something as parents we have always strived for. It also presents a myriad of challenges and anecdotes which can be hair raising.
Without going full-blown ‘woe is me’, I wanted to talk about some of the difficulties that lockdown has presented to us as a family and to me personally, but also highlight some of the ways we have adapted to enable us to maintain contact.
Firstly, for me – probably somewhat selfishly, not seeing my boys has hurt and saddened me. I feel a huge amount of guilt because I am missing out on time spent with them, hearing about their lives, how they are progressing, knowing whether they are happy and them telling me their problems. I also feel guilt that I am not pulling my weight as a parent. Their mum has had to cut her hours at work to effectively home school them and care for them and there is little that I can physically do to provide practical support to ease this burden. I hope the boys understand that my absence is not their fault and doesn’t diminish my love for them and I hope they don’t feel abandoned.
To try and make up for this, I send them countless messages (which often don’t receive a reply) telling them how much I love and miss them. I assume they don’t always reply as they are teenagers after all and why should they indulge me. The chink of light that I believe all of us are thankful for is that we live in a world where technology has helped us to connect. WhatsApp, Zoom and Houseparty have been our saving grace and have enabled me and my boys to have some face to face contact.
Apart from my unanswered declarations of love, my boys and I have come up with fun ways to maintain contact. For example, once a week I cook over video with them, we talk during the week and work out which recipes to cook, then every Sunday we video call and cook together. These recipes have become more and more complicated so that I can monopolise their time for longer. This enables us to have a structured couple of hours together each week to do something fun and healthy, indulge in idle chit and just have a good catch up. When we have finished cooking, we sit down to eat together, and it helps to feel like we are a family and have family time together.
I know that my boys enjoy and look forward to this and, having autism, it helps to add an additional routine to their lives. We are looking at other ways to maintain contact, their mum has suggested a daily exercise routine via video. As I am no Joe Wicks, I am still deliberating this idea.
Like everyone, I am hoping that life will get back to normal or the new normal soon, and we will spend time together again. I miss hugging my boys, albeit I used to have to sneak up on them and grab a stealth hug as, being teenagers, they developed an aversion to hugging!
Although the lockdown has been challenging, it has helped me and their mum to communicate more effectively and, perversely, I think we are better co-parents for it. It has also made me realise that I probably didn’t do enough with the boys when I was physically available and that I can do so much more to be involved in their lives.
Written before the announcement was made that shielding is to end at the end of July 2020.