parent opinion

'Parents like me will never, ever miss isolation.'

Yoga. Sourdough. Sheet masks.

Apparently these are the crutches getting us through our various versions of social isolation.

Self-care and finding comfort in our cages is marking this “acceptance” stage of iso-life, according to media, social media and many of my peers. Staying home is just one big, cuddly, hygge-tinged dollop of zen.

Unless, of course, it isn’t.

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I am not alone in saying that this has been the least relaxing time of my life. And not only because the reason for all this cocooning is a global health crisis of unimaginable proportions.

I’m certainly not alone, because for everyone whose home is a cosy sanctuary where they feel safely hidden from the world outside, there’s another for whom home is the opposite.

It could be because they are locked inside with an abuser. It could be that they are shut in with the silence of their own, hostile mind. Addiction, dysfunction, poverty, chronic illness. Social welfare experts say there are people for whom this shut-in will be deadly.

In my house, we are not those people. We are profoundly lucky that our challenges are far smaller, and survivable.

But also in my house, we are facing a kind of acceptance that has nothing to do with learning to live in our bubble.

We have accepted that we don’t have the kind of family we can raise, teach and nurture alone.

We have a child with additional needs. And by ourselves, we’re not coping.

We have a child who needs routine and structure like we all need oxygen. Who can’t possibly focus on a task-list of school exercises on his computer screen without constant supervision. Who barely eats, hates to sleep and whose emotional outbursts shake the foundations of our home.

We also have a child who is eye-wideningly smart, nose-snortingly funny and overflowing with love for the people he trusts. Life with him is never boring. It’s a life lived in vivid technicolour, at full-volume, feeling all of the feelings, every day.

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And, like many, many other families, we don’t really talk about it. We manage. We have our appointments, our meetings, our confidants. We have supportive teachers, close friends who understand, a small team of professionals who’ve seen it all before and can offer solace and strategy.

But then we all came home.

And everything fell apart.

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Sometimes, my boy literally runs around the walls. Sometimes he throws things. Sometimes his imagination gets too big for him and he cries and cries inconsolable tears of fear and overwhelm.

The battles over every bite of food, every shoe and every step are exhausting. On a bad day, the tension from constant conflict roils in our insides from morning to an ever-later bedtime.

Parents of kids with additional needs are not okay.

They don’t have access to their support systems, they don’t have respite from constant demands. The teachers their kids know and trust have vanished into computer screens in an instant. The peers they’d decoded how to be around have disappeared alongside.

We’re trying to work in jobs we need to keep while “teaching” our kids, sometimes only not to kill each other. We’re trying to keep the wheels turning, to stymie regression, hoping no lasting damage is being done. We’re trying to create memories for them that aren’t constantly swapping the iPad for yelling. Many days we’re failing.

Our family is better off than many, whose kids have more severe issues, who have fewer resources, who have no access to outside space and public parks. We are lucky, privileged, fortunate. And exhausted.

It’s not anyone’s fault. I’m not suggesting there aren’t moments of light and joy in the strain. This stream of complaint is really only an outreached branch. If this is you, too, you’re not alone. If you’re just clinging on to your sanity, your relationship, your sense of self-worth, you’re not alone. If you’re feeling like the world’s worst parent, you’re not alone.

People keep telling me this will be over soon. I know it will, one way or another. Routine will be re-established, life will begin to fade back to something like normal. We’ll all learn to live a larger life again.

Re-entry will be a strange time. Lessons will have been learned. But one thing’s for sure. Parents like me will never, ever miss isolation.


This story first appeared in Holly Wainwright’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for our weekly newsletter For Humans With Kids, where Holly shares her parenting nails and fails, and stories from the glorious mess that is family life.


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