Who will look after my child if I get sick? The challenges facing single parents in lockdown

I have distributed (and pinned to the fridge) an emergency protocol, with contact names and telephone numbers of family as well as those friends who have brilliantly said they will step in and take F if I can’t manage.

Perhaps this sounds a bit melodramatic, but I know enough people who have struggled with so-called mild cases of coronavirus to feel that it is wise and knowing that I have put measures in place to look after her in these eventualities helps me to sleep at night.

As a completely solo parent I feel grateful that I don’t have to cope with the complications faced by those wrangling with exes over maintenance or shared childcare/ contact issues. Gingerbread has advice on this subject, and it is also calling on the Government to fill any shortfall for CMS arrangements where the resident parent is not receiving their usual maintenance.

Given that coronavirus has led so many of us to confront our literal and economic survival it can feel self-indulgent – a first-world problem – to fret about anything else. But I do think we can allow ourselves to think about how best to manage this unusual situation.

I worry about the fact that the social and developmental impact is much greater for my daughter than it is for me. She has lost nursery, friends, classes and outings. She has Zoom ballet classes (a lifeline) and FaceTime sessions with grandparents and friends (which usually need to be supervised). Apart from that, I’m her only source of human input and ­engagement – and I have a lot of other things to do.

It’s easy to feel guilty. However. There are only 24 hours in a day. I think we all need to give ourselves a very large break, stress less about not being good enough, and deploy strategies to manage as best we can.

I find F responds better if each day I set aside two or three chunky segments of uninterrupted time to do proper activities with a high level of attention. She’s a story junkie so we read for hours, role-play adventures with characters taken from her imaginary worlds and embark on sticking projects with glue and scissors. The higher my level of engagement, the happier she is.

Signs that the balance is going awry are clear – moping, claiming to be “too tired” to go for a walk, losing focus. When I see this I have to change my plans: leave my work until later, the house untidy, get a ready meal from the freezer, and put her first.

My mantra, when difficult behaviour hits, is, “Remember you’re the grown-up” – carry on with confidence, manage it, create a safe and stimulating environment, and she will be fine.

I also have to remember to look ­after myself. I think we should all do this. “It’s like putting your oxygen mask on first on a plane,” as I heard someone say on the radio.

Gingerbread’s Victoria Benson says she has rediscovered yoga. “Half an hour before I start the dinner time rush is really helping – and my daughter has started doing it with me so now that’s another chunk of time we spend together.” Breathing exercises are helping us too.

Also – planting seeds because the act of nurturing and watching something grow is not just relaxing but also hopeful.

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