PARENTING THROUGH A PANDEMIC

The 1st half of 2020 has been real and life changing in so many ways, it feels like we’ve been here for over 3 years. The world is dealing with a pandemic and as of today’s date (29/6/2020), almost half a million lives have been lost to COVID19. That is half a million families that have lost a loved one and dealing with the aftermath. With the exception of our amazing and brave frontline healthcare and essential service workers, we have all had to slow down due to government-imposed measures to restrict movement and curb the spread of the virus. As a result, those of us who live with family have had to spend more time with them without the distractions of the outside world and social engagements. For parents, this means, more time with our children. Parents working outside of the home are all too familiar with the perennial guilt that plagues us, of not spending sufficient time with our kids. Well COVID19 has changed that. Many of us now find ourselves wanting a break from our little people to eat or use the toilet ALONE. We now know what stay-at-home parents deal with and we just want to say, we see you and you are our heroes.
Spending so much time with our children has been exhausting and rewarding at the same time. We get to be there through the tantrums, the sibling fights but also the milestones and the spontaneous outburst of love. Our children are 1 and 21/2 years old so they cannot tell us everything in their words but now, we get to experience life with them; fully present. We dance to their favourite cartoon theme songs, we know their favourite shows and characters, the one book they will bring to us every time for story time. We get to teach them but also learn from them about living in the present and just living life, pandemic or not. We will be disingenuous if we say it has been easy, we have been exhausted and frustrated many days but of course, we wake up and try to be better than the previous day. Isn’t that what all parents strive for?
We want to share some of the things that have made these times easier on us and our children.

HELP: We will be very honest; we don’t know how we would have survived this new normal without our live-in nanny. She has been a lifesaver. Her being with our family allows us to do our full-time jobs outside of the home. We work from home on alternate days as far as practicable so that she’s not overwhelmed. She gets days off, most of which she spends in our home and we try and keep the kids away from her.

TREATING OURSELVES AND EACH OTHER WITH GRACE: These are not normal times so we have adjusted our expectations. We treat each other with grace and continue to support in our different roles. No one can be on 100% all of the time, so we try not to make a big deal about those days when we can barely give 20% because we are exhausted or just aren’t in a good space emotionally or mentally. We try to meet each other’s needs as best as we can. For instance (especially on the nanny’s day off), Fatmata cannot by any definition of the phrase be described as a morning person and our kids wake up at the crack of dawn. So Beran deals with breakfast and morning duties and lets her sleep in. Beran likes to unwind after work and just take some time to rebalance so Fatmata tries (emphasis on try) to keep the kids away from him until he’s settled. It’s not always perfect and that’s perfectly ok.

ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE: We cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Our kids have always been on some kind of routine, we have time for play, time for naps and bedtime. No matter how hard the day gets and how many tantrums we go through, we find solace in the knowledge that by 8:00pm latest, we can have time to ourselves to rest and recharge for the next day. Do not over-schedule your child’s day but definitely build some structure that you can tweak/adjust to your and their needs.

TAKE THEM OUTSIDE AND LET THEM GET DIRTY: Children are fascinated by the outdoors. Take them out on neighbourhood walks, let them play in the garden if you have one, build a makeshift sand pit (any large bowl and a couple of bottle stoppers and cups will suffice). Flowers and leaves can keep them preoccupied for hours. If the weather is nice, build a makeshift pool if you do not have a real or an inflatable one. Again, any large bowl will do, all you need is water. They will eat the sand and dirt often when you are not looking. Tell yourself it is good for building a strong immunity; it has worked for us. And what better time to strengthen that immunity than during a corona virus pandemic?

INCLUDE THEM IN NORMAL ACTIVITIES: Remember the first time your parents let you help in the kitchen or do chores? Remember the excitement? Those activities and chores you consider boring are fascinating for children. So, if you are cooking, let them help you measure the rice or flour, give them onions peels, dry foods and a pot to ‘cook’. Just ensure you keep all sharp cooking utensils off the edge of the kitchen counters. Doing laundry? Let them help you load the washing machine or give them a few of their clothing items to hand wash. Washing the car? Woah! That’s a whole hour or more of activity and the bonus? It tires them out so bedtime or nap time won’t be a struggle.

SEEK HELP FROM OTHER PARENTS OR THE INTERNET: The Internet is a wonderful thing; you can find so much inspiration there and you don’t even need to look too hard. If you are out of ideas on how to keep the kids busy/entertained, go on Pinterest and you will be swamped with so many, some of which are so obvious that you are left wondering how you didn’t come up with them yourself. Seek advice from other parents, this is the one time when almost all of us have the same/similar struggle. So, reach out and ask questions, seek answers and ask for tips. Sometimes all you need is to know that you are not alone; it makes the load a little lighter.

FIND A BALANCE BETWEEN CAUTION AND A HEALTHY MIND: Our children started day-care at Narnia Day Care very early, at 8 months and 4 months respectively. They have always had plenty of engagement with their caregivers and other children and so we cannot imagine how they must feel stuck at home with just their parents and nanny. We make frequent telephone and video calls to grandparents, uncles and aunties but we know that the human touch and change of scenery is necessary. So, we strive to strike a balance between being cautious (because corona virus is real) and keeping all of us sane. We organise beach outings on weekdays (when the beach is almost deserted) and playdates with a particular family so that we keep our exposure to a small amount of people. We also had the brilliant idea to take them to the playground very early in the day after heavy rains the previous night which we hoped has washed and ‘sanitized’ all the outdoor, slides, climbing frames, etc.

ENFORCING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES: We have been put in the awkward position of not being able to say ‘my child would never do that’ as a response to a complaint from a teacher or caregiver. Even the caveat of thinking that it may be an exaggeration is difficult as we have seen them at their best and absolute worst. We have witnessed a fight over a single straw, disastrous attempts to cook by our oldest (basically emptying all spices, a tin of custard, etc that she could get a hold of onto the ground), the youngest using his teeth as an extra hand while climbing another person and attempts to keep a hug private by kicking or pushing a sibling.

There is also the more mundane stuff like wanting to eat plain white rice, uncooked noodles, raw bulgur instead of a lovingly cooked meal. In all this we have had to balance our response with the knowledge that we are not the only ones stressed by the current situation, the children have also had their routine; which they loved turned upside down. We should note here that after the first week, our children have never cried when dropped off at day-care, in fact on arriving at Narnia, they basically ignore us. We have resisted the urge (and it has been difficult) to arbitrarily punish any and all transgressions as it would turn the house into a prison camp for our children or to use corporal punishment as we feel it would just be taking the easy and not necessarily the most effective route in the long term.

We have ended up with a system of simple rules backed up by the naughty corner; which while longer to implement than a spanking, is effective in getting the point across.
We know that this may not work for all parents as we all do not parent in the same way, our circumstances are different and our children differ in age but as long as we are in a good space, mentally, our children are happy, safe, fed, clean, feel loved and protected, we are all winning. If all you can do on some days is lounge on the couch in pyjamas and watch cartoons all day, it’s fine. Give yourself some grace!

Yours in The Journey called Parenting,

Fatmata & Beran Forster

Written by: Fatmata

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16 Comments

  • David Fraser

    Brilliantly written Fatmata, takes me back to when mine were that age. The fighting over a straw had me in stitches. Great to see you have such healthy active kids

    • Fatmata Forster

      And guess what? We have a whole box of straws!!!
      I hear they say time goes by fast and they are only little for so long so we are holding on to that to get through these times.

  • Jebbeh Forster

    Wonderful parenting. It definitely pays dividends. Your children are blessed and you will be blessed in return.👍👍👍

    • Fatmata Forster

      Amen!
      Your support as grandparents definitely makes a world of difference. We are blessed to have your example to follow.

  • Christo Forster

    Well written piece, descriptive. I was also amused by the fight over a straw. Reminds me of the fight I had with my older sister, Isa, over a boiled egg. Our father had just opened The Gambia Office in London, and our mother took us to visit. He offered us the boiled egg, and neither wanted to share. We fought there and then.

  • Christo Forster

    Well written and descriptive. The fight over a straw reminds me of the fight I had with my older sister, Isa, over a boiled egg. In a public space. Our father had just opened The Gambia Office in London, and our mother took us to visit. He offered us a boiled egg, and neither wanted to share. We fought there and then.

    • Fatmata Forster

      I have heard the story of the boiled egg and know it too well. Thank you for being an example worth emulating. Beran (and by extension me) definitely benefited greatly from your guidance.

  • Janice Bras

    Like your honesty. Beautiful piece on the reality of being a parent.

  • Cyriillia Davies

    Well written parental skills. This is a eye opener for parents with younger kids. It’s been a hard journey for many around the during this unplanned pandemic.

    • Fatmata Forster

      The pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works for everyone but we will overcome together; by sharing.
      Thank you Cyrilla.

  • Jebbeh Forster

    Commendable parenting and worth sharing tips. Well written.

  • Esther Kamara

    You make me want to become a child once more – such brilliant parenting!
    Your article made pleasant reading to the point where I did not want it to end.
    Thanks for being such wonderful parents to our grandchildren.

    • Fatmata Forster

      With the support of grandparents like yourself, it makes our work a little easier. Thank you for always opening your home to us.

  • Emelia Lawson

    Thank you!!!!Good to know am not only…

    • Fatmata Forster

      As I said Emelia, all you need sometimes, is to know that you are not alone in the struggle. We will overcome! Stay strong Mama!