Given the response we had to the piece on young people’s mental health in May’s issue*, we know that many of you have experienced huge highs and lows over the last 18 months in your families. Here, author Lucy Rycroft gives a snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 on children’s and parents’ mental health, and claims it was no mistake that God picked you to parent your kids
Backing himself into a corner – physically and metaphorically – my five-year-old repeated the word for the gazillionth time. I can’t even remember what he was refusing to do, except that it was some minor task set by school that really wasn’t worth the deal I’d made of it.
I felt something burst inside me and the tears started to flow. “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know how to be your mum! I don’t know what you need any more!” I cried, treating this small boy as if he were a licensed therapist, about to put me on a couch and analyse my childhood.
We have very happy memories from lockdown 1.0 – our VE Day 75th anniversary tea party; weekly Sunday chats with grandparents followed by a roast; buying a super-sized paddling pool and the fun it brought – but the pressure of being holed up together got to me on more than one occasion. This was definitely our ‘Lockdown Low’.
Hard on children and parents
We hugged, healed and moved on from that point, but it seems I’m not a rare case. Whenever I’ve been honest about #parentingfails on my Instagram account, I can almost hear the sighs of relief from others’ comments:
“I’m so glad I’m not alone.”
“Thanks – I needed to hear this today.”
“So reassuring to know it’s not just me.”
The lockdowns were hard on children. And they were hard on parents too. One of my Instagram followers told me: “The pressure of working/home schooling/child supervising/refereeing was at times unbearable. [I felt] like I was failing everyone. Being in survival mode as a parent it was hard to know how to process things yourself, let alone help your children to do that too.”
And, while most are grateful for the reopening of schools, the pandemic still presents many challenges for families, with many experiencing blurred boundaries as they continue to work from home and suffering with mental health problems. Under this kind of pressure, is it any wonder that many of us found ourselves losing our heads in 2020-21?
Is obedience too much to ask?
We know that whether our children complete a sheet of number bonds or not is probably less important than being allowed to process their emotions in a safe environment. One may lead to academic success, the other almost certainly to mental wellbeing (and I know which I’d choose).
But in the moment, navigating the stress of home-working, the anxiety of the pandemic, the constant fear of being ‘pinged’ and the loneliness of missing far-flung family, all we can see is how easy life would be if only our children did what, in our eyes, is a simple task. Obedience makes parenting much more straightforward, but there are myriad reasons why, beneath the surface, our children might be finding it hard to ‘just do’ what we’ve asked.
It’s hard to navigate all this stuff and be at our best for our kids. If anyone says it’s not, they’re lying. Avoid them like the plague! But hear this: you are the best person to parent your child. Yes, even when you’re tired, stressed, frustrated or angered. Children are wonderful leaders when it comes to keeping short accounts. God has blessed you with children, and it wasn’t a mistake – he really did intend that you should be the one to raise them!
None of us are perfect parents; not in a pandemic, not in normal times. Our children will inherit the flaws of our parenting as we have inherited the flaws of our parents. The only perfect parent is God. By parenting in his strength, returning to him each day as we look for wisdom in how to raise our children, we will rise to the privileged responsibility he has given to us of being parents.
It took a lot of prayer to remember this for myself. But once I did, I was able to cope better with the highs and lows of mental health – both my children’s and my own.
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24).
*May mental health piece - What has lockdown done to our children?