I’m a single mum, part-time employee of a marketing agency and freelance copywriter. And right now, thanks to coronavirus, I am working from home, with no childcare and no co-parent to fall back on. My employer furloughed me a couple of weeks into lockdown via the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, on 80% of my wages. But I haven’t freelanced for long enough to be eligible for any state help there.
Some days, I feel like I’m juggling things well and living the stay-at-home-mum-boss dream. But most of the time, I’m barely keeping it together, with a nagging voice that says I can be a good parent or a good writer, but I can’t be both anymore.
All of us are struggling in some way, flitting between being optimistic and acknowledging that these circumstances could drive anyone crazy. But lockdown is especially brutal for lone parents like me, and we have no choice but to get used to it – the draconian but necessary measures are likely to be in place for the best part of 2020, after all. However, two weeks in, I’m already exhausted and tearful.
“Instead of bouncing out of bed, I wake up exhausted and in need of a little cry or pep talk before fighting another day”
Before coronavirus, in what feels like a parallel universe, my son attended nursery three full days a week from Tuesday to Thursday. In the hours he spent there, I worked. Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were our special days together, filled with activities like playgroups, playdates, swimming lessons, cafe lunches and soft play.
My new routine makes my old life seem so easy. For around twelve hours every day, I do my best to entertain with indoor activities, escaping our four walls by driving or walking to the supermarket or the woods for food or open space when we need it. He doesn’t usually nap during the day, so once my son’s in bed, usually at 7pm but sometimes as late as 10pm, I sit down to work for at least three hours before finally crashing.
The strain of trying to have it all – to work and raise a child – is bigger than ever and could get worse. Where I used to have a healthy mix of mother-son time and work, now I’m trying to pull off full-time child-rearing by day and writing by night. I could get by on Universal Credit, with nothing left over after covering the necessities, but I want my freelance clients when everything settles.
We’ve barely seen any friends apart from quick park meetups, chatting from a distance just for some in-person conversation, which is now off the cards. Our mornings still start at around 7am, with my little whirlwind bounding into my bedroom proclaiming what he wants for breakfast. But now, instead of bouncing out of bed to prepare food and get us ready to leave the house for 8am, I wake up exhausted and in need of a little cry or pep talk before fighting another day. I vow to change this and get up early, starting tomorrow, to remove myself from my lazy rut.
I can’t help but look enviably at nuclear families, where mums and dads often share childcare responsibilities and have access to face-to-face emotional support on tap. For the 70% of British single parents who are in work, these are luxuries we simply don’t have. The man I’m dating and I won’t hang out until later in the year. I can’t do online groceries, and supermarkets with toddlers are no fun.
“I prefer not to dwell too much on the unthinkable: one or both of us in intensive care or dead. But that weighs on my mind too.”
And these concerns are trivial compared to my fear of getting seriously sick while being solely responsible for a small child. If one or both of us develop symptoms, I’m anxious about the effect full quarantine would have on my sanity. More terrifying than that, getting seriously ill would render me unable to parent. I prefer not to dwell too much on the unthinkable: one or both of us in intensive care or dead. But that weighs on my mind too.
After just a few weeks or months of this lifestyle, I worry I’ll struggle to handle the pressure of solo parenting and holding down my career against a backdrop of semi-isolation. But the right thing to do is to stay positive. I want to look back on this year as a time when I nailed it against difficult odds. For now, I’m practising gratitude for the extra time with my son and praying our physical and mental wellbeing can survive intact.
Hayley Pearce is a copywriter and content marketer. Follow her on Twitter at @hayleypearce
Have a compelling personal story you want to tell? Find out what we’re looking for here, and pitch us on email@example.com