Yvadney Davis loves her children, but sometimes she locks herself in the toilet for 10 minutes – just to get away from them.
As this national lockdown stretches on – with confirmation that schools will stay shut until at least March 8 – the mum of Lolo, five, and MG, eight, is feeling claustrophobic and craving space for herself.
“This time round, the days are shorter, it’s bitter cold outside and often raining, which means we’re much more cooped up at home and tripping over each other,” says Davis, from London.
“The sense of being stuck like this for the foreseeable future is so crushing at times.”
It’s a feeling other parents can relate to. Homeschooling fatigue has set in, as parents have spent months juggling school worksheets with their own work calls. The novelty of having kids at home all day every day has worn off, because as taboo as it may be to admit, no one signed up to 24/7 parenting.
“At least during the warmer months the boys could play outside, albeit for about 10 minutes at a time before pestering me for a snack, a drink or to tell a tale,” says Jamie Beaglehole, who’s homeschooling Lyall, 12, and Rich, 11, alongside his husband, Tom.
“The latest lockdown has been particularly claustrophobic with the bad weather outside and we’ve all struggled for our own space,” says Beaglehole.
“Tensions are high – Tom and I have no private time or space for any kind of intimate relationship. I’m sure we’re not the only parents to be feeling this – it’s almost as though our own relationship is on lockdown, too.”
After nearly a year in each other’s pockets, the family – who live in Leicester – have made the decision to move to a larger home, despite the additional stress of moving house in a pandemic. They hope to be in their new abode by March, with a little extra breathing space.
As well as feeling like physical space is closing in, Jenna Rigby, a mum of five children under nine years old, feels like her social circle is getting smaller, which adds to the feeling of claustrophobia.
“One of my biggest support mechanisms with being such a busy mum is my social life,” says Rigby, from Lancashire. “I take time out to catch up with friends weekly and this has ceased to exist since November – possibly because of their own anxiety and overwhelm.
“We don’t reach out over the phone as much and ultimately, this is a sacrifice many mums have had to make in order to keep their house running and be on top of school work.”
The children’s patience is also diminishing, and their behaviour worsening. “This has been my biggest challenge.” she says. “More so in me blaming myself for not knowing the best way to juggle home-learning and being the parent.”
To make matters harder, some non-parents simply don’t get it. Rigby posted about claustrophobic parenting online and was hurt when someone responded to tell her she should be enjoying spending time with her children.
“People need to understand that what’s going on right now is not a normal circumstance, and therefore feeling fed up of the same daily routine within four walls is bound to drive emotions you’ve never previously felt,” she says.
Ben Westwood, a single parent from East Sussex, thinks it’s harder for parents with young children in many ways, but there are different challenges that come with having two teenagers: Jake, 15 and Isabella, 13.
“My children are very sociable so it’s hard on their wellbeing,” he says. “Seeing them unhappy impacts me. My son can’t see his girlfriend and my daughter had reached that age where she was having her own social life. It’s hard to keep their spirits up when goalposts keep shifting.”
Westwood is quick to acknowledge that other parents have it worse; he’s able to complete his university job from home, the kids can largely manage their school work online and the family has a garden. “But it’s harder as a single parent,” he says. “I can’t divide myself.”
To cope with the ongoing situation, many parents have lowered expectations on themselves (and their kids) since the first lockdown.
Beaglehole, who runs the blog Daddy and Dad, is trying to step back and give his children more autonomy. “At the beginning of the first lockdown, our expectations of our sons were very high,” he says.
“We assumed lockdown would only last a few weeks, so we provided the boys with a routine of school and homework – we were very hands-on, but positive.
“As the lockdown went on (and on), Tom and I stepped back because we needed to focus on our own work, giving the boys responsibility for their school work and freedom to play in the garden pretty much whenever they liked.”
Westwood combats cabin fever by getting out to walk or run daily. “I sometimes bring my daughter,” he says. “Yesterday I persuaded them both to go for a walk, which felt like an achievement because my son hadn’t been out for days.”
Davis, who’s self-employed and also runs the blog Mums That Slay, felt a huge sense of guilt for not ticking off all the school boxes during spring, but now she’s giving herself a break.
“Trying to work to deadlines while my daughter is sounding out her phonics or googling the best ways to explain long division was so hard,” she says.
“I learned to be more realistic, take the pressure off of perfection and realise the priority was keeping everyone sane. For my kids that meant more arts, Lego and playing. And for me, recognising that most people got what lockdown parenting is like.”
Davis also started carving out time for self-care. She wakes an hour before everyone else – to meditate or write in her journal – and tries to exercise daily.
“I’ve also scheduled notifications that ping throughout the day on my phone and remind me to take some long breaths,” she says. “I’m much gentler on myself, there’s so much pressure to be all things to all people right now and it’s not possible. Accepting that has been the biggest breakthrough.”
But, as Rigby says, parents need more support if this is going to continue. “We sacrifice so much for our children, and our wellbeing needs to be maintained in order for us to care for them in the best possible way,” she says.
“The main thing to keep reminding yourself is there is no such thing as a ‘bad parent’ right now.”