When the announcement came that schools in England were to shut their doors on Friday, with no current plans to re-open, my heart sank.
I adore them, of course. I love spending time with them. But most mornings, I’m glad to send them off to school. It gives me a few hours of peace from the constant bickering over who gets to choose that morning’s TV programme, or from hearing the word “Mummy!” 350 times in a row, starting at 6am.
Having time apart helps me value the time we spend together – without it, I’m worried I’ll turn into the cranky version of myself that my children refer to as, “Grumpy Mummy”, with sidelong glances at each other.
And I know it’s not unusual for me to feel this way. Emma Thomas, chief executive of mental health charity YoungMinds, says the uncertainty around Covid-19 and how it will impact families is likely to be just as unsettling for parents as it is for children.
“We know this is a particularly difficult time for parents,” she says. “Many are worried about the impact that school closures, insecurity and illness could have on the wellbeing of the whole family. It’s imperative we work together during this period of instability and look after each other’s physical and mental health.”
I understand, of course, that it’s vital to stick to the latest guidelines in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But after hearing the school closures announcement, I was increasingly worried for the mental wellbeing of the mums and dads who now can’t work – or escape their kids.
Until, that is, a good friend of mine pointed something out I simply hadn’t thought of, before: the bright side of school closures.
“I’m actually so excited,” my friend Gemma Walmsley tells me. “This is the time for us all to get back to basics. Reconnect with nature and teach our kids that life is simple.
“We can eat better and live in a less gluttonous way. It’s made me realise that life isn’t a given. We need to work to stay healthy – mentally and physically.”
Gemma, who has two children aged six and seven and lives in Hertfordshire, says she’s planning to keep her kids outside as much as possible.
“I’m passionate about the potential, now that schools are closed,” she says. “Getting out into large, open spaces is easy. Don’t drive, walk. Forget homework. Everyone has a green space within walking distance of their home, and little kids can get there in a buggy.
“We should try not to give up hope. This is an amazing time for change.”
Her words resonated with me; they made me pause. Because she’s right.
Yes, school closures will be hard. And yes, there’ll be days where time will seem like it’s standing still, and we’ll be yearning for a return to the daily grind. But our schools and teachers are working hard to provide as much structure as they can for kids who are about to find themselves out of class.
We will get through this. All of us. With a little help from the local park, or forest, or even just standing out on the front step, alone; breathing in all that hope.
In times like this, we need to adapt to our new ‘normal’ – whether it’s learning how to better cope with our kids at home, sharing teaching tips and school worksheets between friends, or getting creative with video calls between our kids and their mates. This is new to us. Let’s tackle it head-on.
YoungMinds offers guidance on how to protect your mental health while in self isolation. Their Parents Helpline remains open on 0808 802 5544.