Guilt. Any parent knows how this emotion can gnaw at your heart and invade your thoughts. As time passes, you sort of learn to cope with it and, sometimes, even brush it aside.
Enter: coronavirus. Guilt takes centre-stage in the home-bound internal drama of parental emotions. Well, at least that is the case for me and many of my friends and colleagues who are working from home.
It started from the basics: Feeling bad that our dear children have to stay home and no longer meet friends at school, visit their grandmother, go to their ballet lesson or run around their favourite playground.
Now that their world is confined to their home – our home, known as ‘the office’ and ‘the school’ for some – as a parent we must do all we can to ensure they are happy.
That should be enough. Right? I wish. The only caveat here is the interpretation of the words “all we can”.
Sure. I technically can work from home with a small child. But it comes at a price. Over the past weeks I’ve felt guilty whenever I turned on the TV or tablet to be able to get through an interview. It broke my heart when my daughter wanted to sit on me during a Zoom press conference and went off to cry silently on the sofa when I told her she could not stay next to me this one time.
Then, of course, there is that little voice at the back of my mind that judges: If she had a sibling, she might be happier right now.
And the cherry on the guilt cake is when, after a morning of hating myself for not being able to be there for my daughter and for her having way too much screen time “because I’m working”, I just don’t feel like playing.
If I had to be honest, I just want to curl up somewhere and just be – alone
If I had to be honest, I just want to curl up somewhere and just be – alone.
Guilt. I’ve spoken to my friends about this and I, rationally, know: I should give myself a break, I’m doing the best I can, she will be fine, happy mum-happy child, people over-demonise TV, and so on.
But emotionally it’s different.
In an attempt to try to make sense of all this, I reached out to Clinical Psychologist and Family Therapist Charlene Aquilina.
“The higher levels of stress [during the coronavirus pandemic] may make mothers feel less emotionally available for their children and thus less containing of their emotions,” she says.
Check. I know I’ve caved in a few times.
She goes on to explain that children may be feeling upset and overwhelmed with trying to adapt to this new lifestyle.
“This may be one of the most important times where children need their parents the most,” she says.
So we have a situation where children need their parents more than before - but parents have less time to dedicate to their children because they are working at home when they are usually at work while the children are happily at school.
Ouch. Pressure. Guilt.
Aquilina talks about the importance of accepting what we have no control over the COVID-19 situation, being kind to ourselves, taking care of our own wellbeing and finding time for ourselves, and accepting our limitations.
“We can only do our best – and this is to be a good enough parent and not a perfect parent who manages to have a sparkly clean house, warm meal, one to one attention with her children and new original crafts or activities each day,” she says.
Another thing to accept is that it’s OK to make mistakes, she says, adding that “the crucial thing about this is self-awareness, reflection and reparation. Being aware that we make mistakes gives mothers the opportunity to acknowledge this with their children and to repair it by giving an apology as well as mending the relationship to feel emotionally closer.
"Consequently, children will learn that it is normal to make mistakes and that we can learn from our mistakes and grow.”
Then she says something that makes my heart smile: “Children are not after extraordinary things, but mostly after connection and love, which can be transmitted in the simplest of ways, such as hugging and listening to their stories.”
Now that I can do. I do, in fact. And I know many parents who do too.
We just have to talk ourselves into accepting that this is good enough and try to fight away that… guilt.
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