Mothers Anxiety Around COVID-19 Restrictions

There is a lot we do not know yet about the Coronavirus, yet it has been a worldwide decision that we must learn to acclimate and adjust our lives to manage around it. The recommendations on mask wearing have shifted; where before it was only for those infected, now it is required for everyone (except under age 2), regardless if you have symptoms or not (I think a game changer in the COVID-19 saga was the discovery of asymptomatic patients). Some airlines are now operating commercial flights too. Many countries, including Saudi Arabia, have reopened for business, and others whose school years are still underway, have reopened for children to attend as well.

As mothers, watching and hearing all this, we may feel torn between the knowledge that we cannot stay home indefinitely, and that life goes on, at the same time worrying how it will be possible to keep our children safe from the contagion. We want to talk to them but we don’t want to worry them. We are worried and we want to protect them.

We know how much of a challenge it is to help children (especially younger ones) understand that they shouldn’t touch everything or touch their faces or rub their eyes or put their fingers in their mouths. Depending on their age, this could be literally impossible, and trying to keep an eye on them or make sure they don’t can be stressful or anxiety inducing for us, and isn’t practical as well.

So the advice is overall to limit children’s outings to those absolutely necessary, and limit social gatherings as much as possible, and teach them basic hygiene practices like hand washing with soap and water for 40 seconds, while singing a song like the ABCs, or how to use the sanitizer and the mask too, especially when going out. You can also teach them how to keep their rooms and toys clean and to not share utensils or food paraphernalia at meal times, and how to clean up properly after, how to keep themselves clean and put their shoes away. It is important to talk to them as suits their age, explain that there is a virus and show them a video that is appropriate (not scary images – I post a few that are suitable below), and that we have to be more careful because we don’t want to get sick or be uncomfortable.

We are still waiting to see how the countries that have reopened schools have handled it, and how it has played out for children of different ages. What is apparent until now is that children are less susceptible to the virus than adults but there have been some cases of infants and children contracting the virus, so caution is necessary.

Many mothers are concerned about the effects of the restrictions and social distancing measures implemented by the school systems having negative effects on their children. Several mothers I have spoken with were worried that if the children didn’t understand the risks and follow the instructions or if teachers weren’t able to successfully implement the guidance to keep children away from each other that their children would get sick, or that the children would be constantly shouted at during the school day or terrorized for the sake of social distancing, and this would affect them mentally or emotionally as well, or that they wouldn’t feel safe or secure at school. These are all valid concerns for a mother to have during this time.

On the other hand, many mothers who work are now in a challenging situation, if working from home is not an option any more and they are required to attend at work sites or the office, with the children at home with no school and daycare options non-existent. What usually happens during the summer vacations is that working parents put their children in day camps, but this is not available at this time. Some entities have sent out memos informing employees that on-site daycare facilities remain closed, and that any employee bringing a child with them to the office is subject to legal liability.

If children are to be kept at home, and there is no other adult family member available, and grandparents are not an option because they are a vulnerable category, the options available to parents (mothers) would be: to leave the children with a nanny (which many families may not have, or who are not qualified or able to care for young children well) or find someone -anyone- to baby/child sit (which poses its own risks) or to request a leave of absence from work (paid/unpaid) and which many entities are not allowing at this time, especially health care workers. This of course does not mean that these mothers aren’t eager to get back to work or don’t want to work, they do, but they are terribly conflicted about it.

I have accounts of parents resorting to leaving their young children alone at home, which is completely unacceptable and incredibly dangerous, as well as unbelievably stressful for the mother (even if they say there are cameras installed) and can cause domestic strife between partners and struggles about the needs vs. rights to work and parenting roles and responsibilities. Women (mothers) may have to make a hard decision between their jobs and career aspirations and their children and families well-being (and their own) causing anger, resentment, frustration and depression, which will create repercussions for the whole family and the society.

An honest and open discussion about the realities of mothering during the pandemic is therefore necessary. More awareness and consideration of the challenges mothers are facing even with the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions has to happen if we are to offer increased support to mothers to be able to manage well and minimize the anxiety around their children’s well-being and the expectations on their return to work and school…

Links to References:

Miller, J (2020) Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: What to Do if Your Child Is Sick. Kids

CDC (2020) Keep Children Healthy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

World Economic Forum (2020) Danish Parents are Refusing to Send their Children Back to School

Povoledo, E. (2020) Parents Nervously Return to Work in Italy. Children are Still At Home. New York Times.

Obaid, R. (2020) Life is Sweet as Saudi Children Say Goodbye to Lockdown. Arab News

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