Deep breaths for families on day 1

It started innocently enough.

The mother-of-three’s first social media posts were filled with optimism, even excitement. She had her newspaper subscription sorted, she had plenty of board games and a strong internet connection, and she had enough toilet paper to see the family through to Christmas.

The Timaru schoolteacher was ready to get crafty and playful with her children. She had a list of jobs that would no longer be put off. Setting aside possible employment concerns, she was in the zone for four weeks in lockdown.

Her optimism subsided on Tuesday, the first day on which her children did not have to go to school. She had her first taste of lockdown two days before lockdown, and she was pretty sure she did not like it.

‘‘It’s not even lockdown!’’ she hollered.

‘‘What was I thinking? My priorities were all wrong. Dear God ... why did I not actually consider the ramifications of being socially isolated with my family?’’

The woman is real and her concerns are shared by many thousands of parents who will need to quickly come to terms with the reality of 28 days of familial cohabitation.

Ah, you say, loving and available caregivers do this cohabitation lark all the time. Those not at work are with their kids for a couple of weeks between school terms, and more over Christmas.

This is true, but it is also true very few of these holidays are spent without visiting friends and family, playing sport, visiting the library or shopping.

The next few weeks will be trying for caregivers and parents used to having personal space and personal time.

However, southern schools have quickly mobilised themselves and have posted myriad learning resources online. In many places, learning packs have been made for those without a suitable internet connection.

This has to happen. As we have previously said, the next four weeks cannot be allowed to add to the inequality already experienced by those who cannot afford to participate in an online world.

Schools have been at pains to say these resources will not completely replicate what can be done in the classroom, and many principals say parents must not rush to home school.

Locked-down families should instead use them to supplement days spent playing, indulging in creative pursuits, and learning some of what it takes to become a responsible and resilient youngster.

Just as it was when ageing newspaper writers were young, there is much to be said for rediscovering the joy of playing in the backyard, messing about in the kitchen or tinkering in the garage.

There is also plenty to be said for maintaining social connections. These days, friends and family are as close as one’s technology allows. Friendly faces reinforce the normalcy of life outside of crisis.

Sanity will be in short supply but stressed caregivers reinforce stressful situations. There is no light to be made from a national crisis already robbing many of wages, jobs and faith in the future.

Such stress may be unavoidable but, for the sake of those we hold dear, such stress is best expressed in a safe, child-free room, during time locked-down caregivers give themselves to recharge.

Social agencies worry this is a time of increased family violence and relationship breakdowns. They also urge single and isolated caregivers to stay in touch with those who give them emotional and practical support.

Social media might be filled with parents jokingly, or otherwise, concerned about how the next four weeks will play out, but it is also filled with reassurance.

In a post shared yesterday, an educator reminded caregivers there was no academic emergency and that parents should not be quick to home school. Focusing on making and maintaining connections, and fostering shared feelings of safety and wellbeing, will help children — and adults — emerge from this crisis ready to meet whatever comes next.

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