Who was it who suggested that children’s main reason for existence is to give their parents something to worry about? Before they are born they provide the opportunity for anxieties about whether they will have the right number of fingers and toes. When they are small you have to hope it isn’t meningitis every time they have a temperature. When they go to school the worry is that they might be being bullied and that they might not tell you if they were. As they grow older there are worries about exams, and whether they will find jobs, and whether they will find suitable partners, and whether they will be able to have children if they want them, and, if so, whether their children will have the right number of fingers and toes, and so it goes. And that is only a minute sampling of the smorgasbord of possible worries, constantly restocked with novel possibilities, as they grow older. Whether they are four or forty, one always wants to try to do something to help them if they are finding life difficult.
Lockdown allows much more time than usual for sustained worry, and offers a whole new realm of things to worry about where children and grandchildren are concerned. If one has reached the questionable status of being ‘vulnerable’ simply by virtue of the passing of the years, social distancing entirely precludes any possibility of offering the practical help that would make their lives easier. Even without lockdown there would be nothing one could do about the really big worries: whether children and grandchildren will be able to keep themselves safe from the virus, and whether, even if they can stay safe, it will be possible for food to be kept on their tables. Unlike all too many parents, we are fortunate in this last respect in that the employment status of five of our six children and their partners remains unchanged, and the sixth has been furloughed under the government’s 80% of salary scheme. But all of them, along with our grandchildren, are finding themselves well out of their comfort zones.
Our children have no option but to try to carry on with their sometimes already more than full-time jobs in noisy households while simultaneously trying to share parental responsibilities. These last now dauntingly include the home schooling of their children. If teaching had been their forte they might have chosen teaching as a career. If home schooling had been part of the plan they would might, in one instance, have tried to make sure there were no significant age-gaps between their children. The grandchildren are having to accommodate themselves to new routines and to missing the company of their school friends. For the ones whose lives normally revolve to some extent around sport, or other activities like dancing, the abrupt termination of all group activities leaves a large hole in their lives. Cabin fever affects parents and children alike. Wishing that one could be of some practical help doesn’t serve as much of a distraction from worrying about how well they are all managing to keep themselves, both physically and mentally, in these very abnormal circumstances.