Columnists

Kids need better care during Covid

kid-sad
jenny

Summary

  • The pain for the child told to wait or stop or go elsewhere is the rage later and the mother hated and berated.
  • So it’s a mistake to think all that daily 2020 ‘not now Johnny’ isn’t hurting Johnny.
  • It is, and we shall pay for it, if we cannot make very, extremely sure, Johnny knows just how loved he is.

There is an ugly truth about home working that is like the truth about smoking: it doesn’t show for years and by then the damage is too late. And it’s about what it does to kids.

Working mothers anyway live a journey of long-term guilt and divided loyalties. For it’s not as if children ever like their mother working. But who has a choice, when over half of children in Kenya are being raised by single mums and single parenting spans a vast proportion of our Generation Z everywhere?

Yet when Mum goes off to work, she’s gone, and somehow kids get along with that. Mostly having a working Mum doesn’t, of itself, put the skids on children’s sense of emotional wellbeing: although some argue it does. But, for sure, it’s variable, and not a certain route to severe damage.

But put Mother at a laptop in the living room, kitchen or bedroom, and let any child go to her with a million reaches for attention, as she’s getting fretty because she’s trying to work, or trying to concentrate, or explaining she needs to work now — and every child seems to know what that means.

It means Mum loves the work more than she loves them.

Or let’s put that straight into nine-year-old speak; it means she doesn’t love them, they are unloved, and thereby unloveable. Because for children, who are the centre of their universes with only blurry awareness of any others, if they are being pushed away, they find ways to understand that, and those ways aren’t like an adult perspective. They don’t include an awareness of Mum loving them and trying to keep a roof over their head and their school fees paid precisely because she does love them. That’s adult thinking.

Instead, home working makes them feel neglected. Because, for all the cosy talk of more time together as a family, which is also true, there’s the small matter of Mum’s right-in-front-of-them unavailability.

And that matters because for children their mother, especially when she’s the only parent, belongs to them, and rightly so: their whole wellbeing depends on just her. So running to her because a sibling is claiming their toys, or with a cut finger, or for a cuddle, or because they are bored comes with a rightful expectation of her attention…

…in a Zoom meeting?

It’s an impossible bridge. Which means that everywhere mothers are struggling to set boundaries, find a corner, make rules on ‘no coming in’ when Mummy is in a video call.

Yet, in this year of deteriorating logic, failing sense, deteriorating workplaces, and deteriorating mental health, this smaller challenge of so many is sowing bigger seeds for the future than many realise.

Because, later on, comes the reckoning. Kids anyway are being asked to deal with our men’s commonplace disinterest in responsibility, with fathers as the most prominent gap.

For, first, there’s the baseline of the functioning father who gets to the end of his career and retires and realises his children grew up all-the-way without him, because he missed all the football matches, missed the school plays, the parents’ evenings, the time just talking or doing stuff.

And then there’s the not-functioning father who is the missing biological piece from a single parent home. For him, he doesn’t just miss the growing up, he gets old with no-one interested in him and nothing: while all those offspring he walked away from live forever with a part of them broken by their father’s disinterest.

And then there’s, now, the home-working Mum: she sees the growing up. She engages in thousands of ways, every day, week, month. But when she’s working from home, what the kids feel is pushed away, and that’s so often the last little piece of unloveable they carry into their teens and twenties.

The pain for the child told to wait or stop or go elsewhere is the rage later and the mother hated and berated.

So it’s a mistake to think all that daily 2020 ‘not now Johnny’ isn’t hurting Johnny. It is, and we shall pay for it, if we cannot make very, extremely sure, Johnny knows just how loved he is.