Parenting in the time of COVID-19

By Dan Clay, Managing Partner, Newgate Research

When the potential for lockdown became apparent to me, back in mid-March, one of the very first things I did was to get my hands on a Nintendo Switch. Even at this point they were like hens teeth – I had to travel 5 miles to a CeX second-hand shop to lay my hands on one. With three primary school-age children and both myself and my wife working, I needed to know that there was at least some fallback option to keep the children occupied, if not actively ‘educated’. 

As the lockdown has continued we’ve got into a more manageable routine. We have a schedule. School provides links to resources. We work ‘flexibly’ taking turns in keeping the kids focused and engaged in their learning. It’s not easy though. There is no quiet space for anyone to concentrate. Everyone is stuck to a screen. Working (or waking) hours have been extended to ensure everything gets done. Down time literally comes when it is time to go to bed. And then it starts again. 

While everyone is having to put more effort in to muddle through this, I’m conscious that this is not evenly spread. I’m typically pretty good about pulling my weight around the house, but this lockdown has exposed a gender divide which doesn’t bode well for future if left unchecked under the ‘new normal’.

As the Prime Minister begins to draw up plans for getting the UK started again, the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has indicated that schools will be opened in a phased manner, with some mooting a potential return for Year 6’s as early as next month. Recent polling by Ipsos Mori suggests that almost half (48%) of those parents surveyed did not anticipate being comfortable sending their children to school under the same conditions that existed previously. Interestingly, this is in contrast to the USA where a similar proportion of parents (45%) surveyed by Ipsos report being willing to send their children back to school tomorrow, if lockdown restrictions were lifted. 

Personally, I’m willing to be guided by the science here. Without a vaccine I can’t see Coronavirus going away – all we are doing is looking to minimise the volume of people infected at any one time. If the Government advise that we are ready to re-open schools I’d be happy to send my children back to school. I know they would be absolutely overjoyed. Despite the challenges, it’s been a pleasure to spend a lot more time with the family. I’ve helped make a bug hotel and silent films, watched beautiful pieces of art being created and seen my youngest progress rapidly in her reading and maths. I know I’ve been fortunate in being able to have – and to enjoy – this time with them. 

It is time to start thinking carefully about the return to school. While the focus will inevitably be on the tangible aspects like distancing measures, it is up to all of us to reflect on what this time has taught us about what is important in our lives, and to account for this in the ‘new normal’. This is no time for passivity.