“Are you going to die, Mum?” my four-year-old asked me, as we waited for the ambulance to pull into the doctor’s car park.
He rubbed my arm, willing me to be okay as I was struggling to breathe.
I had been driving our car home. He and his older brother were strapped in the back trading Fruit Pastilles, when the hoarse voice I had woken with that morning became something else, something scary.
I later tested positive for Covid. I am one of the lucky ones, I am fit and healthy and I am doubly vaccinated. My children saw me come home from hospital that night but it would take months to re-cover. I never imagined the impact Covid would have on our family.
Parenting with a flat battery isn’t fun
In a national study, approximately one in seven people continued to experience symptoms at 12 weeks. Of the many ongoing symptoms, exhaustion is the one of the most widely reported.
That is a lot of children seeing their grown-ups struggle.
Parenting with a frequently flat battery is not much fun for anyone. A child may be recovering from the fright of seeing their parent become ill and then has to learn to live with a pretty dull version of the parent they knew before. And no one knows for how long.
Their grown-up is likely to be irritable because they are feeling anxious and frustrated with the snail pace of their recovery. They may raise their voice more or be withdrawn and sad. They will most definitely feel guilty at feeling so useless.
I know because I was this parent. And I wasted too much time wishing life was different whilst ill.
If you are this parent, pace yourself and focus on what you can do. Aim small and make daily goals depending on how you feel, like listen to an audio story together if you are too tired to read to your child. Your time and attention for however how long it lasts is all your child really wants.
It’s not their fault
Explain in some way that you have limited energy. I used a glass with Lego bricks to show my levels of energy.
I told them I wanted to use the energy I had listening to all their news but I would need to sleep again to build up my Lego supply.
I owned my bad behaviour when I was cranky and I apologised for it. Parents often apologise like they praise their child, with a caveat – I’m sorry I shouted at you but I wouldn’t have if you weren’t fighting with your brother. I explained exactly what I felt sorry for and that it was not their fault.
Thinking of blame, what if a child tests positive but it is only the parent that becomes ill. I wonder how many kids are weighed down by the heavy cloud of information coming from TV, school and family reminding them of their role in transmitting Covid. A child may not bring this up themselves but they may be worrying about it all the same. It is important to explore what they understand about Covid to help them deal with any distress that may be simmering under the surface.
There is support out there
Fear grows arms and monsters legs. It can make children clingier and needing to know your every move. The dark can become more frightening and your child may become your little shadow. If your child has seen you become suddenly unwell, acknowledge that it was scary for both of you but that you are doing everything you can to help yourself get better.
I read about a wonderful teacher who encourages parents to message them if their child needs to be ‘handled with care’, without needing to explain why. There are many different reasons why a child might go to school worrying about their parent. There is a perception that Covid can either be life-threatening or you bounce back before your isolation period is up. But we found ourselves living in the grey between these two extremes. It is a lonely place to be so reach out to others and know that you are not alone in your recovery. There is support out there.
You might find this website helpful too https://www.yourcovidrecovery.nhs.uk
Dr Tracy McGlynn is the mother of two young boys and a clinical child psychologist who works for the NHS with families in the Highlands. She has written for the P&J previously.