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The Jones family lookback at their experiences of lockdown, home schooling and how their relationships have developed after spending more time together as a family.

The last 12 months have been incredibly strange and anxiety inducing for everyone. As COVID-19 swept across the UK, I was fearful of our children and close relatives becoming ill. I was particularly worried about my daughter Imogen (age 6), who has a rare type of lung disease, and how she might be affected should she catch the virus. She is on the government shielding list and we spent all of our time during the first 5 months at home – in the house or in the garden. This meant that I had to come up with lots of ways to keep the children occupied with no school or organised activities on the calendar.

As a parent of three young children, and with Dean continuing to work long hours away from the home throughout lockdown, I realised I am more patient than I knew!  I managed to take one day at a time and adjust my expectations for the future. I also realised that I enjoyed a slower pace of living – not having lots of appointments, activities, or social gatherings to rush to meant that we enjoyed more time together playing, talking, and enjoying one another's company.

As a Mum with young children during lockdown I didn't get much time for self-care – sometimes the only moment of quiet I would get during the entire day would be going outside to put the rubbish in the bin! It was a year of constant noise, mess and being touched, sat on, followed to the loo and them shouting “Muuuuuuuuum” at me almost all of the time! The one thing I did, which protected my head space somewhat, was sticking to our normal routine and bedtime. Even though it was sometimes tempting, I didn't let the children's bedtime creep any later as once they are settled in bed it’s the only bit of head space/ quiet time/ time alone with hubby I get. I knew that I had to have that in order to be everything they needed me to be throughout the daytime.

The most challenging time for me during lockdown was during the first lockdown when I lost my dear friend Laura to breast cancer. We had been friends since school and had enjoyed lots of lovely antics together over the years. After she died, Dean was very busy in work and the children were with me constantly – I remember feeling so claustrophobic being stuck in the house and garden with them all the time; they're all lovely – but so full on. I was longing for silence so I could just sob, cry and feel sad. I wanted to run away and mourn without having to home school, plan activities, do laundry, play doh, painting sessions and endless snack making! I just wanted to be sad, and it was hard to do that with my little lovelies who needed me so much. I was honest with the children about Laura's death, and they knew about her illness beforehand, but it prompted lots of questions from them. I answered each of their questions honestly and they did see me cry and get tearful, but Dean and I believe in being honest with them and they gave me the most wonderful hugs and drew lovely pictures for me to help cheer me up which was lovely.

It was interesting to see the children's empathy develop as we started to spend more time together. They were lovely when I lost my friend and rallied around me with cuddles and pictures and asked after her husband, son, and baby daughter. “Are they ok? Will they be alright?”

Something else happened too – they started working out their disagreements with one another. Not every argument, and not always perfectly, but more and more they are learning to problem solve and empathise with each other’s point of view and it’s brilliant to see. I don't believe in refereeing and have always encouraged them to work things out in a fair way by asking them to clarify the situation and talk about each other’s feelings and viewpoint. It has been time consuming but seems to be paying off now as I can hear them talking things over and negotiating time on the trampoline/ who gets which cake and why etc. and they draw each other pictures and cards. Their relationships with one another have become very close.

As we look towards a new normal, I'll be appreciating our home and tiny garden more – it has been our haven, school, playground and everything else during the last 12 months. I also want to protect this slower pace of life we've adopted. The children all returned to school recently and whilst I'm keen for them to return to swimming lessons and their hobbies as restrictions allow, I'll be careful not to cram too many activities into their week. They benefit from downtime and rest just as much as me. Going forward I will appreciate my family and friends more, even going out for a coffee together will feel like so much more of a treat after being separated for so long.