IN March, when schools, restaurants, shops and offices shut down and we all stayed at home, what we were thinking about was how to contain this pandemic.
We came together as a nation in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading. The big aim was to save lives and protect the vulnerable.
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I doubt it occurred to many parents that schools would be closed for nearly FOUR months, and counting, or that they were about to take a pivotal role in educating their own children.
But that is what has happened. And I know from friends with school-aged children that it has been, shall we say, a bit challenging.
So I want to dedicate this column to the hundreds of thousands of parents who became home-educators overnight — with a particular shout out to the “lucky” ones who had to do this while also doing their regular jobs.
Trying to educate your child, with no idea of when schools will reopen, and at the same time as trying to do justice to your day job, is seriously hard and my hat comes off to all of you.
Now that the UK is slowly unlocking, there are many working parents who face the prospect of having to go back to their jobs.
Some have children back at school until the end of term. But it is fair to say that no one is in an ideal situation.
It has been a slog for everyone — and what we all need is a holiday. But with all the chaos and uncertainty surrounding trips abroad, and most UK holiday homes and campsites now already booked up, many of us will have been lucky to plan any kind of trip.
More pressingly, many of the children’s holiday clubs people rely on are closed. After all, try telling a bunch of seven-year-olds to stay socially distant during a game of football.
Many families rely on grand- parents to fill the childcare gaps during school holidays.
But even though restrictions have eased, lots of grandparents will have underlying health conditions that make it unsafe for them to venture out.
They will be stuck at home, missing family and unable to help out with childcare.
In short, there is an army of working parents out there, already on their knees after four months of combining school and work, who now face their kids having seven more weeks off school, with no structure and support.
What are working parents to do? This is a really tough situation for families.
There are some basic things that parents can do to make life easier — and right at the top of that list is to lower your standards.
Very few things are so important that they cannot wait until tomorrow. No one died because the house was not Hoovered.
One thing I do know is that when you are working all the hours God sends and looking after kids, “me time” is almost impossible. But when you are firing on all cylinders, it is all too easy to burn out.
So my advice for this particular Sunday is this — try to find even just one hour to go for a walk or meet a friend.
Or find a corner where no one can bother you, and read a book, do some yoga, have a bath and pour yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
The rest of the world can go hang while you recharge your batteries and live to fight another day.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world at the best of times. It does not come with a manual or instructions. It is relentless and you get very little thanks.
The rewards are happy, healthy, balanced adults — but that comes 20-plus years later.
If you are struggling, remember this — it will pass. Meanwhile, take it a day at a time and hang in there. You are doing a sterling job.
The BBC has found the perfect solution to lockdown filming, with their revival of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads series of monologues.
No need to worry about social-distancing with a cast of one.
And Killing Eve star Jodie Comer playing a part first performed by Julie Walters in the 1980s in Her Big Chance, was brilliant.
She is a fantastic actor, as we well know from Killing Eve, and this performance demonstrated her versatility, too.
Did you see those pictures of Loose Women star Nadia Sawalha, who is 55, stripping down to her underwear?
If you did, then you may well have uttered the word: “Why?”
But she wanted to show what women really look like, and to demonstrate the power that a filter, camera angle and various other cunning techniques can have in efforts to make women look more “perfect”.
When you think about the multiple images of “perfection” that women are subjected to daily, you realise that unless there is a visible antidote to this – actual evidence that real women are not perfect after all – we will never change the pressure we are under.
So, good on you, Nadia.
This was a successful attempt to highlight the degree to which the camera does, indeed, lie – but also the pressure we are all under to distort normality.
I know many people who look great in photos but normal in real life.
That feeling of need to alter your image can be a sort of self-hatred. It also fuels others’ need to airbrush themselves, so that all of us risk becoming unrecognisable in real life.
The problem with altering your image is that you are fooling precisely no one.
What is far better is to love yourself, no matter what you look like.
Seeking adulation from people you don’t know and will never meet is a fool’s game because it will never, ever pay dividends.
It’s so easy to indulge in regret – but this is also a fool’s game.
Anyone tempted by its lure needs to take a leaf out of Pierce Brosnan’s book.
He said this week he has “no regret” after being told over the phone that he was being replaced in his role as James Bond.
The actor, now 67, had his last outing as 007 in Die Another Day in 2002 – and although he was eager to do a fifth film, producers decided they wanted to reboot the role.
Instead of feeling bitter and resentful, he said: “There’s no regret. I do not let regret come into my world . . . it just leads to more misery and more regrets.”
Pierce is one of those actors who really has mastered the art of growing old gracefully – a life goal for all of us.
He is a gorgeous man and comes across as a genuinely nice guy.
Oh, and judging from recent photos, he could still play Bond now.
I know many people have been disappointed they are having to scale back plans for big summer weddings.
If you’ve been arranging the biggest and best day of your life, you might be wondering whether it’s better to just postpone altogether.
For what it’s worth, I have some advice. It really is just a day. Yes, it should be lovely but it’s not the wedding that is important – it’s what happens afterwards.
By that, I mean the rest of your married life together.
It’s easy to get caught up with expectation and convention but maybe this is a chance to think about what you really want and what matters to you as a couple.
You may also realise that if you marry at the moment there can be no first dance – a tradition surely conceived during the 1940s when couples don’t have sex before marriage – and a cause for celebration.
The local lockdown in Leicester is a stark reminder that the next few months, and maybe years, could bring plenty more of the same. Anywhere.
When this does happen, we will all have to do our bit.
But hearing garment manufacturers in Leicester saying it will defy the city’s lockdown shines a light on what, for some, is the nub of the matter – for so many people, lockdown equals a loss of income.
They cannot afford to lose any more money, even if it means putting lives at risk.
That is going to be a real problem. But staying open “even if it puts lives at risk” is a cavalier and dangerous attitude.
If you own a factory, it is your job to make sure your workers are safe.
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