SAFFIYAH EDOO

For weeks, we have watched videos, photos and statuses from our friends and families living abroad, on how they were coping with the outbreak of COVID-19 in their respective countries. As the surrealist situation unfolded, we could only get a glimpse of what was happening in their lives, without fully grasping its meaning and consequences until last Thursday. Life as we know it, has been upended, with consequential ripple effects. As days go by, the numbers keep on rising, the authorities keep on trying their best in implementing their reactive measures, and as citizens, we must help by abiding to the confinement rules and regulations that have been put in place. In times like these, the feeling of isolation and not being supported can wreak havoc on mental health, due to the drastic overnight change in routine. While we responsibly confine ourselves physically, we do not need to restrict ourselves in terms of moral support and help.

Many families have been used to the rush of the everyday routine: wake up, breakfast, get kids ready for crèche/schools, go to work or stay home, get kids back in the afternoon, get home, feed kids, and bedtime. While families have made this routine work, despite being hectic, many parents have welcomed the break from kids. It allowed parents to breathe, clear their heads, feel adult again, to be able to give the best of themselves when they get back to their kids. Many parents, who may have been overwhelmed by kids during the early years, but who have not dared speak up due to social pressure, now find themselves confined with kids, without any specific routine, without any warning. It is not unsurprising therefore that the feeling of confinement goes way beyond the physical space. Due to the circumstances of the confinement, it is also not unsurprising that parents start feeling a sense of dread should something happen to them.

There is no one-size-fits-all routine that can be applied to families in the circumstances we find ourselves in. Families vary, children are different from each other, children’s ages are a huge factor and parenting styles vary. Which is why the routine set for one family may not necessarily work for another. While some are focused on continuing a semblance of normalcy, with a routine of set hours for wake up, showers, schoolwork, and free time; others have adopted a more relaxed approach, with a focus on subtler learning. And when parents are sharing their models, they should not be bashed, for they know best what work for their families and should feel free to enforce what they are most comfortable with. Let’s not forget that while the circumstances may be dreadful, the gift of time that we have been given is non-negligible and each person is at liberty to dispose of that time as he/she may please.

Our styles are different, but the core of parenting remains the same. Parenting is exhausting no matter what approach you take, and at the end of the day, we all need a break. While for some of us the idea of spending an indefinite period of time takes a toll on our mental health, for others, this can be seen as luxury for they are fighting other battles, such as violent partners or compromising living arrangements and environment alongside, which compounds the situation. For this reason, it is of utmost importance that mental health is also seen as a condition that needs to be fully supported in this period of national confinement.

As parents, unjudgmental empathy for different experiences speaks volumes, and reaching out only helps to alleviate the feeling of being alone in this kind of situation. Regional support groups, NGOs as well as well-intentioned individuals, who recognize the necessity for mental health support in this confinement situation have already shared important phone numbers and have allowed access to personal social media profiles to ease the anxiety of anyone who feels that his/her mental health is at risk. A deteriorating mental health is as invisible as the Covid-19, but it can be detected and supported given the right tools and the right environment. We may not be in a position to offer physical help right now, but our inbox and our empathy are at the ready for anyone feeling under the weather mentally.