‘Don’t talk to papa until he’s had his cup of tea’: parents juggling work and family – photo essay | World news

Clodagh Glaisyer-Sidibe with Fari Bangura, Jaydon Ferguson, Madani Sidibe and Astou Sidibe

The lines become blurred when you’re a single parent with four teenagers in lockdown: I’m the parent, the best mate, the good cop/bad cop, juggling full-time teaching and domestic duties, trying to hold it all together with no time off from any of it – you don’t know which ball to drop. I’m so bad at working from home, I do everything upside down and it’s impossible to work and parent, I had to work while they were asleep.

Mental health became really important at different times for each of us. If anyone was spiralling or crying, we’d all check in on each other. Teenage mental health has been quite a struggle to navigate with the lack of contact with their peers, being constantly plugged in, the uncertainty of exams and the lack of structure. They’ve coped amazingly well – that’s a result of the relationships we’ve got with each other.

Somehow it’s brought us closer together. We hatched some eggs in an incubator and got two rescue hens called Track and Trace – they were our lockdown project. Sleeping and eating patterns were a real struggle at first, so we took time to create our own structure for the day and be mindful about food, sharing out tasks, exercise. We would play cards or sit and talk while someone did the ironing and did lots in the garden together. I feel really lucky, I’ll never get that time with them again.

I spiralled after a bereavement, that was hard and strange for them to see. I couldn’t hide with my friends, so for them to see that honesty about emotions, it was really healthy for everyone to see what grieving is and to talk about it. When they went back to school, I realised how much they had matured in that time.

I miss spontaneity and socialising. When all this is over I want to go dancing for three days solid and have drunken conversations with random people and they’re all going to be my best friends.

Grace Graham with her son Anwar

We do spend a lot of time fighting about broadband, but this whole thing’s brought us closer together.

In the first lockdown, I really felt all over the place. I felt like I don’t know what I was doing or how I was going to make it work. There were times when we didn’t have much and when you’ve got debts to pay you think, how am I going to do this? I was also absorbing other people’s stress. I’m a real social animal, I’m so used to being around people and being out and about for work, I do martial arts training, cycling, running, then all of a sudden I was on a screen not knowing how to use Zoom. I was upset about staying in but so frightened about going out, especially as we had a few deaths in the family.

Because of his age and the kind of kid he is, Anwar didn’t demand too much of my time, but there were times I felt like I needed to give it to him. He missed his friends and spent most of his time in his room, either in bed or on the Xbox. We’ve both experienced mental breakdowns in the past, so I’m vigilant about our moods and we’ve learned to talk about how we’re feeling.

This will sound crazy, but having Covid-19 was a bit of a blessing. It really was an eye-opener for me because I realised how much I was cared for by my family and close friends. It’s also forced me to slow down.

It’s allowed me to reflect on my life and be thankful that I’m alive. Me and Anwar talk more now – about life, the future, his subjects, his sixth form applications, what he wants to do after school. He’s become really focused on saving, budgeting, finances in general – things we had never really talked about before. It’s really lovely. He just can’t wait to start sixth form and be independent.

Penny Joyner-Platt and her husband Cris Platt with son Freddie

Penny Joyner-Platt with husband Cris Platt and their son Freddie

We’ve tried to make the most of the time we’ve been given with lockdown. I was made redundant when Freddie was three months old, so I set up my own business just before lockdown, the worst timing ever.

As much as it’s been a frustrating time, the silver lining is that Cris has seen so many moments of Freddie’s first year. He’s also really supported me to build this little business up. It’s brought us together as a couple, as well as being mum and dad.

It’s tough trying to work and having a toddler, you feel guilt. You’re wearing 70 hats in lockdown instead of the seven you normally would, and you just despair sometimes. Pregnancy is so emotional and tough anyway, but normally you could have a break and go for a coffee with other mums. You don’t feel like you get a break in lockdown and you feel on your own. I have moments where I go off on my own and cry.

I’m really grateful I was made redundant because it gave me that push and now I’ll never look back. I hope this summer, whatever happens, we’ll be in the garden and there will be two little boys and a business that now has a foundation to really fly.

Ayisha Onuorah with husband Nick Fettiplace and tRocco and Shahdi

Ayisha Onuorah with husband Nick Fettiplace and their kids Rocco and Shahdi

We got serious about it quite quickly and really locked down. It was really tough, the spring lockdown was a free for all and the new baby needed a lot of attention. But we just tried to relax and do educational things every day with Shahdi, like one day we’d learn about Bob Marley, another we’d bake some bread.

We did Joe Wicks in the morning, BBC Bitesize and Spanish lessons online. We had to be creative to keep her entertained. We did a lot of walks when it was sunny and have been trying a lot of new things with cooking together, like Mexican and Caribbean nights. One upside is that Nick has been able to spend a lot more time with the baby than he would have … they’ve got a really close and nice bond.

I try not to think too much about previous life. Despite feeling positive, there’s an overhanging feeling, I have to avoid thinking about it. It could be really upsetting if I actually sat down and thought about the fact that I haven’t seen my mum. My mum has seen my baby twice and my friends haven’t met him and he’s one now. I know that it’s going to end, but I don’t see that at the moment.

Danielle Wallington and James Watson with their kids Eddie and Isaac Watson

Danielle Wallington and James Watson with their kids Eddie and Isaac Watson

It was hell for me. The baby was four months old and needed a lot of attention. The eldest was three years old and really struggling. He couldn’t see his grandparents and at the same time, I was figuring out how to become a mum-of-two. From waking up to going to bed it was relentless and non-stop.

Because I wasn’t the main breadwinner, my partner’s work took priority, which meant I had to look after the kids during the day then start my second job in the evening and still be getting up three to four times in the night with the baby.

I wasn’t coping on a personal level but I was managing my sanity through the business. Speaking to other people, especially the ladies on my group, was like a lifeline for a lot of them. We did weekly virtual co-working sessions, which allowed us to also vent our frustrations about how we wanted to continue to work but weren’t able to because of looking after our kids, how we had no time for ourselves. Having contact with people going through similar things, who got it and understood, really helped with the isolation and loneliness.

I’m quite a positive person, so I’d like to think that even though it felt horrendous at the time, I’ve learned a lot about myself and our family. I’ve learned I have a lot more patience than I realised, a lot more resilience and I can cope. It’s nice to slow down and take a step back, but I’ve had enough of that now. I want to work outside my house without my children there and feel a bit more like me.

Kayleigh Lambert with her daughter Maya Jeffrey

When the first lockdown happened, Maya was eight months old and I had only been back at work for two days. I was trying to manage the department and they were looking to me for answers, I hadn’t met most of my classes either. You couldn’t even have childcare at that point, you were just completely isolated. My job has been a good distraction and the regular human contact with your class is important for their mental health and also for ours as teachers.

I was teaching from home with Maya, which was horrendous. I was getting 80-100 emails a day from pupils. Say I’ve got 10/11 classes, each an average of 25 pupils, all emailing with questions about the work and handing work in – it’s a lot of pressure trying to stay on top of things. It was absolutely mad, I was just trying to do what I could during the day with Maya there and then spend the evening trying to catch up when she was asleep. It was just a case of having to keep going.

I really struggled with the pressure of wanting to do a really good job and be there for my pupils, but also with the guilt of feeling like I was ignoring Maya when we were at home together and she couldn’t see anyone else but me.

Now I’m doing live lessons with Maya there, which is interesting! But it’s a bit easier because there isn’t the email backlog this time and I’m actually talking to the kids there and then, and we get to catch up on things like how everyone’s families are doing and if anyone’s been on any nice walks. But that took an emotional toll. Trying to be a good teacher, a good manager and a good mum – and trying to be a good partner when we were together – it’s just impossible to balance all of those things.

Towards the end of last year when I was overwhelmed with everything and really struggling with my mental health, it really helped me talk more to people because you’re in isolation. I think people are being more open about when they are struggling and asking for help. I hope we can keep taking care of each other.

Mahalah Katz with her daughter Tigerlily Katz-Groves

Mahalah Katz with her daughter Tigerlily Katz-Groves

My daughter has been fantastic. I’ve felt really guilty through all of it. I feel like she’s the one that’s suffered, but I think we’ve found our rhythm now. Somehow we coped and we’re still smiling at the end of it.

Apart from going to her father once a week and being in and out of school, Tigerlily has been here with me while I work full-time. A lot of the time work has been really hectic and it was intense trying to fit in school and everything else.

We’ve had some really nice moments. Our IT system fell apart at one point and we had one iPad between us for a few weeks, it was chaotic. Now we sit next to each other and work. It’s challenging but quite sweet. Exercise is harder now as she can’t be outside all the time like in the summer, but we make sure we physically get out every day, in the garden or to a park. And we’ve bubbled up with another single parent family, so we’ve both got company. Your world becomes very small and I’ve really appreciated the people in my life, even if it is on Zoom. We’re all just trying to get through and get on with it.

Tigerlily is really patient and helpful. I just really appreciate who she is as a person. She does her best to get on with stuff and as an only child she’s very good at entertaining herself. She has her moments but she’s such an upbeat, positive little person, which makes it easier for me. I’m just really lucky and appreciate my situation.

Yana Vengura with partner Tom Bell and their children Aaron and Sasha

Yana Vengura with partner Tom Bell and their children Aaron and Sasha

Gardening saved me and my family in the summertime. We have an allotment and it was good fun, it really helped us. It was beautiful because you never get to spend so much time with your kids. We were lucky to not be stuck inside. Even if your family is great, the fairytale can wear off when you’re stuck inside the four walls, especially with little children who have lots of energy. We’re lucky to have had that allotment.

In the first lockdown, I was furloughed as soon as I finished my ongoing projects, as there was nothing new to work on. It was also a case of trying to survive with two tiny children. When I was working remotely, it was more difficult with children at this age, and you have to distract them because you have a deadline – which is an awful feeling that you get used to. I would end up working for hours when they were asleep, sometimes until 3am. Tom works in the film industry so couldn’t work but luckily, he’s just now gone back to work so at least we have some security.

It’s hard juggling two kids at home and working, but mentally it’s harder not to have it. We’ll be relying on universal credit, without it I don’t know how we would survive apart from taking a loan. I’ve always had a job and I’ve never in my life borrowed money – I’ve never even had a credit card.

I try to concentrate on the nearest few days ahead. If I started thinking about what will happen in half a year I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I try to focus on the positive things like FaceTiming my friends and my kids laughing, unaware of what’s going on.

Jemma Scanlan and husband David with their kids Samuel, Poppy and Max

Max was three weeks old when we went into lockdown, which was quite overwhelming to be honest with you. There was no real routine and it was pretty intense. He would be crawling around and trashing the place and needing attention, and I would be trying to get him down for naps in between trying to home school the others.

It’s another level of mum guilt. You feel like you’re letting your children down, because you know how important their education is and how much they have to get done each day.

I can’t let myself think too far ahead because it’s a bit overwhelming not knowing when this will end. I’m taking each day as it comes and I try very hard to wake up every morning like it’s a new day let’s see where it takes us.

There have been really tough days and really tough weeks. But overall the biggest thing is that Max would have never had this time with his siblings and with David had life been normal. He has a lovely relationship with them and that’s a huge positive I’ve taken from this.

Kazue Ono and husband Tatsuya with their children Kosuke and Arata

Kazue Ono and husband Tatsuya with their children Kosuke and Arata

The first part was really mentally tough. Tatsuya’s dad had been given not long to live in March and we weren’t sure if we should go back to Japan. He passed away shortly after we went into the first lockdown and we couldn’t go back home for the funeral. It was a really hard time, especially for him. He held everything inside and didn’t share that much.

We’ve adopted this lockdown life and life is busy enough for me to not focus on what I’m missing, like going camping or to the pub with friends. Remote working is much better than we thought. My husband finds he can think more flexibly. We’ve ended up sharing a room back-to-back. But to do my online teaching I need to find an empty room for my lessons, which is tricky.

My boys are enjoying the less strict rules about screen time and they’re always talking and laughing with their friends on the phone and PS4 or Nintendo Switch. My husband always says it’s a relief to hear that cheer in their voices. They’re both sporty and really miss exercise.

We had to quarantine twice. In July and again in December we tested positive, except for my husband. We were all isolating in our separate bedrooms, so Tatsuya was working and taking care of all three of us.

I try not to think too far into the future and going back to normal life because I will feel low. Every day Tatsuya says we should appreciate small happinesses like a nice coffee, a sunny day, making an apple crumble that smells nice, the kids’ laughter. In the tiniest things we find some appreciation in it.

Richard Coombes with partner Aidyn Kussainov and their twins Ernest and Adelaide Kussainov-Coombes

Richard Coombes with partner Aidyn Kussainov and their twins Ernest and Adelaide Kussainov-Coombes

We’ve had three intense conversations since last March, where what we were doing wasn’t working and we needed to make changes, so it wasn’t an ongoing drama, like the division of labour. We’re lucky that our work was flourishing, but we’ve had to decide who works more and who looks after the children more.

Given they were in reception and the weather was great in lockdown one, we tried to maximise time outside and enjoy time together and treat it like an extended holiday. Routine is very important and there are things we do to keep life a little bit brighter. Every night we light candles in a candelabra and dine together, we’d like to continue that through their teenage years. We’ve also both taken up running and got really fit, as well as things like cooking more and baking breads and keeping the Christmas tree up in the garden.

Around September, we were both ill at the same time, which was quite scary as both our families live abroad. But it’s remarkable how quickly the children adapted through all this. How they perceive the world is how we frame it, so we want to be honest but also not panic. They’re very resilient when you explain things to them.

We’ve enjoyed being a lot with the children and watching and seeing everything that’s changing with them at this age. They now say things like “Don’t talk to papa until he’s had his cup of tea” and if daddy is doing a virtual workout, they just observe out of respect and sometimes do the exercise themselves.

We’ve made peace that just about managing is good enough right now. And we still love each other, that’s a major achievement.

Elizabeth Melinek with husband Jon Hawkins and their sons Jack and Seth

Elizabeth Melinek with husband Jon Hawkins and their sons Jack and Seth

It’s been a massive juggling act for my husband and I. The house can be like a Rubik’s cube; it’s like we’re all hot-desking. We’re lucky we’re both self-employed but we found it tough when pressure was on at work and we had to take it in turns to be on “teacher duty”.

There are moments where it’s murder and tempers fray. But the four of us have become so understanding and respectful of each other’s needs. It’s been really sweet to watch the boys supporting each other. I’m amazed at how they’ve learned to be quite patient. It’s a nightmare when they need help with something urgent but you’re on deadline and constantly saying “wait a minute” – that’s hard as a parent, you feel a failure.

The whole experience has given us a much stronger sense of how important it is to give a bigger slice of our time to family life compared to work and going out.

I know we’re lucky, it’s not been a beautiful precious time for everyone, but the time I’ve spent with my kids is what’s got me through really.

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