Families made drastic changes to their lifestyle
By Luciana Pache de Faria | Published 7/10/2020
September marks the end of summer holidays and the beginning of the school year. You can feel autumn has arrived, with temperatures cooling and leaves turning red, yellow and orange. Instead of the excitement that accompanies the back to school season, fear and insecurity are common feelings within families in 2020.
For at least part of the summer season, we faced the closure of parks, pools and community centres. Family holidays were generally put on hold, as too were backyard parties, barbecues, and a long list of public events. Since the arrival of COVID-19, families have made drastic changes to their lifestyle and many decided to remain in their homes.
Many of us began working remotely; unfortunately, others lost their jobs or were forced to close their businesses. Families lost loved ones, but thankfully, many more recovered and survived. The use of masks and practicing physical distancing radically changed our routines and the way in which we interact with others, our neighbours, friends, family and coworkers.
Homes and apartments felt smaller with parents working from home, children studying virtually and everyone sharing the same space 24 hours a day. Walls within the home became an office, a restaurant, a school, a playground, a gym and a church. Now, add into that mix parental worry of becoming unemployed, financial need, food insecurity and family conflict.
Impacts on the mental health
As a counsellor, I provide support to youth, women, adults and families that primarily speak Portuguese. I have witnessed first-hand the impact of COVID on clients at the Abrigo Centre. The previous six months of social isolation caused a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of many individuals. Our agency certainly saw an increase in domestic violence incidents.
Back to school season: difficult decisions
Suddenly back to school season has become a source of extreme anxiety. Some families have opted for virtual schooling, not allowing their children to return to a bricks and mortar school. Others parents have opted for their children to go back to the regular school routine.
Many who opted for their children to return to school determined this was the best for the mental well-being of the children and for their family. The opportunities for children and youth to interact with their peers, socialize in a different space, and have direct access to a teacher and support workers produces positive benefits. Many families made the choice to prioritize socialization along with family interactions and thereby offer opportunities for stimulus, growth, development and emotional well-being.
On the other hand, there were parents that needed to send their children to school, whether they believed it was the best option or not. Parents who needed to return to work or had no one that could help them with childcare was a reality for many immigrant families in Canada. Regardless of the worry and concern they had for their children’s wellbeing, the need to pay bills, rent and buy food forced them to prioritize their financial needs.
Some families decided that after six months, they could continue to keep their children home for safety reasons. Age and the number of children at home were factors that affected their decision. As was other risk factors such as individuals that are regularly ill, have a preexisting condition, or have elderly parents or family members living with them.
For many, the fear that their children may become infected is real. They worry that their children may bring the virus home. There’s worry that their children may not have the maturity and capacity to adequately use a mask or follow the social distancing rules. Are teachers stressed and overwhelmed? There is fear that the school they attend may not be a safe and secure space for their children.
Many clients ask my professional recommendation. Some want to know what I chose to do with my own children. My response is that there is no right or wrong answer. Keeping your child at home or sending them to school, are both valid choices. Each family lives their own unique reality. I reassure and support parents to identify their priorities and values that will guide their decisions.
Although we hear that we are all in the same boat, the reality is we are all facing the same storm. Not all boats are the same. For the most part, each boat is captained by parents doing the best they can for their children in these unprecedented times.