I’ve mulled over the Solidarity and Care page for a while debating whether to submit a post. My research on people’s lived experiences of Universal Credit touches upon the division of care between households, the role of welfare and the state. Although attitudes towards caregivers have begun to shift, women are still, for the most part, the primary caregivers.
As a single mother and PhD researcher, I have had a lot to think about over the last few months, and there have been plenty of testing tines. I now feel in a position to discuss the implications of the pandemic on my situation. I know I am in a privileged position; I haven’t had to use a foodbank or struggle to worry about bills during this time, I have a good support network and understanding supervisors. My experiences of care are still valid.
Over the last few months, I have felt solely alone, trapped by motherhood, anxious and concerned for the future or lack of it. Before the pandemic, I often had alone time to reflect, relax and work, as my children often stayed at their grandparents, and the youngest went to his dads.
COVID changed everything.
When the children returned to school, I felt a wave of relief, anguish and guilt wash over me. I can think more clearly for the first time in months. Yet, questions continually ruminate in my mind: will they be safe? What happens when they get an inevitable cold? What’s that noise in my house—silence? Bliss…
Ha, the bliss was short-lived. Two weeks after returning to school my eldest son said he couldn’t taste his tea. The anguish rose in me. The next morning, he had a temperature and was coughing and sneezing, it didn’t seem worse than a seasonal cold, yet he was unwell. The feeling of dread began, as my children were due to stop out all weekend. Friday night and Saturday were going to be days for me to relax and enjoy downtime. I felt a double bind, both the guilt for being angry that I wouldn’t get this time and the concern to care for poorly children. The prospect of being alone, isolated again, after our experience in March was too much to bear.
Trying to book a test was a nightmare, I had to repeatedly re-enter details in the online form, and only after 2.5 hours did I manage to get into a drive-thru centre not too far away. But the test was worse than anticipated. My 12-year-old managed fine, but I had to do the swab for my 7-year-old, and each time I tried to swab his tonsils for ten seconds, he jolted back—he was (unsurprisingly) terrified and crying. The condensation was building on the car windows, and we were all sweltering as the sun was on the car. My eldest son said he felt sick and want to go. The leaflet which came with the test advises another adult to hold or distract the child as you’re doing the test.
What other adult? I’m utterly alone at this moment. I want to scream. I’m fighting back the tears and trying to remain calm whilst sweltering in heat and anguish. The fact that the pamphlet suggests ‘another adult’ shows how unsupported lone parents or caregivers are, and how truly out of touch the COVID public health strategy is.
Eventually, we completed the swabs, only to drop the sterile pad to go with the test on the floor. So, we had to do the test all over again; it took an hour in total. When it was over, there was a mild sense of relief, but the knots in my stomach were still there hours later.
Back home I felt isolated, alone and trapped, even though we had more space compared to the first time we self-isolated. I felt the walls closing in on me. The coronavirus has highlighted the difficulties of being a single parent, such as not having another adult around to support your child’s distress, or simply to talk to, seeking solace.
I don’t know how much more I can take of this, I thought. Both of my children are asthmatic— is it going to be like this all winter every time they get a cold? The light and hope I felt at the start of the week was quickly erased, my head was spinning, and I felt sick. I journaled several profanities in my diary, but it’s never enough.
We got the results back, and they tested negative, we danced, we laughed, and the youngest went to his dads.
The relief was immense, but in the back of my mind, I wondered how long until the next time thone of them gets a cold. What then? How long will it last? When will it end? Questions that can’t be answered.
I, like millions of other caregivers, have no choice but to carry on this relentless cycle of anxiousness, worry, stress and care.
The burden of care is physically, emotionally and mentally draining. It feels like the world is on your shoulders, and it’s all unpaid and undervalued.
Lichfield, United Kingdom