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By Jo Dunbar

Today my elder son finished school for the foreseeable future while my youngest son’s pre-school journey was cut dramatically short. It’s been a hard day. Life as we know it has altered and is about to change significantly more. It’s the extra-curricular parts of our children’s lives that have been curtailed, too. Swimming lessons have ended while Rainbows, Beavers and sports clubs are all cancelled.

I can just about get my head round supervising schoolwork at the kitchen table while keeping my sons amused with a mix of games, baking, fresh air and their collection of toys. Juggling that with my job and a homeworking husband is another matter. But family time, the time we habitually spend visiting other people, taking trips to new places or even catching the bus or Metro into town won’t be happening for a long time. And that’s the part I am dreading.

Seeing friends and family is a huge part of our day-to-day lives. It’s bizarre to sketch out plans for play dates whereby we’ll accompany another family on a walk or scooter session – all the time keeping two metres apart. The majority of the boys’ grandparents are off-limits. Choosing to self-isolate, we are relying on FaceTime which works fine for adults, but my sons are asking when we can visit Grandma and Grandpa – usually people we see twice a week. In my dwindling armoury of ways to stay in touch, I have dug out postcards which can form handwriting practice when we are inevitably home educating.

Screen time is often cited as a guilt-inducing example of bad parenting. I’m already erasing that attitude from my mind: whether we like it or not, there’s going to be more TV in our lives. I’ve been downloading a few ‘educational’ programmes from the TV planner in an attempt to avoid back-to-back Fireman Sam.

New attitudes have already begun subconsciously for me: Earlier this week a friend asked my younger son and I round after we’d done the morning school run. I was surprised to find my inner panic peaking at the prospect of treading our germs into another home, possibly picking up a fresh set in the process. Every parent has their own views on this, and we need to trust our guts. We’re all responsible for drawing our own lines in the sand and finding a system which is sustainable for our families.

One local advantage we should all remember is our proximity to wide open spaces. Whether it’s finding an empty stretch of sand at the coast or driving into Northumberland for some greenery; fresh air and new environments are reachable for most families. I was buoyed up by the announcement from the National Trust that their grounds will be free to enter for all – as a mum of boys, I often joke how similar they are to dogs. Keeping them indoors 24/7 just isn’t doable.

So much of what we are now navigating as parents is unknown territory. For me, keeping a sense of routine will be helpful. My children are creatures of habit, like their parents. I’m also mindful of not flapping or seeming overwhelmed in front of my sons. They will remember this period of time and while it’s going to be a slog and a challenge, I don’t want our family life to be a bad memory.

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