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As restrictions ease and life returns supposedly to normal, Chahat Awasthi interviews a single mum from Merthyr Tydfil. How is ‘normality’ being experienced by mothers in a Wales beginning to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic?

Features by masters students from the School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC) at Cardiff University, commissioned and published as part of our sponsorship partnership with JOMEC.

  Cardiff University
Helen with her child. Image courtesy the interviewee.

Helen with her child. Image courtesy the interviewee.

‘How anxious did you feel yesterday?’ was the question asked in a Women’s Equality Network Wales survey and 43% women chose at least a six on a scale where ten is ‘completely anxious’. The survey also noted that single parents experienced higher level of anxiety than partnered ones. This was during lockdown.

But, with Wales reopening, a ‘new normal’ is anticipated. A mother of three from Merthyr Tydfil, Helen defines it as ‘uneasy’, ‘unstable’ and ‘adventurous’.

In a post-lockdown world, as two of her children prepare to go to school, the unpredictability unnerves her, she says.

‘As a mum, I’ve got to anticipate what’s coming next. I worry about how long they would be in school before Wales reverts back to a lockdown, saying we made a mistake and that maybe we shouldn’t have done this.’

As an increase in Covid-19 cases even among vaccinated people is being noted in Wales, she worries that there is still a risk. ‘I don’t think there’s one kind of way of being able to sit back and say yes, this is a new normal, our children will go back to school. They don't have to have bubbles any longer, which they did previously. But what’s the risk of that?’

There is also the fear around how the unpredictability of the COVID-19 reopening can pan out. This anxiety impacts heavily on women – primary caregivers in a considerable number of cases. In the 2011 census, 58% of unpaid carers in England and Wales were women.

‘We in Wales live in an area where our children tend to live with their grandparents. So, if the child catches it in school and doesn’t have to self-isolate until they get symptoms or a positive result – for me as a mum who has caring responsibilities – it’s quite scary to know how it’s going to impact everybody.’

She explains that for this reason the new normal isn’t ‘normal’ because no one can guarantee anything. ‘I can't guarantee that on the sixth of September when they go back, that they will be back indefinitely.’

Helen also speaks of how the health and livelihoods of others can be at stake with increased contact. She expresses the responsibility she feels for protecting the wider community, as well as her family. ‘If I come home from work and I’ve got it and my daughter gets it, then when she goes to school, others will get it. They [other parents] could lose their jobs. Nothing is secure any longer, unfortunately.’

There is also a negative shift on the emotional front that comes with the reopening of schools, as the lockdown had some unexpected benefits in terms of enabling more family time, when working single mothers are otherwise under much time-pressure.

‘As a mother, the only time I really get is when my child is first born and I get those months of maternity which in fairness most people hardly remember because we’re sleep deprived, and the children don’t remember at all. So, in fairness, lockdown gave us extra time. I got to see my kids flourish. They kind of inspired me to keep getting up every day.’

Leaving her children again in the mornings would be hard now. She explained: ‘I would hate to say goodbye to my children every morning again. I don’t think I want to start doing that. I like the fact that I get to have those extra little moments with my children – even the small ones like arguments in the morning about putting shoes on. I’ve got to be honest, I’ve missed them. I’ve worked since I was thirteen. I’ve missed out on many good memories with my children.’

But it wasn’t all rosy during the lockdown. ‘The downside was trying to balance everything in a single-parent household, trying to balance schoolwork and trying to balance emotions with a full-time job. However, I'm probably very lucky. I have a supportive employer.’

One of her hardest memories of the lockdown is related to her parents. ‘My dad’s my best friend and not being able to see my dad and have pointless conversations with him has been the hardest thing for me. It caused my mental health to decline. But I know that it was to protect him. It was the best thing that I could have done.’

Her father has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). It is a disease of the respiratory system that stops the airflow from lungs. Even with the lockdown lifting, her fears remain. ‘We live ten minutes away from my parents. I know that once I go back to the office, that amount of contact with others will increase. So, I will have to lessen contact with my dad, especially through the autumn and winter because I can’t guarantee that I don’t have it. Because I may be asymptomatic.’

She explains that the most problematic issue around this for people with family responsibilities like herself is that even with the lockdown lifting ‘you can’t plan for anything any longer, you’re literally planning maybe on a weekly basis’.

So, with a new ‘normality’ on the horizon, the question arises once again: how anxious did you feel yesterday?

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