My youngest son was about seven years old when I married for the second time. His father had married again about one year earlier. My new husband had two sons, both older than my youngest son, who already had an older brother and sister. He was now the youngest of five and he was terrified of either his father or me having other children.
One evening, he left a desperate telephone message for me:
“Mom, I don’t want any more kids. I like being the youngest and I already have too many people to look after!”
I kept that message for years. I loved it. It is a vivid reminder that even the youngest child feels the responsibility of being in a family.
During the time we are in, when there is so much caring needed, it is important for all families to remember that each of the people in that family feels the burden of keeping us all safe. Since you, as a parent, have stresses, then so do your children.
Your children will see you going out to work, and they will worry that you will catch the virus. They may even remind you to wear your mask. They may try to look after you when you come home. One young woman in my practice, who has never shown any interest in cooking or chores, had supper ready the first evening after her mother returned to her workplace. Of course, she is now threatening not to do anything else because “my Mom cried through the whole supper. She said it was because she was happy, but my brother said the food was terrible and he felt like crying too.” But she also said, ”I want to help. I hate to see my Mom so worried.”
This family is struggling, but they are managing well. But some families have stresses. This article from Public Health Ontario details the results of a rapid review by that agency of the negative impacts of measures taken by the Government of Ontario during the pandemic.
This review summarizes the impact of the measures taken by the Government of Ontario into two categories. Those impacts that are the result of school closure and those that are the result of physical distancing and stay at home orders.
Reviewing the negative impacts of school closure, the review notes five impacts: household income/parental employment; nutrition; loss of education; access to school-based healthcare services; mental health and emotional well-being.
As a psychiatrist whose practice consists of adolescents, I have mostly been working remotely throughout the pandemic. Even in the families of these older youth, we have noted similar effects of the pandemic. What has been problematic for members of the team and I is that we have been unable to provide assistance. We often provide meals and parental support. We obviously provide healthcare services and mental health services. The access to food and assistance with shelter are not happening as effectively and the primary care services we provide – physical care and access to necessary investigations – are no longer possible with our building closed.
Then there are the impacts of physical distancing and stay at home orders. Everyone reading this will remember how important your friends were when you were a teenager. I remember not being able to decide what to wear without speaking to my friend when – and we all wore navy blue tunics to school! I would never have managed the pandemic and I can relate to the loneliness experienced by my young patients.
This review lists four impacts of physical distancing: vaccination coverage; movement behaviours and nutrition; mental health and emotional well-being; child abuse or neglect. Of all of these, I am most concerned about the long term effects of child abuse or neglect. There are reports of both occurring in families where there was no prior history – a clear indicator of how much stress families are experiencing.
I remember when the pandemic started that child advocates and organizations that care for children warned of this risk, but no government took steps to mitigate this known threat. More importantly, this pandemic is not yet over and there is still time to do something to assist the youth who have been victims of abuse and neglect. But we must act fast and decisively.
When I think about children, I think about my young son, who thought it was his responsibility to care for everyone in his family. This is what children are thinking. They are worried when their parent loses a job, or can’t feed them, or is hurting them that they should have been able to do something.
But this is our job, as adults, and it’s time to do it!
(Photo credit: This is an image of art created by survivors of child abuse at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. I loved the exhibit, but I had to go back three times to see all of it because it affected me so deeply. The article in the Toronto Star about the exhibit is also worth reading.)