“I have five adopted children, all with additional needs, whom I home educate. In some ways our lives may have been less disrupted than most, however we would normally do group activities with other home school friends and enjoy outings and walks and adventures outside of the home. Because my children need structure and routine I keep to a timetable. Well that’s not exactly true – I keep to one of three timetables. I have a ‘regular’ timetable, which can be ‘Mum’s on form, so are the kids and everything in the garden’s lovely.’
I have a ‘chilled’ timetable, which can be ‘Mum’s not feeling great, one or two of the kids are a bit off colour, we’ve had lots of hospital appointments and therapist visits etc’, and I have a ‘holiday’ timetable, which basically includes all personal hygiene, meals and home chores and two extended blocks of playtime.
But I always have a timetable. I’ve been teaching my kids at home for over five years and I wouldn’t have survived without these different levels of timetabling. In a 24/7 world with kids with additional needs you have to set achievable targets and accept your limitations.
My kids need to know what is happening and when so I am usually very definitive. My son loves a trip to IKEA, so we would usually prepare by counting down the days. Ordinarily I would say ‘we are going in five days or so many sleeps’. But now when asked about trips and treats I am not promising anything. If he asks when IKEA will be open again I say ‘maybe, maybe in ten months… I am really broadening time frames and avoiding definitives. I also make it clear that these things are not my choice. It is not mum’s decision that we can’t go swimming or can’t invite a friend around. This decision has been made by the Government to keep us safe. ‘Mummy is just as sad and disappointed as you’. Acknowledging disappointment and frustration helps them cope. If they understand these decisions are outside of my control they are less likely to ‘punish’ me with poor behaviour.
I underestimated how unsettling it would be for them to have Daddy working in the dining room and not coming home at the end of each day. Their regular routine has been disrupted and they are the most difficult version of themselves. The version we usually see outside of the home when they are having to fit in and negotiate unfamiliar environments, like parties and family gatherings. We know to prepare for those things but still they result in meltdowns. Now home has become the unfamiliar thing and we are seeing more of the fall out of that.
We didn’t really have any time to prepare them for this new norm and that has caused stress. I have made a few errors of judgement requiring obedience when they needed space and choice and time. I am learning to cut both myself and them more slack. To start with I tried to get them to engage in WhatsApp groups with their homeschooled friends, but though they love screen time they didn’t find it helpful in terms of maintaining social contact. I just had to accept that and move on. Just because it works for me and my friends doesn’t mean it’s going to work for them. Am I worried my kids are going to regress in this area of socialisation? Yes I am but then I have to find some perspective. Their mental and emotional well-being comes first, we’ll catch up with the rest later. They’ll pick up on their friendships in time. Now we have to be family.
At first I supported them to have a chat with Nanny on the phone but now I just leave them to it, she’s their Nan, she can cope. They’ll develop their own relationship much better without me interpreting all the time.”