From self-isolation to financial support: How single parents can access help and stay sane during school closures [updated 6 April].
Single parents have been hit hard by the financial, practical and emotional implications of COVID-19: The current lockdown and nursery and school closures mean loss of income for many single mums and dads. The seemingly lucky single parents, who are able to continue working from home to earn a living, have to home school one or more kids whilst often minding a younger sibling, all the while carrying on with their full-time job.
So, how do you manage when your hours have been cut, you need self-isolate, or simply do your shopping if it’s just you and the kids? Single Parents on Holiday have collated some useful information to address some of the dilemmas faced by single parents during the corona virus crisis.
How single parents can co-parent during lockdown without putting the kids at risk
If you are co-parenting, your children will be allowed to move between homes. It is sensible to comply with the current child arrangements even if you are tempted to reinvent the wheel on a whim or if you are worried about infection. If your ex is as sensible as you, and you use a car to drive from one home to the other, there will be no higher risk of infection than if you were all living under one roof together.
There are exceptions, of course, for example where your ex has a new family, with children from a new partner visiting, or if your ex is a keyworker and at a higher risk because he or she deals with the public or works in a hospital. In such cases, you and your ex need to agree the safest and most sensible approach for the sake of your children. Beware that the prospect of not seeing one parent for an extended period of time, might have a negative impact on your children’s behaviour and will put extra strain on you. On the other hand, if you have a child with underlying health conditions who would be unduly exposed to infection by visiting another parent, self-isolation or shielding is simply the safest option.
How to protect yourself and your kids
The most important worry most parents have is their kids’ wellbeing. And not just that, when you are a single parent and shouldering the responsibility of one or more little ones, you will be anxious to stay fit and healthy yourself. There is no back up system of grandparents and nurseries available now, so how can you reduce your risk?
The single most important way of stopping coronavirus spreading and minimising the risk of infection for your family is washing your hands and teaching your kids to wash theirs for 20 seconds before handling food, before meals, after coming indoors, after using the bathroom, after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing, after touching pets, etc. Use plenty of soap, rinse little hands well and use disposable towels or each have your own towel at the ready. Children touch their nose, eyes and mouth constantly, so make sure their hands are clean the spread of corona virus.
When you take the kids out to catch some fresh air, make sure even your youngest knows to keep the required distance of two metres from anyone outside your family. Avoid crowded spots and stick to your local green, forest or park. Carry sanitiser or disposable gloves with you should you have to touch gates, for example.
What to do if you are a single parent family and need to self-isolate
If one family member displays symptoms of having contracted corona virus, things become tricky for single parent families.
First of all, if you have young kids or share a bathroom, it is possible to avoid infection by using the following precautions: If your child is old enough to understand, limit touching them, keep shared spaces well ventilated, wipe down hard surfaces, avoid sharing household items, and set up a rota for the bathroom letting the sick family member use it last before you thoroughly clean it. During the day, ask your children to wipe down the faucet with a disposable towel to avoid re-contamination.
Secondly, the person who falls ill must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay in self-isolation for 14 days. If one of you catches the illness at the end of the 14-day period, then they must not leave the house for 7 days from the day they display symptoms. This won’t help single parents with young children but those with responsible teens might be able to send them to the shops or leave them in charge of a younger sibling whilst you nip to the shop. This, of course, is a parent’s judgement call and depends on the age and maturity of your children.
Where to get help if you cannot leave the house
With no second adult to mind the kids whilst you get groceries, single parents face a dilemma: Should you ask for help or risk exposing your children by taking them to the shops with you? If you are self-isolating because you or one of your children have coronavirus, the answer is clear: You ask for help.
If you don’t feel comfortable relying on neighbours, friends or relatives for your shopping, contact one of the more than 4,000 COVID-19 mutual aid groups across the UK or check your local fb community page for help available. Many streets and villages up and down the country have set up WhatsApp groups offering help to those self-isolating or unable to leave the house to get essential groceries and medicines. It’s wonderful to see how people support and look out for each other in times of need. Pride is wrong placed here – you are already doing an amazing job bringing your kids up single-handedly. Lots of people are more than happy to help, and some might have been single parents themselves in the past and will understand your situation.
Another option is online shopping. Supermarkets are currently giving priority to the elderly, disabled and vulnerable, so unless you had a regular slot before, you won’t be able to shop online. However, many wholesalers and small local businesses have converted their websites in order to sell vegetable and fruit boxes and/or milk, eggs, bread and other essentials directly to customers at home. Check out your local high street or check out wholesalers’ websites. Freshpastures.co.uk was taking new customer at the time of writing. Some websites are slow to respond or have a queuing system, but Amazon, for example, is currently able to deliver nappies, bathroom or cleaning products within a reasonable timeframe.
How to access financial support [updated 6 April]
There is no help available specifically aimed at single parents during the coronavirus crisis, but the government has made plenty of financial support available covering a wide range of society, including help for employed and self-employed parents affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
For example, if your job has been affected by the pandemic, chances are you have lost your income or are working reduced hours. The government has put together comprehensive support schemes to protect employees, aid job retention, help the self-employed and support businesses to improve their cashflow. So, do check if you qualify for continued pay, a grant or a loan, or if your employer is willing to place you on furlough. For example, if you are a parent with childcare responsibilities and unable to carry out your full-time job as a result of school and nursery closures, you can ask your employer to place you on furlough. If they agree, you can claim 80% of your salary from the Treasury. This will be a great relief for employed single parents who are struggling to work full-time whilst looking after one or more children, including home schooling them.
Here are some sites which should hopefully answer all of your questions:
- Corona virus employment support scheme for the self-employed
- Guidance for COVID-19: support for businesses
- HMRC business support page
- Coronavirus – what are my rights?
Further, if your finances have been affected by coronavirus, there is short term support available in the form of payment holidays on your mortgage. If you pay rent, buy-to-let landlords will be eligible for a mortgage payment holiday if you are unable to pay rent. And due to emergency legislation, which came into force on 18 March, landlords are unable to start eviction proceedings against private tenants for at least three months. So, don’t panic, help is available for everyone, especially hard-hit single parent families.
How to create a new routine for you and the kids
With schools closed for the foreseeable future, single parent families under more strain than ever. To fit everything into your day, and to keep meltdowns to a minimum, it’s important to establish a routine whilst the UK is in lockdown and playdates are no more. It’s well-known that children get stressed out by change, and that routine gives them a sense of security and normalcy, which is particularly important right now when their world has been turned upside down.
Structure can be achieved by setting out a simple timetable: If the kids know it’s time for maths at 9, screen time at 10 and physical exercise at 11, you have a good chance that within days, you will have balanced child and no tantrums when it’s time for school work. Make sure you incorporate family time and outdoor time and independent play, so you get a break yourself. Take advantage of the many free online resources for kids: We have collated a list of the best free online activities for kids during lockdown for you: From PE lessons and educational apps, to fun games and audio books, there is an infinite choice available to keep parents and kids sane during lockdown.
Don’t forget to help get your older kids into a routine too. Help them set out their own timetable for schoolwork, break time and family time. It will help stay positive and balanced, and on top of their schoolwork.
How to turn your kids into little helpers
Whatever age your kids, don’t forget to involve them in household tasks, be it cleaning, tidying, gardening, cooking, setting the table or washing the dishes. Young kids love to help and even though this may initially cause you more work, it will, in the long run, pay off. And you need help now more than ever! You are a single parent and your household chores will have increased with all of you at home 24/7, so ensure your child or children do their bit to support the family.
So, how can you turn kids into good helpers? Some kids will instinctively know when their help is needed and offer as they grow up. Others need to be taught how to help. Start by taking time to explain the task step by step, then ask your child to show you that they can do it. Don’t set the bar too high or they will get frustrated. Set age appropriate tasks for your kids, encourage, praise and keep it fun.
It’s tempting to do it all yourself, as it may seem quicker and there are never enough hours in the day when you are a single parents, least now, but you are not doing your child or yourself any favours by not teaching her or him to do things for your or themselves for that matter.
How not to lose your nerve with the kids
Already masters of multi-tasking, single parents’ capacity and nerves will be stretched to the limit during the coronavirus crisis. When there is no second person to help, it’s easy to lose your nerve with your little ones. All parents do. Only now, you now need to fit guided homework, household chores and a job into a weekday.
So, how can you avoid feeling overwhelmed and losing your nerve? Set a game plan:
- Stop, Drop (what you are doing) and Breathe
- Try to count to 10 before you lose it
- Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. Why did they misbehave or do what they did? Maybe they didn’t realise they did anything wrong at all.
- Apologise if you lost it: If you did shout, apologise and explain why you got angry. Don’t blame them for your anger though (“you did wrong”) but explain that you lost control because you are tired or had a hard day, for example.
- Think about how you can become more emotionally balanced. Can you reduce your stress levels by skipping some of the housework or postponing schoolwork until your child can better focus? What are your anger triggers, and is there any way to avoid them? Can you have a cup of chamomile tea instead of another cup of coffee before you attempt the dreaded maths homework? Or would some yoga keep you calm?
- Time out: Are you able to have time-out yourself at least once or twice a day? Even if you are not a fan of screen time, there are times when we all need a break. So, award yourself with a cuppa and a book every now and again. Then go back to your chores refreshed and happier.
Every single one of us is affected by the coronavirus pandemic, usually in more than one way. Some of us were hit harder by the lockdown than others, but the prospect of weeks or months of school closures and isolation is weighing heavily on every family’s mind. Single parents, often the sole responsible parent and breadwinner, understandably feel more pressure and more isolated with no other adult to support and keep their spirits up. But positives come out of every negative, and now is the time to focus on family life and bond with your kids, to get to know or re-connect with your neighbours (albeit virtually) and to ask for and accept help. Neighbours and communities are coming together to support each other and appreciate the tireless work of our fabulous NHS staff. Maybe the world will become a less selfish place, and we will all appreciate what we have rather than taken everything in our lives for granted.
Are you a single parent? How are you coping? Do you have any advice for our single mums and dads? Please send us your comments!
Here are some useful links for single parents struggling during the coronavirus pandemic:
- Coronavirus information for single parents from the charity Gingerbread
- If you think you or one of your children have COVID-19, go to the 111 coronavirus service.
- If you suffer from anxiety or other mental health problems and need help, contact one of these mental health helplines
- Government help available if you own a UK buisiness