Mums talk about the challenges they face at home during COVID-19 crisis

SHAMIM MALEKMIAN talks to a number of Cork mums as they try to navigate through the current Coronavirus pandemic
Mums talk about the challenges they face at home during COVID-19 crisis
Sinead Healy with daughter Ava and son Darragh and her husband.

MUM-of-three Sinead Healy and her husband used to run a children’s party and entertainment business in Cork.

Their business was thriving until children’s parties became a thing of Cork’s past, almost overnight.

When the Government announced the new restrictions on social life to stop the spread of the new Coronavirus, the Ballyphehane couple saw their customers cancelling their events one after the other.

Sinead is now isolating herself at home, looking after her three children and her 85-year-old mother, who is especially vulnerable to contracting the virus.

Sinead’s 20-year-old son, Jamie, is an electrician who is still working outside during the day, causing the Cork mum’s stress to multiply, fearing that he may expose her mother to the virus.

Meanwhile, Sinead’s mum, who has ‘a great network of friends’, misses her social life and her grandchildren and relies on her daughter for comfort.

Sinead also has to adjust herself to new teaching duties for her daughter Ava, aged 12, and her son, Darragh, aged seven, now that the schools are all closed.

She has applied to receive the Government’s emergency Covid-19 unemployment payment, but she worries about running out of money and becoming unable to pay for electricity and heat.

‘I’m really worried about not having electricity and heating now that we are constantly at home,’ she says.

As the Coronavirus prompts feelings of fear, stress and anxiety in all Cork people, mothers like Sinead are grappling to navigate the pandemic at home.

 

Erick Duncan, Tyler Duncan, Lucy Duncan and Terry Garde.
Erick Duncan, Tyler Duncan, Lucy Duncan and Terry Garde.

“HARD TO EXPLAIN”

For mothers of children with additional needs, self-isolation can be especially tasking.

Terry Garde, who lives in Bartlemy village in East Cork, is one of those mothers. Her husband Erick Duncan, a technician, was recently sent home from work with symptoms of the virus.

Erick needs to wait 10 days to get tested, ‘which is ridiculous’, Terry says. He is staying away from the rest of the family in a bedroom, but keeping him isolated has proved challenging as respite care for Tommy, Terry’s teenage son, a nonverbal teenager who is severely autistic, has been terminated.

“I had a duty to let the respite home know if any of us was showing symptoms, and they can’t have him anymore,” Terry says.

Terry, a childcare worker, who has also lost her job, is struggling to enforce safety rules like hand-washing, hand-sanitising and near-isolation on Tommy.

“I can’t explain to him that he needs to stay away from Erick. He doesn’t understand that there is a virus. He still wants to go to the shops, to get his Coke, and he coughs and sneezes everywhere, not putting his hand over his mouth,” she says.

There is more. Olivia, Terry’s 21-year-old daughter, has also come down with a cough as of late.

“I’m actually terrified,” Terry says.

Her smaller children, Tyler, aged 12, and Lucy, aged 10, are also at home due to school closure, and the Cork mum is scrambling to create a balance between domestic work, childcare and schooling the children at home.

“They’re missing on their education at the moment. I can’t school them here because I have to keep an eye on Tommy constantly, it is impossible,” she says.

Noreen Forde with JJ and her newborn.
Noreen Forde with JJ and her newborn.

MISSING OUT ON EDUCATION

Noreen Forde, a Cork mother, living in West Passage, recalls the day of school closures as doubly stressful as it coincided with receiving a letter that said her son had failed to secure a place at his Midleton-based school, for September. Noreen’s son, JJ Forde, aged seven, is also a non-verbal, autistic child, and she fears he would miss out on education.

But now, amidst the pandemic, the Cork mum feels compelled to focus on the new changes. She says, however, that she can’t help but keep worrying about the school situation.

“Now, with regards to the virus in the country, I suppose it’s not important at the moment, but at the end of the summer, what would happen? I’m very worried,” she says.

Noreen, who also has a six-month-old and a two-year-old, is on carer’s leave from work, taken before the onset of the pandemic.

She says, ‘we’re all in the same boat” and tries to stay positive, but uncertainty about the future looms over her head as she minds her babies at home.

ADDED PRESSURE ON WOMEN

A new U.S study conducted to evaluate the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on different genders found that women are the most affected by the crisis compared to men: more stressed and worried about the future.

Social scientists are also arguing that the new health emergency has emphasised social disparities, including the often uneven division of labour at homes.

Dr Fiona Buckley, an expert in gender politics at UCC, says life pre-Covid-19 for women was already “a constant juggle to carry home/life responsibilities” and the new pandemic has only “exacerbated” their responsibilities.

Dr Buckley cites a 2017 report by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which highlighted the female-dominated nature of the health care industry, reasoning that women are shouldering unprecedented responsibilities during the crisis, often with little support.

“We need to keep women and men in the health care sector well during this period,” she says.

Tommy O'Shea with his mother Terry Garde at their home. Picture: Shamim Malekmian
Tommy O'Shea with his mother Terry Garde at their home. Picture: Shamim Malekmian

RISING COSTS

Meanwhile, Terry’s grocery and utility bills have doubled as “everyone’s at home, and everyone is eating more food because they’re bored.”

She says she has to top up her electricity credit by €20 every two days, “whereas I would put €30 for a week before.

“I think we need to get some sort of a break because we are constantly at home, and we are using more electricity and heating.”

Lucy Duncan, Tommy O'Shea, Tyler Duncan and Olivia O'Shea.
Lucy Duncan, Tommy O'Shea, Tyler Duncan and Olivia O'Shea.

In England, an emergency energy policy promises to assist low-income families and vulnerable groups with their utility bills for the duration of the pandemic. The Irish Government is yet to introduce a similar measure.

WORRIED FOR THE FUTURE

Sinead plans on rebuilding her business once the pandemic passes by, offering significant discounts, but she is not too focused on the future now.

“If you think long-term, it’s very upsetting,” she says.

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