parent opinion

“It’s asking the impossible”: Why Dr Kerry Chant’s words about childcare broke me.

Like every other parent living in lockdown, my husband Jules and I have been managing as best we can. 

He is an essential healthcare worker who leaves the house to go work and I am working from home. 

Our ten-year-old is homeschooling but our four-year-old is currently attending daycare on the days that I work. 

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We know that compared to many, we have plenty to be grateful for. 

Jules and I are both fully vaccinated, we have paid employment and our children are healthy. 

The kids are also dealing with the ever-changing and increasing restrictions placed on their lives, because they are loved and us parents are (just about) coping.

This morning however, as I turned on my phone to check news headlines, an article jumped out at me. 

It was the headline about how hundreds of childcare centres across Australia are closed due to COVID. 

It included a quote from NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant, saying that parents should not be sending children to daycare if they’re working from home.

Her exact words were: "If they’re just working from home, that wouldn’t be, in my mind, a reason to do it."

I felt sick. I stepped into the shower and cried. 

I didn’t want the kids to see me upset, as I began to process a never-ending stream of thoughts and worries.

I am selfish for continuing to send my child to daycare?

I ‘just’ work from home. 

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I am a bad mother?

I should be able to work and care for both kids at home. 

I am not strong enough?

Believe me, whatever you think of me right now, I have thought it about myself, long into the night.

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Parenting through COVID, with all the additional layers of guilt and anxiety while trying to work and stay mentally healthy for the sake of my kids and my marriage, is unlike anything I have experienced before. 

And there was already plenty of guilt and anxiety wrapped up in motherhood, long before the pandemic began!

The one thing that has got me through the long dark nights of self-questioning, apart from my husband, is the fact I know I am not alone in all these feelings of guilt and worry.

Today from behind my mask, I tried to smile at the other parents still dropping their gorgeous, happy little kids to daycare. I remember a time when this was normal, not a dirty little secret that we struggled with.

I know too that many thousands of parents are making different decisions that are right for them and their families. I completely understand why worry has already led to many parents withdrawing their children from daycare. 

I recently interviewed mums who are homeschooling their five-and six-year-olds, and I was in awe of their determination and strength.

Every parent I know is juggling and struggling through as best as they can, and this includes me.

Something that unites all parents, however you feel about daycare, is the constant sense of worry that our children might get sick with COVID or spread it to their friends and the wider community. 

All through winter we had a stream of COVID tests and periods of isolation thanks to the usual coughs and colds. 

The results were always negative, but I will never forget having to physically restrain my sobbing four-year-old while he screamed ‘no more tests mummy’ at a testing clinic.

A few months ago however, we knew that once we got the all clear and the snot dried up, we could get back to our lives. Now, nothing we do in the fight against this Delta strain seems to be enough. 

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As the cries to ‘stay home’ get understandably more urgent, the daily numbers continue to rise.

Parents are feeling the heat from all directions. 

We are told we must continue to work and to care for our kids 24/7 and we are also trolled online for being ‘stupid’ or ‘selfish’ for taking little ones to the park for fresh air. Or to get groceries because we ran out of milk and couldn’t get an online order for five days. 

Emotions are running high, yet us parents must also try to maintain some sort of normality - not just for ourselves - but our families. 

In our household, part of the way we have maintained sanity and normality until now, is by having access to daycare. 

It is the only social aspect left in my youngest son’s life and he adores his friends and carers. 

It also means my older son gets some peace from his little brother to do his school work, and I can get on with mine in between the homeschooling queries.

But the decisions around sending or not sending my child to daycare are no longer just about what works practically for me and my family, but the greater good. 

I understand that because I ‘just’ work from home, I should also be keeping my child at home. 

But I know my limitations as a mother and as an employee.

On the days I have tried to juggle both in the past when someone is sick, I have just about made it work. 

My four-year-old son is an absolute joy, and he is full of energy and constant demands that are normal for his age. He requires a rolling selection of play activities, snacks and help with toileting. We juggled all the activities with the help of a lot of television so I could get through my to-do list. 

I was a distracted, grumpy mother and an even worse employee. We managed because there was always an end date in sight. I knew that he would eventually get better and I would return to work. 

But now? 

This question and the uncertain answers send me back into the bathroom trying to suppress the guilt and the tears.

My four-year-old will not be among the vaccinated numbers by November. 

And this goes for all kids under the age of 12 across NSW and most of the world. So, what happens then when we reach the 80 per cent of adults vaccinated target? Can daycares safely open then? 

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And what about the daycares at risk of closure now? 

I want my daycare to remain open for when this whole nightmare settles down. The government has not yet (at the time of writing) suggested how they will ensure that our daycare facilities remain open for working parents in the future.

There are still so many unknowns.

I do not want to put either of my kids at risk and I want to do the right thing by them, for the community and our family. 

But before we make the decision to remove him from daycare and take away this crucial lifeline, I need to know more from the government about what the risks are exactly and how long I can reasonably expect to juggle caring for my children, as well as being a terrible teacher, employee and mother. 

In the meantime I shall try to keep my head above water and the tears to the shower. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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