COVID-19 is having massively negative effects on the nation’s health, indeed, on our whole way of life. New dimensions in our relationships undoubtedly will be forged through the unexpected challenges we face. Indeed, in a fundamental way, the impact of this pandemic could cause a recalibration of what we previously thought we prized most in our lives.

We are told YOU MUST STAY HOME and ‘self-isolate’ – a situation much easier for some than for others – not least for parents of very young children. Over the past three decades, a significant proportion of babies and toddlers in the UK have spent much of their day in settings outside the home, as more and more mothers have returned to the workplace. Thus, caring for, and occupying their youngsters day to day and week after week in the home will be hard, and especially hard for parents used to ‘paid-for’ substitute care for the majority of the working week and, in some cases, ‘paid-for’ entertainment in play facilities at weekends too.

Thus, at this time of a necessary social isolation without the variety of work and the option of leaving their youngsters at nursery or childminder, or with Grandparents, many Mums and Dads are in enforced day by day contact with their own children, perhaps as never before. For a good many, this is proving a stressful and exhausting experience – not least for families living in flats without gardens and/or with limited play facilities in the home.

But there are examples of real parental resourcefulness and commitment to this new requirement for full-time parenting. Last week, a neighbour of mine, a single Mum, celebrated her young daughter’s birthday, isolated from others. They decorated the house together, followed by a ‘treasure hunt’ for birthday gifts in the garden – afterwards enjoying the birthday cake they had baked and decorated. Perhaps sad not to have young friends around for a party, but resourceful and fun, nonetheless. And a Dad I know, placed on ‘furlough’ from work, has brought back to life an old bicycle rusting in the garage and is enjoying the new experience of local rides out with his 11 year old son – safer now, with quieter roads.

For all living creatures, survival is a biological imperative – of the self, of their young, and of the species. To this end, less ‘sophisticated’ creatures in the natural world appear to have retained the knowledge of what arguably has been lost from the human psyche in Western post-industrial societies – that of wishing to remain connected with, and prioritising, their vulnerable young. However, it may be that some parents, in this enforced shut down of regular life, will start to connect with some important fundamentals concerning the nurture and socialisation of their offspring? Having said that, these pressured and enforced circumstances, requiring unforeseen amounts of time with their youngsters, is causing some parents a great deal of stress and anxiety and many will wonder how they will make it through each day and through the weeks ahead…

There is a commonality in the urgency of the newly born of both human and animal groups to seek first and foremost the birth mother for nurture, protection and sustenance. However, this is not the case with all species. In some instances, it’s the father who takes on the responsibility for ’home-making’ and rearing the young, ensuring their safety and well-being. There is the interesting case of the Black Bass, a common species of fish in the River Lot in SW France. Here I observed a male fish cleaning and preparing, with great care, a ‘nesting’ place in the shallows in the hope of progeny. He then waited until a female came along, hopefully to choose his prepared site to lay her eggs which he immediately fertilised while these mothers quickly abandon the scene, swimming away from responsibility. It’s the male fish who stays around to guard the eggs and, once these are hatched, protects the young fry from predators. Apparently, in times of drought the eggs may be left ‘high and dry’ by the riverbank and the male fish, though gasping for air and desperate for food himself, will always remain to protect them. I witnessed one fish guarding his eggs suddenly leap out of the water to scare off an approaching threat, a swan, many times his size – an impressive example of parental bravery and commitment.

Back to our human situation: it’s half a century ago since Jean Liedloff, in her book The Continuum Concept, wrote, ‘We in Western civilization have tragically misunderstood our own nature’. She then asked, ‘Do we care more for our standard of living than our quality of life?’ In the challenging circumstances of this present crisis and its aftermath, we may well wish to give serious consideration to this question.

Dr Carole Ulanowsky
Trustee and Director
What About The Children?