Jen Hogan: Once again, children are just expected to suck it up
With indoor summer camps cancelled, will their wellbeing ever be a Government priority?
My heart sank when it was announced that indoor summer camps wouldn’t be going ahead again this summer. Not because it would personally have a huge impact on my plans – the camps I had booked for my children to date were largely outdoors anyway.
But because once again the decision showed that children are just expected to repeatedly suck it up this pandemic. And alongside them, their parents too as they deal with the consequences of decisions which rarely, if ever, seem child-centred.
Every bit of fun and pleasure has been stripped from children’s lives at various stages over the course of the last 17 months. Prolonged school closures. Separation from their peers and extended family. Access to in-person activities and outlets stopped and curtailed. Cancelled parties, graduations, debs, milestone occasions and rites of passage. Access to therapies and supports stalled. Playgrounds closed. Home pressures and pandemic-related worries to bear. Dubbed vectors and banned from shops and supermarkets. It hasn’t been all that much fun for the children of the pandemic.
The things we experienced in childhood and teenage years helped make us who we are today. So it stands to reason that the same will apply to our children too. That goes for the good as well as the bad. The lived experiences and the ones never had.
The sad thing is some don’t even realise how much they’ve missed out on. My five-year-old, a very lucky child comparatively speaking, has no recollection of life pre-Covid. This is his norm. He hears his siblings talk about things they used to be able to do, like playdates, class birthday parties and playing in the schoolyard with friends who are not in their class and he hopes this might happen for him in senior infants. But with the announcement that restrictions in our schools are to stay into September, I can’t see an end point.
With no plans yet to vaccinate children, and with the ethical and moral question around vaccine equity surely needing consideration, another question looms large, even in uncertain pandemic times – when are we likely to see any return to normality for children?
What is the plan for children?
Because while some might dismiss their sacrifices as minimal in the grand scheme of things, they most certainly are not.
Not allowing indoor summer camps to go ahead not only strips children of the fun and escape that camps can provide, in a time when fun has been in increasingly short supply, but it also creates its own headache for parents, not least in the shape of childcare.
The problem is women, and it is largely women, have picked up the slack and managed the huge additional pressures caused by these sort of decisions before and so, without a second thought it seems, we are left to do so again. Only time will tell how far the pandemic has set women back.
As much as the summer holidays can be a welcome break from school runs, rigid routines, making school lunches that are rarely eaten and the usual evening homework battles, they are also a time of immense juggling. Parental leave is often a saviour for these weeks, if you’re lucky enough not to have exhausted your entitlement, and have employers who can accommodate it at the exact times it’s needed.
Over the course of the school closures earlier this year I spoke to parents, and mothers in particular, about how they were managing to cope with homeschooling and working. For some, taking parental leave earlier in the year than originally planned was the only way they could manage – parental leave that would typically have been kept for the school summer holidays. A reason why, for some parents, summer camps were all the more important this year. And why the decision not to allow indoor summer camps go ahead will be all the more acutely felt.
What are more cancelled plans for children anyway?
Do they even know what certainty is anymore?
Children too have just had to deal with all that has been thrown their way, and taken from them. They’ve coped before, so are expected to do so again.
If summer camps are beyond us, I worry about what lies ahead at the end of the summer. A fourth wave is on the way, we’re told, as the vaccine rollout continues. What will this mean for our children as they await the return of the normality?
What are we working towards for them?
And will their needs and wellbeing ever be a priority?