British parents doing the ultimate lockdown balancing act

The home-schoolers juggling work AND teaching: From A&E doctor with seven-year-old daughter and mother-of-two executive who’s taken to mushroom foraging… the parents doing the ultimate lockdown balancing act

  • One mother has taken to foraging for mushrooms to gain some much needed alone time during lockdown
  • Schools were closed for the second time on January 5 as coronavirus ravaged the country this month 
  • Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he still hoped schools might be able to return in February 

An A&E doctor has been balancing shifts at a hospital with homeschooling her seven-year-old during the latest coronavirus lockdown – as parents across Britain continue to perform the ultimate lockdown balancing act, MailOnline has revealed. 

One mother has taken to foraging for mushrooms to gain some much needed alone time while a mother of two autistic children has to balance their education with running two businesses.

Parents were plunged into a repeat of Lockdown One when schools shuttered for a second time from Tuesday, January 5, amid a rising number of coronavirus cases.

Last year schools were closed between March and September as the deadly disease ravaged the country. Some 94,000 Britons have died so far with an increase of more than a thousand a day more recently. 

It is feared schools could remain closed until after Easter, but Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday said he still hoped schools might be able to return after the February half-term.

In the meantime, parents have been trapped in a period of uncertainty with many feeling like they’re not able to concentrate fully on either their jobs or homeschooling their children.   

MailOnline has spoken to working mothers to find out how they’re coping. 

The A&E doctor juggling full-time shifts on NHS frontline, a beauty business and her seven-year-old daughter’s homeschooling

An A&E doctor has been juggling full-time shifts, homeschooling her seven-year-old and keeping her business ticking over during lockdown.

Dr Qian Xu, 36, from south London, teaches her seven-year-old and looks after her four-year-old during the hours she’s not at work at a London hospital.

She told MailOnline: ‘During the daytime when I’m not at the hospital I do the homeschooling. If I have a shift that starts at 4pm I would do home-schooling all day and then rush to work until midnight. I come home exhausted. 


Dr Qian Xu (pictured), 36, from south London, said she found the first lockdown ‘quite stressful’ despite waiting rooms often sitting empty for hours at a time

‘If I start at 12pm I’d do a couple of hours of homeschooling and then I’ll be working. Children when they’re in school can focus but when they’re at home my daughter doesn’t take me seriously as a teacher. Everything takes twice or three times as long. It’s frustrating because I want to get on with it.’

Her son, on the other hand, has a lot of screen time as Dr Xu tries to juggle her hectic lifestyle. She said: ‘He loves it but I feel really guilty. He is at nursery and there are bits of online stuff but I don’t have time to go through it with him. He plays a lot on his own and watches tablet TV.’

Dr Xu’s advice for those fed up with lockdown 

As lockdown continues, Dr Qian Xu urged people to be patient and keep following the rules.

She said: The rules are there for a reason and sometimes they can be very hard to stick to. You might be fine but you risk passing it onto others and your loved ones. Elderly relatives or other members of the family if they caught the virus they can become really unwell.’

She has seen ‘whole households’ becoming desperately unwell ‘one after the other’.  

‘We’ve had families within a week in A&E and admitted to hospital. The younger ones might have caught it, not taken it seriously, and they pass it on to families and god knows how many others in town. I urge people to think about other families. 

‘For some people this is really serious. For those who do have a serious illness it can be life threatening I would urge everyone to follow the rules.’  

Dr Xu said she found the first lockdown ‘quite stressful’ despite waiting rooms often sitting empty for hours at a time as Britons avoided using up NHS resources at the outbreak of Covid-19.

She said: ‘It was pretty full on. Every patient who came in really needed the attention. 

‘We didn’t get the normal rubbish as we sometimes call it. I know it’s not rubbish but if you see someone whose almost dying and then someone with a cut that just needs a plaster you think where’s the common sense? But with the fear around covid a lot of minor issues didn’t come in.’

The mother-of-two said doctors were sometimes left ‘twiddling their thumbs’ but at other times three or four ambulances could arrive with seriously ill patients. 

In December, as the numbers of A&E visitors returned to normal, Dr Xu said young people with coronavirus symptoms were being sent to A&E in an ambulance after calling 111. They then had to return home on public transport, which Dr Xu described as ‘very silly’.

‘Generally they feel it’s a waste of time but they come in because an ambulance was sent to them. It seems a bit silly. They’re brought in by ambulance and then they ask if they should be getting public transport to bring them home. 

‘Other times there’s no car so they ask should we be on the bus, or a taxi. It’s so messy. Because they’re young and mobile and physically able to get home they can’t really use patient transport because we need it for less mobile patients.’

Dr Xu said she caught coronavirus in March, and isolated away from her family in her children’s room. She suffered from a fever, difficulty breathing, and felt drained but by day seven she was back at work.

She said: ‘I was kind of glad and relieved I got it and recovered and felt more reassured going to work.’

Now Dr Xu balances part-time work in A&E at a south London hospital with her facial aesthetics business, which she started eight years ago.  

A mother of two autistic children has to balance homeschooling with building up two new businesses during the coronavirus lockdown.

Hester Grainger, 43, lives with her husband Kelly, 44, who is also autistic, and their two children Hudson, eight, and India, 11, at their home in Reading.

Having two autistic children makes lockdown challenging for the couple, as they battle to get Hudson and India to understand why they need to do schoolwork at home. 

‘Home learning is a nightmare and we do our own version. The children, being autistic, they’re really bright but they kept saying “we’re not at school so why are we having to do learning at home”. That was our biggest challenge,’ she said.

‘For all parents it was a nightmare but trying to convince autistic children it’s really important was actually quite tricky. We have to get creative. We do not do any official school work. We find documentaries that are educational instead to create a lot less stress and anxiety at home.’

Hester Grainger, 43, spent the pandemic with her husband Kelly, 44, who is also autistic, and their two children Hudson, eight, and India, 11, at their home in Reading. The family are pictured with their two dogs

The Grainger family’s daily lockdown routine 

7.30am – We’re all up before 7.30am, then get dressed and ready for the day otherwise it’s easy to sit in pajamas but you don’t feel very productive. We’d be up and dressed and ready.

9am-12pm – We’d try and get the home learning done in the morning because that works best for us to get it out of the way. We’d split the morning into a couple of chunks. If we’re doing writing we’d give them a break and a snack and then carry on a bit and then take it in turns to work.

12pm – Lunch

12-5pm – The children are 11 and eight and are old enough to entertain themselves to a certain point. Trying to balance toddlers would be really tricky. We had them facetiming their friends to keep friendships up.

5pm – Dinner

5-9pm – Family time. Our days are drawn out by meals. Lunch at 12 and tea at five and we schedule the day around that, taking it in turns to work and spending time with the children.

She revealed her son Hudson told her he was ‘living his best life’ recently, words any parent would be thrilled to hear, and the children’s teachers told her they hadn’t fallen behind at all at a parents’ evening last year. 

Hester said one of her children struggles with wearing socks, making staying at home much easier because they never have to put them on.

‘For them both anxiety is very high and with that comes a lot of issues. Sensory processing is huge for both children. 

‘Light is overwhelming and so are sounds, textures, all your senses can be overwhelming. Clothes and socks are a huge issues. For one of my children socks make them cry, they physically hurt them. 

‘That causes huge issues. They’re also very literal. We have to be aware. I once said I had a frog in my throat and Hudson burst into tears.’  

During Lockdown One the family walked their dogs, made indoor obstacle courses, held spelling tests, made dens, baked, played boardgames and had an ‘unsuccessful’ sleepover in their living room to make the most of family time.

Hester told MailOnline she and her husband took their children out of school a week early last March because they were getting anxious and ‘increasingly worried’ about the threat coronavirus posed.

‘Our homeschooling started early but it was definitely the right decision. Our son absolutely loved lockdown and Kelly did too. It involved not leaving the house and lounging in onesies.’  

Kelly, who recently found out he is also autistic, revealed his triggers are slightly different to his children, but he doesn’t like plans changing and really struggles with the uncertain Government guidance amid coronavirus.

He told MailOnline: ‘The juggling the uncertainty has been the hardest. What people can and can’t do and that nobody is really following the guidelines because they’re so complicated. I like discipline, a routine, things in order, so if they get changed at last minute that throws me off.’ 

Hester and Kelly set up their PR business Hudia just before lockdown hit, and started a second business, Perfectly Autistic, during the summer. 

Hester revealed the family put on a pretend news broadcast as part of their home learning. She is pictured delivering the weather forecast 

Hudson does some schoolwork while wearing his favourite onesie. The family bought their puppy Bear (pictured on Hudson’s lap) during lockdown one

The family are pictured on a family walk. Hester and Kelly set up their PR business Hudia just before lockdown hit, and started a second business, Perfectly Autistic, during the summer

Hester is pictured during a VE day celebration the family held in their garden. Hester told MailOnline she and her husband took their children out of school a week early in March because they were getting anxious and ‘increasingly worried’ about the threat coronavirus posed

Hudson and India donned lab coats for a science lesson put on by their mother Ms Grainger from their home in Reading

The marketing director foraging for mushrooms to get a break from homeschooling two young children

A mother-of-two in a high-powered marketing job has spent lockdown foraging for wild mushrooms in the countryside around the south of England to get a break from her hectic lifestyle. 

Executive strategy director Clare Hutchinson, 45, works from her home in Warlingham, Surrey, during lockdown and sometimes brings her daughters, aged two and six, with her to hunt for mushrooms.

She spends four to five hours every weekend foraging as a way to relax after picking up the hobby during maternity leave with her second child in 2018.

‘Sometimes I need it almost spiritually to be with nature. It’s very relaxing,’ she said, revealing she has a nanny who helps with the children while she takes her dog out for walks and searches for mushrooms.

Clare Hutchinson (pictured), 45, works from her home in Warlingham, Surrey, during lockdown. She told MailOnline she spends four to five hours every weekend foraging for mushrooms. Pictured with Clouded Agaric which needs to be boiled before it is cooked and can cause serious gastric upset in one in five people

She fills a basket that used to belong to her grandmother and, once home, lets her youngest daughter Daisy, two, help brush off any ‘moss and bugs’ using a special ‘mushroom brush’. Pictured, Cauliflower fungus

A mushroom that smells like watermelon and others found around the UK

Meadow Meadow wax caps at the back,  Scarlet wax caps, grey oysters and a couple of small field blewits

Giant puffball: Cover it in breadcrumbs and fry it. It’s the size of a human head and tastes like cheese, according to Clare Hutchinson.

Chicken of the wood: Grows out of trees. It’s ‘velvety to the touch’ and tastes like fried chicken, says Mrs Hutchinson.

Field Blewits: Has a bright purple stem.

Dryad’s Saddle: Grows out of dead trees and smells like watermelon.

St George’s: Grows in fairy rings on St George’s Day each year.

Beef Steak mushroom: Looks like a lung and can be dried to turn in into something like jerky, Mrs Hutchinson revealed.   

She fills a basket that used to belong to her grandmother and, once home, lets her youngest daughter Daisy, two, help brush off any ‘moss and bugs’ using a special ‘mushroom brush’. 

Mrs Hutchinson finds looking for mushrooms ‘hypnotic’ and ‘therapeutic’ – especially during the months of lockdown. 

She shares childcare responsibilities with her husband and a nanny who ‘helps and makes a huge difference’.

‘If I didn’t have her it would be a real struggle,’ she said. ‘I’m lucky to have a supportive husband. There are times when you have to cover each other and take it in turns.’

She also revealed there was an incident last summer when she was in a meeting over Zoom when her daughter appeared naked in the frame.

‘What used to be the professional world of work is now somewhere people are a lot more understanding. When you’re on Zoom calls interruptions are going to happen. 

‘I had a moment in the summer when my six-year-old was in the paddling pool and she came in fully naked while I was in the middle of the call asking for a towel.’

Mrs Hutchinson goes foraging for some alone time after a stressful week. 

But it can be dangerous, she added. ‘I always like to describe it as a high risk sport because you can kill yourself and others quite easily. 

‘There are a lot of lookalikes so you have to be careful you know 100 per cent what it is before you eat it. 

‘I love the excitement of the hunt and the chase and being out in the woods and then there’s the getting it home and identifying it.

‘It was a really helpful thing during covid. It gets you out of the house. You become more connected to the natural world.’

She revealed some mushrooms can sprout overnight and disappear within three days. 

‘There are all sorts of crazy, amazing wonderful thing nature creates. Sometimes I get nothing and I come home depressed.’ 

She said mushrooms were most commonly found in areas that hadn’t been farmed, such as graveyards and ancient woodland – where the mycology that mushrooms grow from hasn’t been destroyed by pesticides. 


Once Mrs Hutchinson has collected the mushrooms she uses a special brush (pictured right) to clear it of any moss or bugs. Then she might dry it before storing it in glass jars (left, a range of dried mushrooms – winter chanterelles, oysters, cauliflower fungus and a spore print from a field blewit)

The script writer pausing an independent film edit to do the four times tables while teaching three children under the age of eight

A mother-of-three and script writer was working on an independent film shot between lockdowns when the country was shut down for a second time this month.

JJ Barnes, 35, was recently trying to edit a very exact piece of sound onto the film when her three children – two daughters aged eight and four, and a stepson aged seven – burst into a rendition of Disney movie Frozen’s Let It Go at their home in Stafford, Staffordshire.

She told MailOnline: ‘It’s been a challenge having the kids at home. I love the bones of my children but when I’m doing tiny sound effects like someone lifting a cup or a door moving slightly and timing it to a micro section and they start singing Let It Go suddenly right behind me it makes it hard.’

JJ Barnes (pictured left), 35, was recently trying to edit a very exact piece of sound onto the film when her three children – two daughters aged eight and four, and a stepson aged seven – burst into a rendition of Disney movie Frozen’s Let It Go at their home in Stafford, Staffordshire. Pictured with actress Virginia Hey (centre) and Ms Barnes’ partner Jonathan McKinney (right)

The family wake up at 5.30am daily so Ms Barnes can work on other projects while the children play or watch films in another room. By 9am she has set the children up at a table for homeschooling.

She added: ‘We get up about 5.30am, sometimes earlier. Early in the morning I’ll do admin work. I have a writing advice blog and talk to a lot of people teaching writing. That’s a side thing I’ve always been doing. I’m illustrating a book as well so I do the things I can do easily with loud noises going on. 

‘That’s when they’re playing or watching films. I’m not too strict. They’re too little. Around 9am I set them up with a little table. CBBC are doing educating programmes so that’s put on the TV. 

‘They sit down with written work from a school Google drive. They do some of that and when they’ve done enough of that – it might only be 10 minutes if it’s intense work or 20 minutes if it’s easier – they get a break and a snack. Then they do some work on the laptop and then read a book or art or pictures.’

Rose, eight, and Buffy, four, pictured working on their laptops. Despite working hard to sit down and edit the film in between the moments her children need help, Ms Barnes still feels an intense amount of ‘mum guilt’

Rose sets up her toys in front of a video camera with lighting to learn about filmmaking. The family wake up at 5.30am daily so Ms Barnes can work on other projects while the children play or watch films in another room. By 9am she has set the children up at a table for homeschooling

She tries not to be too strict because she wants to be their mother and not a teacher. Ms Barnes said: ‘I try not to be too strict because we’re all struggling and if I become a teacher I stop being mum. They’re still at home so there’s no pressure or suffering but I try to pace them through the day and change it up a bit. If they’ve drawn a picture then they’ll do some spelling. I don’t leave them to play on the playstation all day but keep it varied and fluid.’

Despite working hard to sit down and edit the film in between the moments her children need help, Ms Barnes still feels an intense amount of ‘mum guilt’.

She said: ‘I feel like I’m constantly failing at both educating them and putting the time needed into my work. Mum guilty is a huge burden at the best of times. I value my career and worked so hard on it and can’t just stop working on it. 

‘But my children need me to teach them. It’s constantly setting them up with their work and sitting down to my work, then getting down to them to answer questions about the four times table or to decipher a French word. It rips you away from what you’re deeply invested in.’  

Counselling service referrals more than double as pupils struggle after their schools closed during lockdown, says therapist 

A therapist today revealed private referrals have risen by 50 per cent since lockdown closed schools in Britain – as pupils feel a sense of ‘worthlessness’. 

Helen Spiers, Head of Counselling at Mable Therapy told MailOnline: We’re an online children’s counselling service for schools and private clients. Since September we’ve seen private referrals go up by 50 per cent.

‘Parents are calling us desperate for support for their children. Mental health services are either closed, working at reduced capacity or are completely overwhelmed with referrals for children and young people.’

Some children are having to wait for more than a year for help with their mental health as they’re forced to go without seeing friends during the pandemic. 

Ms Spiers added: ‘We’re hearing lots of reports from parents who are being told their child’s issue “isn’t serious enough for CAMHS yet”, sometimes in cases where they’re self-harming or having suicidal thoughts.

‘Lots of parents are reporting that their children are feeling a massive sense of worthlessness. Being denied the chance to see their friends or take part in their usual social activities and hobbies is taking its toll, and parents are reporting that their children have had trouble regulating their emotions, for example having explosive outbursts of anger, or frequently bursting into tears.’

Anxiety is the main concern on 68 per cent of referrals as parents report their children feel a constant sense of worry or dread, struggle to sleep and are having panic attacks.

‘Others are reporting that their children have become much more withdrawn. They’re lacking motivation and taking less interest in themselves, their school work, their hygiene. These are alarm bells for depression. There’s also a worrying increase of reports of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

‘The parents we speak to are really worried. They desperately want to support their children but don’t know what to do for the best or who to turn to. That’s why we’ve had such an increase in parents funding the mental health support themselves, they’re not prepared to wait when their child’s wellbeing is on the line.’ 

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