SINGAPORE: Mother Jamie Koh misses hanging out with her toddler at the playground, now sealed off with warning tape under the ‘circuit breaker’ measures.
Confined to home all day and unable to expend her energy, her restless one-year-old girl has not been sleeping well at night. Which has been tough on mum. “Being able to go out to the playground, to the library … these trips help to break up the day,” said Jamie, 41.
“Now, the days are really long.”
Frustrated, the first-time mother turned to Parents Circle, a WhatsApp group, where another parent sent her some links on an indoor obstacle course that one can easily assemble with furniture.
“We also discussed the ways we can have our babies move around the house with limited space or structures,” said Jamie. “If I run into problems, I can just shoot a question and I know that there will be people who will respond.”
It has been more than a month into the enhanced safe distancing measures, and this period has been overwhelming for parents – especially first-timers – who have to constantly come up with activities to keep their young kids amused and engaged.
Some have turned to messaging and social media platforms dedicated to parents for help, where they can connect and exchange ideas such as for activities, diet information, and childhood development tips.
WEARING ON THE CARERS
Jamie recalls how her daughter once fell out of the stroller, and the first thing mum did was to reach out to the chat group for help.
Members responded immediately and reassured her that babies are very resilient. “Sometimes, parenting can be lonely if you don't have people with children of the same age,” said Jamie. The support group was started by doula company Four Trimesters, whose ante-natal classes she had attended previously.
Her daughter would usually spend time with the grandparents on weekends, giving Jamie and her husband some valuable alone time. But that’s no longer the case due to safe distancing rules.
Her girl also needs plenty of stimulation, and it is wearing out Jamie, her husband and their helper.
“When there are just a few carers, it becomes very tiring for them,” she said. “Just imagine every waking hour, she needs to be accompanied, she needs to have physical contact.”
That’s how Amelia Yeo feels too – without vigorous outdoor play and no grandma/grandpa time, her 18-month-old son, Benjamin, has gotten more temperamental and irritable of late.
It’s all the more stressful when parents like her are busy working from home.
“Benjamin’s running around trying to get our attention, but we can’t give it to him. It’s hard to explain to a little kid how mommy’s still here but I can’t give you the attention that you want,” said Amelia, 35, a school teacher. “That’s probably why he acts up sometimes.”
HELP TO COPE WITH UNCERTAINTY
In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, Amelia, like some other parents, wondered if Benjamin would be left on his own if she and her husband were to contract the virus.
That concern was allayed when she learnt through the Parents Circle chat group, which has about 150 members, that children in isolation would be allowed a caregiver.
But such stress and anxiety is common among parents feeling lost amid the uncertainty of this period.
Sher-li Torrey, 43, who started the Mums@Work portal 10 years ago to help women balance motherhood and working, said some mothers have voiced concerns like: Could their business continue? Would their husband still have a job?
She said many have written in describing how the portal has been a real pillar of support for them during this time. The social enterprise has moved all events, including career talks and training sessions, online for its 43,000 members.
“When you feel overwhelmed, in any situation … what always makes you feel better is knowing someone else feels your pain (and) understands what you are going through,” said Sher-li, a mother of two herself.
“I think as a parent support group, this has been our biggest success.”
Mother-of-one Dr Jennifer Lua originally joined the ‘Sleeping like an SGBaby’ Facebook group to get help with daughter Naomi’s sleeping problems. The group was founded by mums who wanted to share their experiences with sleep training their children, with resources made easily accessible online.
Jennifer and her husband, a fellow doctor, sometimes advise others on hygiene tips or how to keep safe during the outbreak. “If anyone is worried about the symptoms of COVID-19, if they need to seek a doctor, we can offer some advice,” said Jennifer.
But, like many parents, she didn’t quite know what to do with her two-year-old during the circuit breaker. She came up with craft activities, a home-based gym, and other energy-expending activities – but her daughter had trouble focusing on any one of these.
“Even reading a book, she loses interest (because) she’s been doing it every day for three weeks. It’s the same books, day in, day out,” said Jennifer.
It helps being part of a smaller WhatsApp chat group of about eight mothers from the Facebook group; they regularly share ideas on activities to occupy their young children at home.
NOT ALONE ON THIS JOURNEY
Being in WhatsApp chat groups for parents has also helped pastor Kenny Lee and his wife realise that they are not the only ones scrambling on their parenting journey. Their daughter, Charis, is 16 months old.
One private chat-group he’s in has been about “providing emotional support for one another, because right now there’s just too much news and a lot of it is negative”, noted Kenny. “It’s very easy to get bogged down.”
Jamie agrees on the value of being part of a group of positive parents. “They share cheerful, encouraging and useful updates, whether it is directly related to the COVID-19 situation, or happy babies dressed up in Easter bunny clothing,” she said.
Another group that Kenny is a part of was created for parents living in the Boon Lay estate. During this outbreak, members were asking about masks for children, and an organiser of the group promptly shared links on where they could be bought.
The estate chat group is part of the Embracing Parenthood Movement (EPM), a community-led initiative by the People’s Association to celebrate the birth of newborns and build communities of support for young families.
It’s just one of numerous ground-up support groups that have been a valuable resource for parents in Singapore, beyond just this circuit breaker.
WATCH: How parents survive the circuit breaker (7:53)
For instance, Kenny found useful an EPM-organised workshop where a nutritionist educated parents about basic safety precautions when introducing solids to babies.
Events like this, which help parents meet other parents, are also helpful “for us to realise we are not in this alone”, he said. “There are other parents going through this.”
And some groups, like ‘Sleeping like an SGBaby’, have evolved beyond what they were initially set up for. Community members now don’t just exchange ideas about sleep training, they also share about dealing with postnatal depression for example, said group administrator Gwen Lim.
The mother of three young girls recalls how, when she ran low on breast milk, another mum in the group privately messaged to offer her own excess supply. “In exchange, I helped her plan her scheduling and explained to her this baby sleep science,” said Gwen.
Getting help just when they need it can also make a significant impact on the relationship between mum and dad.
For Jennifer and her husband, dealing with their daughter’s sleep-deprived crankiness used to add to the tension between them. Since the sleep training, she said, there have been “certainly fewer fights and less stress”.
“Now, (Naomi) sleeps well, we sleep well… We can do a lot more things with her without getting on each other’s nerves. It has changed our lives dramatically.”
This story by CNA Insider was done in collaboration with Made For Families. Where else parents can find support:
- Breastfeeding Mothers' Support Group Singapore (BMSG) breastfeeding.org.sg/
- Families For Life www.familiesforlife.sg
- New Mothers Support Group www.nmsg-singapore.com/
- Single Parent Support Group www.facebook.com/SingleParentSupportGroupSPSG/
- Stork's Nest Singapore www.facebook.com/groups/StorksNestSingapore/