Life

Ask Fiona: I'm so anxious about my kids going back to school

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman worried about kids going back to school, and another whose marriage seems to have got stuck in a rut

It's a very anxious time for parents – but you are not alone

I KNOW you’ll probably think I’m an over-anxious mother, but I am absolutely terrified of my two young daughters going back to school. They’re desperate to go and my husband is completely relaxed about it, but I can’t sleep at night, I’m so worried. They’re seven and 10 and although I’ve tried to instil into them that they must wear a mask and wash their hands regularly, I’m worried that, when I’m not there, they’ll forget.

The school has sent out information and told us how they plan to keep our children safe, but how can they possibly enforce social-distancing and things? The kids have been cooped up for so long, they’re desperate to get back to playing and being with their friends; there is no way they’ll stay distanced for long.

If either of them was to become ill, I don’t know what I’d do – I’d never forgive myself for agreeing to send them back. I wanted to homeschool them for longer, but my husband said I was being ridiculous and that they’d fall behind.

Plus, they really didn’t want to know; school was where they wanted to be. I feel sick nearly all the time and I can’t get on with anything – how am I going to get through this?

AP

FIONA SAYS: You’re not alone in feeling this way. There has been a huge increase in people’s anxiety levels because of the coronavirus – so much so it’s been dubbed it ‘coronanxiety’. It’s not really surprising, as there is a lot to potentially worry about. I’m sure your children and husband are worried as well, but their concerns have not, perhaps, reached the levels that yours have.

I could tell you that your children’s chances of being severely infected are far less than those of adults, but that’s not going to really help you. I could say that schools have protocols in place that will ensure they are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe – but that probably won’t help either. You have reached a point that nothing anyone says is really going to help – in other words, it sounds as if you’re now suffering from anxiety. It’s one of the most common mental health problems people experience, and it’s been made even more rampant by the changes in our lives this year. The fact you say you cannot sleep, and that you feel sick all the time, are clear indicators that your anxiety levels are extremely high, as these are common symptoms.

While we all feel stressed and worried at times, constant anxiety feels very different; it doesn’t go away and can become so intense it stops you from behaving normally. Fortunately, you’ve recognised that you need help – and, thankfully, there is a lot that can be done to help.

If you can learn to relax by taking up meditation, yoga, Qigong, or something similar, that could really help. Even just finding a quiet space, where you can relax and listen to music, can help. Regular exercise – even if you don’t feel like it, or it’s just a daily walk – is also proven to really help with things like anxiety and sleep. It really is worth giving these things a go and persevering with them. If you are constantly checking the news reports, it might also be a good idea to limit this, as it may well just be feeding your anxiety.

If you haven’t had a chance to talk to anyone else about this, do try and discuss it with others too – I suspect you’ll find you’re not alone. If these things don’t help then do please speak to your GP for advice and support; there are a number of therapies you could try. I’d also encourage you to look at Anxiety UK’s website (anxietyuk.org.uk), where you’ll find a whole section on coronavirus, as well as all manner of suggestions for support. Please don’t wait to tackle this problem, as it will be affecting your family as well as you, and I’m sure you don’t want your children to absorb the anxiety too.

LOCKDOWN HAS HIGHLIGHTED MY HUSBAND AND I HAVE NOTHING IN COMMON

MY husband and I have always led rather separate lives, but while we’ve been forced physically closer together in recent months, we’ve actually drifted further apart. We’ve been married for over 40 years and while they’ve mostly been happy, we’ve had our ups and downs.

He loves his TV and watches it endlessly, but 90 per cent of what he watches, I find boring, so I go into another room and read a book or something. If I do want to watch something, he won’t watch it with me and gets up and goes elsewhere – and I end up feeling guilty for depriving him of the screen. He’s put on weight so is snoring more, which has driven me out of our bedroom into the spare room, so I can get some sleep. We don’t discuss things anymore because politically we’re polar opposites, so it just leads to rows – that’s not changed during lockdown but it has emphasised it.

All in all, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s any hope for our relationship, and whether we’re just drifting towards a lonely old age under the same roof. Would it be better to discuss a separation?

RC

FIONA SAYS: All relationships become stale – if you don’t put in a bit of an effort to keep things fresh. Of course, some relationships do come to a natural end and perhaps you would be happier separating – only you know how you really feel. But after 40 years together, you have a lot to lose if you give up without a fight. You say you don’t discuss things, but it sounds as if you don’t talk at all. That needs to change – and soon – otherwise you will continue to drift apart and waste what could be a loving relationship.

You say you and your husband lead separate lives, but you’ve lived 40 of them together and that’s a lot of shared experience you could build on. In spite of your ups and downs you’ve come this far, so there’s got to be a glue of some kind, holding you together. The fact that you’ve come through six months of lockdown without a major falling out has surely got to count for something too.

Let’s start with the basics – if he’s watching TV, couldn’t you at least stay in the same room with your book? Put some headphones on and listen to some music or an audio book, but at least be in the same room together? You may not particularly enjoy the kind of TV he watches for 90 per cent of the time, but could you make more of the 10 per cent that you do both enjoy and increase the shared experience?

You say you don’t discuss things anymore because you disagree on things, but a good debate about issues (and there are so many issues right now) can be healthy. One thing that might be worth talking about is diet – if he’s put on weight, he’s probably not happy about it, so you could (sensitively) suggest some healthy changes to what you eat. Rather than being a point of criticism or pressure, this could be a fun activity for you to explore together – trying new healthy recipes, etc. Possibly suggest a regular daily walk together too, which would help him to get fitter and may even improve his breathing and help with the snoring. Importantly, it’s quality time together.

I can quite understand why snoring might drive you to sleep in another room, but there is no reason why you can’t start out the night in the same bed, if you want to. Perhaps to share a cuddle to begin with – maybe more, as time goes on – before you decamp somewhere else. If you do want to try and make things work, and avoid ‘drifting towards a lonely old age under the same roof’, then you really do need to start talking, and finding a level of intimacy again.

MY MUM DOESN’T APPROVE OF MY OLDER BOYFRIEND

I AM 17 and have been going out with my boyfriend for the past three years.

My mum has never really approved of him – probably because he is four years older than me. She has only spoken to him a couple of times, but it’s clear she thinks he is wrong for me. I think he loves me though, and as soon as he finds a flat, I would like to move in with him, but I’m worried how my mother will react.

How do I deal with this?

UD

FIONA SAYS: Before you rush into things, I’d suggest a little caution. There is a lot of uncertainty in your email, so I’d suggest waiting until you know a bit more, before risking an upset with your mum – and make a huge choice, like moving out.

You say you ‘think’ your boyfriend loves you, but until he’s made that clear, sharing a place together is probably not the most sensible option. What’s more, he’s yet to find somewhere to live.

Why not try to get to the bottom of why your mum is concerned about your boyfriend? Remember, she probably cares for you an awful lot. She may have some valid reservations that you would be wise to consider, especially as you are not actually certain how this young man feels about you. Perhaps, if she felt confident that he really cares for you, your mum would be reassured. Until he shows he really does, though, I think it would be a mistake to risk alienating her over something that may not happen.

WORRIED MY BOYFRIEND WILL LEAVE AND TAKE THE FURNITURE

WHEN my boyfriend moved in with me, he brought with him quite a lot of furniture, as I hardly had any. We’ve now been together for two years, but I can’t help worrying about what will happen if he leaves me. I do love him and could not bear the thought of him leaving me, but I suspect he will take all these things with him – although he says he won’t. Whether he’s saying this just to reassure me, I don’t know. Should I get him to sign some sort of agreement?

ER

FIONA SAYS: I am a bit bewildered by your letter. You say you love him and couldn’t bear the thought of him leaving you, but it seems to be what you’re expecting. Why is that? What is making you so insecure in your relationship that you have to worry about material things like furniture?

Yes, it would be possible to draw up a legal document, clarifying what is yours, what is his and what he’s prepared to leave, but what sort of message are you giving each other by doing that? If it’s stuff he brought in too, would you really want to keep it if you split up anyway? Drawing up something like this could make you look materialistic and insecure – which might not be great for the relationship anyway!

You managed before he moved his things in, so you could manage again – so don’t use his things as means of trying to force a commitment from him to stay. I don’t know why you doubt his trust and commitment, but you really need to get to the bottom of that. Once you do, your concerns about furniture will, I’m sure, feel far less important.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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