Young families: A year into the pandemic

An empty playground on a windy day exists on a busy street as life goes on around it. Photo credit: Emily McPhail

Many children who are celebrating their first birthdays have yet to meet anyone outside of their household without masks and two metres of distance.

It has been over a year since the Ontario declared its first state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, people have had to reimagine how to connect with each other – and that includes children.

There are kids growing up who have never known anything different than a socially distant, pandemic world.

Ryan Matheson’s baby son is among them. He and his wife Stephanie, live in Peterborough with their two young kids, a two-year-old girl and a seven-month-old boy.

He said only a few close friends and grandparents have been able to see his kids throughout the pandemic.

“We’ve been slowly increasing the number of people that are in our bubble over time,” Matheson said.

He said having their oldest in daycare is helping her socialize and gives her time with kids her own age.

A February 2021 study led by the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto found that 66 per cent of preschool kids between the ages of two and five showed signs of decline in at least one domain of their mental health.

The study found that the stress put on kids by COVID-19 points to the importance of in-person social activities.

That’s something Matheson is now struggling with. Before the pandemic he used to take his daughter to the grocery store with him every time he went. Not anymore.

“I wondered where their head’s at,” Matheson said, referring to people shopping in large groups. “Keeping it to one person is probably best right now.”

A Statistics Canada report done in June of 2020 found that parents of kids 14-years-old or younger were worried about their children’s opportunities to socialize. Nearly three-quarters of parents reported being “very” or “extremely” worried that their kids felt lonely.

However, working from home and having the opportunity to more spend time with their kids can have benefits for parents as well.

Charmaine Barnachea, a young mother in Oshawa, said being able to work from home over the past year has been “a blessing.”

She said the changes because of COVID-19 have allowed her to watch her two-year-old son learn new things every day, things she would have missed if she were in the office.

“I am grateful that despite what’s happening in the world right now, I know I am home safe, happy and together with my own family,” said Barnachea.

She works at a call centre to support her family. However, in the last year she has been able to balance her work and family life better.

Being in the same place as her family during her workday has also helped Barnachea’s mood as well.

“Sometimes, if I feel stressed at work I just pause for a while and hug my son,” she said.

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