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We all have to self isolate but what if you are a single mother working from home and with no-one to help?

After her marriage break-up Liadan Hynes relied heavily on her parents to assist with her young daughter, but that is no longer possible. She worries about what the future holds but argues that single parents are uniquely resilient


Close bond: Liadan Hynes with her daughter Sarah

Close bond: Liadan Hynes with her daughter Sarah

Art attack: it’s important to keep your children entertained during the coronavirus crisis

Art attack: it’s important to keep your children entertained during the coronavirus crisis

Close bond: Liadan Hynes with her daughter Sarah

I spent much of Friday a week ago - or day one, as it's now being referred to - in a blind rage. It kicked off that morning, when an acquaintance texted into a WhatsApp group I am in, one with about 30 members.

It was one of those messages we were all plagued by for the first few days of this thing, before people (mostly) copped themselves on.

This one was from an anonymous doctor (provenance unknown), urging people to take various measures. Most of it was about children. The vectors.

Towards the end it got to the grandparents and how they could not be expected to babysit. There followed some discussion in the group over how important this was.

Hence my rage. I am a self-employed single mother, supporting my child, and a home, I ranted to the various friends I rang to talk me out of texting into the group itself, something I knew I would ultimately regret.

My parents do not babysit. What they do is so much more. They are helping us to rear our daughter.

They mind her to an extent that allows me to earn a living. If I was paying an actual childminder, working probably wouldn't be worth my while financially.

More than that, though: while her father and I co-parent amicably, co-parenting is entirely different to having a spouse. You don't sit on the couch after bedtime with a co-parent and confide your small anxieties over your child's welfare. Neither do you go to Ikea or the DIY store together of a Saturday because your child needs a new bed or something in your house needs fixing.

I do these things with my parents - my daughter's grandparents.

I'm lucky. I'm so supported that sometimes I feel like a fraud calling myself a single parent. In any given week, my parents will be involved in school drop-offs and collections, in bringing my five-year-old to after-school activities hosting playdates, cooking meals, tracking down suddenly needed new sizes of clothing, and doing bedtime. They live five minutes away; my daughter sees them almost every day.

Three years ago, my parents got me through my separation, and made it okay to be a single parent, because I never really felt like one, so supported was I.

What going through a divorce taught me was that you can lose the person you had built a life with, without whom life seemed unimaginable, but that there are still some people in your life who are givens.

What the last week has so shockingly revealed is that sometimes the decision to be there, in your life supporting you, might be out of their hands. Suddenly, we were facing into weeks, maybe months, of isolation from them.

My father has asthma, so I knew immediately, before the WhatsApp groups cranked into action, that we would need to isolate from them. I was raging, because I was so scared.

Everyone going through this has their own particular challenges. I work from home already, so that hasn't been too much of an adjustment. So far, unlike many of my fellow freelance friends who have, terrifyingly, seen months of work disappear overnight, I'm busy.

But it's a strange kind of isolation to face into this as the only adult in your house.

And the worries we are all facing can feel that bit more intense: finance, isolation, working from home when the children are there. Some single parents will face isolation from their children, for who knows how long.

The first few days were fine. I realised quite quickly that I had to be strict with myself. Monitor exactly what I was consuming. In ways, it was freeing: muting WhatsApp groups which threw up links to doom and gloom; not getting back to anything but the absolutely essential stuff.

When my marriage ended I learned that for a time, when you're in the midst of huge change and lots of grief, you need to make your world really small.

You go off social media at times when you are mentally vulnerable; you take things day by day, hour by hour if you need. Having a child to focus on gives you a purpose, takes you out of your own mind and the potential vortex of anxiety that awaits there, threatening to pull you under.

As the days went on in this past week, I noticed mental buoyancy becoming harder. I didn't suffer the vicious anxiety I saw paralysing a lot of my friends.

More a heavy sadness, like the waves of grief. We've had to isolate from my daughter's father; we don't know when he'll next see her.

The sight of her one night putting her little arms around the phone during their video call and saying "cuddle?" nearly broke me.

Like lots of us, she's having vivid dreams each night, which she recounts to me every morning. "I dreamt granddad collected me for school," she says, and I have to hide my face in the press, pretending to be looking for something so she won't see the tears in my eyes.

"I miss granddad," she says a few days in and gets upset. As kids do, five minutes later she appears to have moved on entirely. But I begin to notice an increase in mentions of physical complaints, a regular sore tummy.

I find that the time I'm most bothered by the social isolation is when I least want to talk to other people.

Friends call and I ignore them, or text saying "bad day, won't risk crying in front of her, speak tomorrow". We video-call my parents and I stay just out of sight of the camera so they can't see me welling up.

When my daughter sees my father she howls "grrrraandaaaaad", and I can barely hold it together. The panic comes in waves: when my mother texts late at night to check in; when my daughter goes silent and stares into the middle distance. "Alright Beanie?" I ask her. "I miss Daddy, and everyone," she replies.

I tell myself, you know how to do this - you've been through this before. When your marriage ends, all sense of the future you had imagined disappears and for a time instead the future becomes a scary place. Who knows what it will bring?

But I know what that is. Future thinking. Worrying about things yet to come, which may never happen, things you cannot control.

By worrying about the future, you risk overwhelming yourself in the present.

Stay right here in this moment, I tell myself strictly. Tidy a room. Paint with your daughter. Give her a bath.

It's not all bad, though. As with everything, there is a flip-side. Obviously, adult conversation would be good.

But there is something to be said for the company of a joyful five-year-old who isn't consumed with anxiety. It can be helpful that the face you spend all day looking at isn't tinged with panic.

But then when you get consumed by fear, for her, for yourself, for your family, your work, there's no one to bounce it off.

"Not having someone to carry the fear I have and being the only one to carry it for my son…" another single mother confides. "The nights are the worst."

Throughout this first week, I've been making regular trips to the kitchen to cry, before heading back in to pretend all is fine.

People are lovely. We have a WhatsApp dinner party with my best friend and her family, where the children eat pasta and shout at each other.

My cousin and my aunt drop off book parcels for my daughter. I contact the Department of Health to enquire as to the safety of two single parents joining forces.

"It's really a case of individuals now weighing up all the pros and cons of doing something like this against the public health advice of good hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, social distancing, keeping surfaces clean etc.

"Is everyone currently well? Does anybody have underlying conditions? Has anyone been in contact with a suspected or confirmed case? Is there sufficient space in the house? Answers to these types of questions will help people judge whether the advantages outweigh the risk."

It sounds like a yes. Frolo, the networking app for single parents, is facilitating virtual meet-ups, group messaging for members, and providing financial advice.

The WhatsApping calms down, but I find I need to still be careful. All that posting of routines online. It's helpful, I suppose, but difficult if your reality is trying to maintain a full-time career, with no one to take the parenting shift while you work.

"Do they think all mothers are at home, not working through this?" asks one single mother with three children who have been sent home with huge amounts of school work.

Mine is five, and I have made an executive decision that she will be fine, whatever amount we do or do not get done. But it's difficult for single parents with older children.

The TV goes on far more regularly than I would like, but I decide to quell the guilt. One morning, on deadline, I look up to realise that she is on her second viewing of her favourite movie that day.

She's figured out the remote.

"I'm practising an extreme form of 'whatever works' parenting," I tell a friend.

"Suspend your normal rules and rituals around screen time, because you've got to do what you've got to do. These are not normal times. The normal rules and routines do not apply," Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and author of 15 Minute Parenting, tells me.

"I think single parents are actually better equipped than most to deal with this," one single mother tells me.

"I for one am used to being trapped indoors when the milk runs out; three kids under nine means I can't leave the house. I am used to online shopping, managing alone. We are better at multi-tasking, better at handling considerable anxiety due to personal struggles. Better at doing everything with kids in tow. I don't allow my brain to go to what-if places."

I know what she means. Sometimes, as I'm in the kitchen making yet another snack, a flash of the mind-bogglingly daunting nature of what lies ahead sweeps over me. It might be just the two of us, for months. It was my network that got me through the difficulty of the last few years, when my marriage fell apart and now we are cut off from them.

But even though this feels incredibly difficult, and draining, I also know for a fact that there is no way I will go under.

I'm exhausted, and frazzled, and crying on and off (like most of the friends I speak to), but I know also that I am in no danger of succumbing to anxiety over this. I don't worry (not much anyway) about what I cannot control. In short, I can manage my mind.

That is because my friend is right. Single parents have developed a mental hardiness that at a time like now stands to us. A resilience.

Another mother confides that she has been sick for the past week, she thinks it is the coronavirus, and she is solo parenting.

Are you okay? I ask.

She replies that she has parented alone through vomiting flu, so she can handle anything.

If you have survived a long relationship falling apart, you've had to get on, in the face of it all going to pieces. You've had to get up every morning and make it all okay for your children. You've coped with work and children overlapping.

And even with all the family and friends in the world, you've also had to do it by yourself to some extent.

You've woken up at four in the morning worried over something and comforted yourself back to equanimity.

You've watched your life as you knew it fall apart and you've picked up the pieces and put it all back together.

You've seen the life you wanted for your children crumble, and had to cope with that, and make it alright for them.

It's different, and much scarier, right now, but in ways it is the same. If you are a single parent, chances are you have already proved to yourself you can cope. You have shown your children that you can.

It's incredibly hard right now, and the future is daunting. But you are so much stronger than you might think.

Liadan Hynes's first book, How to Fall Apart, about putting your life back together after the end of a marriage, is published on May 7. Pre-order now from Easons to be in with a chance to win a weekend spa break for two at Cliff at Lyons Hotel & Country Retreat in Kildare. www.easons.com

Belfast Telegraph