Being stuck in lockdown and suddenly having to homeschool children is a challenging time for any parent.
But, for Christine McGuinness and husband Paddy, it’s been even more difficult due to the fact that all three of their children, twins Leo and Penelope, six, and four-year-old Felicity, have been diagnosed with autism.
Christine, 32, spoke to our sister publication Woman’s Own about how her children have all started regressing since lockdown and how she and Paddy are coping with the challenges that brings – but also the surprising ways in which she and 46-year-old Paddy have grown closer than ever…
‘We were like passing ships’
Christine tells us she and Paddy have never been at home together for this long before – describing their relationship as ‘like passing ships’ – and admits that she’d have thought spending so much time together would have resulted in the end of their marriage.
However, she says it’s actually had quite the opposite effect. ‘I thought we’d be killing each other – that we’d be arguing and bickering – but we’re really not,’ she said. ‘What we’ve realised is the stuff that we used to bicker about before was always work and who was having the kids, whereas now that’s not happening, we’re absolutely fine. We’re both in the same boat for the first time in our lives, we’re both completely equal, we’re both stay-at-home parents right now. And that’s it. No one’s going anywhere.
‘We’re both putting in 50/50, so there’s absolutely nothing for us to argue about. We’re just trying to have a good time and we’re laughing a lot!’
Christine also thinks that their three children have been very happy with having both Mummy and Daddy at home, so she’s starting to worry about how they’ll cope when Paddy is finally able to return to work.
‘I think we’re going to struggle when it goes back to normal. That’ll probably confuse and upset them,’ she added.
A big change
Although lockdown has clearly worked wonders for Christine and Paddy’s marriage, it’s been quite a struggle for the kids, having to adjust to not going to school every day.
All Christine and Paddy have told the kids is that everything is being cleaned and they can’t go to school.
‘They’re only young, and I don’t want to give them any extra worries to what they’ve already got,’ Christine explained. ‘Penelope suffers from anxiety as well as autism, and if she knew what was going on in the world, she wouldn’t sleep at night.’
However, Christine has revealed how all three children have started to regress and are losing the skills – like self-care, eye contact and speech – that they’ve worked so hard on.
She said, ‘Their speech isn’t as clear as it was, their eye contact is not as good, they’re shouting rather than just asking for things and that’s just a build-up of a mixture of frustration and lack of routine. It’s a difficult time for everyone, but especially for them.’
Christine added, ‘It’s a very confusing situation. These children thrive on routine, and that’s not there any more.’
Focusing on fun
Having tried and failed at homeschooling during lockdown, Christine is now focusing on making sure her kids are enjoying themselves more than anything.
They’re now reading together every day, and doing arts and crafts and fun activities that all the kids love.
Christine said, ‘We’ve been tuning into Joe Wicks every now and again to get the children involved, and they love it whenever they see me do something active, like a fun little dance on TikTok. They always want to come and join in.’
Christine says the best way of looking after autistic children is to create visual calendars. She advised, ‘Stick to a routine, make it fun and don’t put too much pressure on yourself,’ adding, ‘In the first week of lockdown, I was like, “We’ve got to do schoolwork, they’ll get mad at us if we don’t get it done”. But, actually, we can’t all be the teacher, the mum, the cleaner, the carer, the cook – we can’t do it all. At the end of this, we just want our children to be happy, safe, comfortable and well.’