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A family day care educator navigates the pandemic with mindfulness

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on many industries across the country. The family day care industry has been no exception, as the sector experienced significant challenges imposed by the pandemic and the associated government guidelines.

The Ahead for Business team had a conversation with family day care educator Nadine Statham to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on her small business and some of the strategies she put in place to look after herself and her business.

Nadine has been working as a family day care educator in Morpeth NSW for nine years, after making the switch from her previous role as a financial advisor. Nadine changed careers after her eldest daughter was born and has not looked back, stating that she ‘just fell in love with the role and what it offered to her family and the local community’.

Q: How did you feel when COVID-19 lock down restrictions first came into effect?

At the beginning I was pretty anxious like the rest of the community. When you have a group of people coming into your house every day as part of your role, there were pretty significant concerns around cross-infection risk. Even though I had pulled my own children out of school and was trying to home school while working to reduce risks, we still had people coming and going at home so there was definitely a level of anxiety.

There has also been a feeling of overwhelm due to the huge amount of information being released in the news and across the sector. It was difficult trying to consistently unpack information to keep in touch throughout the constant change. It made it difficult to switch off from work, particularly when you are dealing with children, your duty of care, what it meant for us as a family and also as a business. It was just a level of unknown which I think everyone in the industry has gone through.

Q: What are the challenges that you encountered?

Obviously emotionally there was some big challenges. Just conflicting priorities with trying to manage a business and home schooling at the same time. It was pretty overwhelming. Trying to learn very quickly how to use two different school platforms with the kids came with its own issues, so there were some heightened emotions. We also needed to quickly implement a number of measures to inform families of COVID-19 and to reduce the risk of cross-infection.

Financial challenges probably caused the most stress at that time because there was just so much financial uncertainty in our industry. Parents were cancelling enrolments as people weren’t sure what was going to happen. It was just unpacking this new information day by day depending on your industry. My enrolments didn’t change dramatically as most of my family day care parents didn’t have substantial job losses, so I was extremely fortunate. I know a lot of other family day care educators have been drastically impacted by cancelled enrolments. When the government introduced the free childcare assistance package, there were a lot of unforeseen issues. In one aspect it saved the industry, but it also provided us with a lot of challenges at the same time. All of a sudden I was working full-time for less than half pay, which caused a bit of financial uncertainty within our household. So, that was a pretty big challenge. The changes with the assistance package didn’t all come through at once either, so trying to keep on top of department updates while you are working and logging into webinars with a number of children at home, and home schooling, was pretty difficult at times. I’m extremely fortunate that I work for a great scheme, 5 star, which really supported their educators through this period and all the changes associated with the free childcare assistance package. Many other educators weren’t in that same position, and I am not sure how other family day care schemes actually implemented that system, but I know educators took pretty big pay cuts to keep working.

Isolation has obviously been another big challenge that we encountered as a family. Not being able to leave the premises to get a bit of headspace and perspective was tough. So the big three challenges we encountered were probably emotional, financial and isolation.

Q: How have you looked after yourself to cope with changes in your work and life?

I’m a pretty active person. While we were not able to go to the gym because of restrictions, I still continued to work out every day at home. Since the restrictions have eased I make sure to go to the gym at 5am every morning. That’s not for everybody, but for me I like to get moving to process things. It’s a nice activity when you work from home. I find I really need the discipline of leaving the premises each day to make sure that I’m staying active. It’s just a mindful practice for me. It allows me to check in with myself every morning before I put my Mum hat and educator hat on. I feel like I am a different person as long as I can continue to stay active and go to the gym every day.

Listening to podcasts while I was in isolation really helped because it gave me perspective. It was good to know that it wasn’t just me who was enduring all of the uncertainty and challenges. There are a lot of wonderful people who have created some wonderful podcasts just to give you a bit of perspective.

We also adopted a dog. We lost a dog just before COVID-19 and have adopted another one so he’s been the best therapy for our family too. Having our dog gets us out of the house a fair bit which is great and has been good fun.

Financially we just didn’t have a lot of control over that situation so we just had to budget and be careful. We were really fortunate in our circumstances that my husband could just continue to work from home, and because we are a dual income family we were really lucky. There are a lot of family day care educators who are single mums so a large cut in your income would have been really hard.

Mindfulness has definitely helped us cope through the isolation. As a family we would go outside as we were allowed, but to look after ourselves through isolation we found it beneficial to make sure everyone was trying to practice some form of mindfulness every day. This might have been doing yoga together, taking the dog for a walk, or even spending time in the garden. We are a pretty mindful family, and even have a mindfulness space in the big play room. It is important to actually take the time to talk about how we are feeling, and ensure we are checking in with each other. If you have an open dialogue, especially with your children, it hopefully means we are walking around with less tension on our shoulders.

Q: Have you learnt anything about yourself and your ability to recover from adverse events?

Yes, absolutely. This year had already been a big year prior to COVID-19, so it has been an ongoing learning process about the importance of taking care of yourself. It sounds like a cliché, but we consistently talk about self-love and self-care with our day care families. So I guess there were strategies that we had already implemented that turned out to be beneficial when faced with the pandemic and financial stress. This year has been a huge mental learning curve for our family about taking breaks, being mindful, and staying active.

The equation that I feel really works for us as a family is exercise, discipline, and affection. We need to exercise, we need to be disciplined in our routine, and we need affection. Everyone’s emotional cups have got to be full. It’s a great equation to use if you are going through a tough time. If you focus on exercise, discipline, affection you’ll get yourself through it. That is probably our biggest learning of the year.

The last thing I have learnt is adaptability, and just trying to learn how to adapt to a situation. There’s no point in stomping your feet and saying I don’t like the change, especially regarding the pandemic. Sometimes it’s just going to happen whether you like it or not. Trying to learn to be adaptable has been important.

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