#Covid-19: "I was shamed for being there and my child left crying' – a single mum on food shopping during lockdown
The other day, I was hurrying through my local supermarket, trying to grab the things I had on my list as quickly as possible when an episode between two other shoppers caught my attention.
A young mum with a little boy in tow was being scolded by an older lady, in full view and earshot of other shoppers. The issue? She had her child with her and "didn't she know children were NOT SUPPOSED to be in supermarkets right now?!"
Trying to defend herself I could hear the mum saying she had to bring him, as her husband had just worked a night shift, and she had no-one to leave him with. The other lady, who, it must be said, had actually stepped closer than the six feet she should have been adhering to, just huffed and walked away.
Later that day, I rang a friend of mine, who is a single parent too, on her own with her two little girls and her own family across the world in the US. I asked her how she is managing these days, and if the has had something like this happen.
Not surprisingly, she admitted she had. Having tried to do her shopping only online the past couple of weeks, she said that now, delivery slots were very few and far between, and some supermarkets are even now saying they will be prioritising vulnerable shoppers and those cocooning when it comes to home deliveries.
"I had no choice, I had to bring them with me the other day, just for a few things, and I had instructed the girls to not leave my side, and not touch anything," she explained. "And I had double-checked we'd be avoiding the time set aside for vulnerable shoppers too."
In the line to get into the shop, however, she was told by a store assistant that she could not come in, as she had children with her, and too embarrassed to explain her situation, just left.
In another store, she was allowed in but while there, was scolded by another shopper for having brought children, so aggressively she left one of the children crying.
"I don't know what to do, really, if this goes on for weeks and weeks," she admits. " We have to buy food, I can't get a delivery slot, and my girls are too young to be left at home alone or in the car outside."
'Not acceptable and something that needs to be facilitated'
The reality is that Ireland today is a country with many one-parent families. As well as this, there are also many families right now where one parent might be at work, so daytime parenting, naturally, falls on the other parent. And let's not forget that many have no family nearby, or that these family members, who might otherwise be of help, are now considered to be in high-risk groups, and can no longer mind children.
"This is a major issue for us right now, and something we have approached Retail Ireland with, in an attempt to come to a solution," explains Karen Kiernan, CEO of One Family to Herfamily.ie.
"The is a reality for so many, and a blanket ban on children in shops is not acceptable and should not happen."
Kiernan says they have gotten calls from people who have had similar experiences, and who are worried about how they are going to be able to shop for food during this time.
"There is no denying that this is making life extremely difficult for many people parenting alone as they must bring their children everywhere with them in order to keep them safe."
Leaving children at home or alone in cars who are too young to be left is a matter of child protection and welfare, and Kiernan says One Family has raised this issue with Tusla.
"We understand that people are worried and scared, and that shopping needs to be as safe as possible for everyone right now, both for shoppers and for the staff of these stores. But we think it needs to be made clear, to retailers and the public, that there are parents in Ireland today who have no other choice but to bring their child or children with them to the shop. And these people have a right, just like everyone else, to buy food and feed their families too. We need to look after everyone right now."
It is also important to keep in mind, Kiernan says, that opting for online shopping and home delivery is not possible for everyone.
"For starters, many shops are now prioritising those cocooning or otherwise vulnerable right now, and so delivery slots might be hard to come by if you can even manage to find one," she explains. "As well as this, we have to remember that for many, especially those reliant on social welfare, cash might be their only way of paying, and so they have to physically go into the store to get their groceries."
The solution One Family has approached Retail Ireland with is to communicate this better to supermarkets, to both staff and customers, so that people realise that when they see parents come into the supermarket with a child or children, they are there because they have to be. And that there has to be room and tolerance for them to do so.
"The reality is that we need to keep shopping safe and a positive experience for everyone, and maybe one solution to this is to allocate a special 'family hour' in the same way that times have been allocated for frontline staff or vulnerable shoppers."
No blanket bans on children in most nationwide supermarkets
In recent days, several posts have been circulated on social media with warnings not to bring children into supermarkets, or to strictly stick to 'one person, one trolley' policies when shopping.
The problem? Most of these are, in fact, NOT issued by the supermarkets themselves, meaning you are essentially sharing fake news – and no doubt in the process contributing to the stress and anxiety felt by one-parent families all over Ireland now, or those with no family nearby to help out.
Having reached out to the supermarkets to see how they are facilitating safe shopping for everyone these days, including those who have no choice but to bring children with them when shopping, here is what a representative from Lidl said:
"The food retail sector has been deemed an essential service by the Government, and at Lidl we take our responsibility to support the communities we operate in extremely seriously. It is our priority to continue to provide food and supplies to all families across the country, while ensuring the health and safety of our customers and team.
As such, we have introduced a number of measures to promote social distancing in stores including prominent signage and floor stickers, in-store announcements and increased security to remind customers to maintain social distance. At present, we do not have any measures in place to prevent families shopping together, as long as they are respecting the above measures and maintaining social distance.
We have also rolled out dedicated shopping mornings for older and more vulnerable customers from 9:00am - 11:00am every day, and we are appealing to the public to give priority to these customers during this time period, as well as priority to HSE workers who present valid ID in queues."
In other words, if you have no choice but to bring your child, you are, in fact, allowed to do so.
At Tesco, a representative for the supermarket chain said:
“At Tesco, we understand this is a challenging time for everyone, and we are doing everything we can to make sure everyone can get what they need as efficiently as possible in a safe and calm environment. We are encouraging people to shop, one person per trolley and where possible, reduce or limit the number of family members on the shopping trip. We also realise this is not always feasible and we understand that. As we all respond to Covid-19, we want customers to know that their safety and that of our colleagues is our priority right now"
However, having done some research and gotten tips from readers, it would seem individual shops and grocery stores across the country are operating by their own rules, and some are indeed banning children completely from entering the store.
For anyone having been affected by this or worried about how they are going to be able to shop for food for their families, Kiernan is keen to stress that they are trying to put together a solution for shopping alongside Retail Ireland, and there is help out there for those parenting alone right now.
"From 30 March, all local authorities will have dedicated phone lines and email addresses that vulnerable people, and those who are ‘cocooning’, can contact if they need help. Please don't be afraid to contact your local authorities to see what local supports are available."
One Family is always available to support anyone in a one-parent family who needs a listening ear or some information - the Ask One Family helpline is 016629212 or 1890662212 or firstname.lastname@example.org