‘I’m holding the smallies a little tighter these nights as I tuck them into bed’

I wake up during the night and scroll the phone again, feeling helpless for those in Ukraine from my privileged position of safety

"I'm having nightmares about it," a mother said to me on the football pitch sidelines. We had been watching our sons play a match when talk turned to the horrors of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. I could relate. I'd had a dream about Putin myself – what exactly it entailed I can't quite recall – but I jolted awake furiously resenting his evil presence in my subconscious.

I, like many others, haven’t been able to look away from the news. I check my phone constantly when I’m out. News channels are on in the background as I work and parent. A quick scroll of Twitter before bed confirms the miracle I’m hoping for hasn’t happened. I wake up during the night and scroll the phone again, feeling helpless from my privileged position of safety.

It has resulted in my children seeing more coverage of the invasion than I might have wanted for them, and more questions than you’d think possible. The youngest children live in a world of superheroes where good always triumphs over evil and where the only casualties en route to victory are bad guys. The world of fantasy where all the world’s children should be able to reside.

Everything changes when you become a parent. A sad tale on the radio reduces you to tears. A child’s struggle detailed in the newspaper stays with you long after the headline has changed. And a devastating tale of a child’s illness or hardship relayed on our TV screens is almost too much to bear because suddenly we personalise it all, and thoughts of the most precious people in our lives going through what we’re listening to, reading about or watching is just unfathomable.


The sight of a little girl singing “let it go” in her bunker is both heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. The coverage of new and premature babies in the cramped, cold and totally unsuitable environment of a maternity hospital basement shocks us. And the picture of parents running into a hospital with their already dead 18-month-old in their arms is too devastating to contemplate.


The questions keep coming from my children though I'm trying to shield them more now from what they're seeing.
"Why is Putin doing this?"
"Can the police not just arrest him?"
"When will the children see their daddies again?"

They are articulating many of the things I’m thinking, but for which I have no acceptable answer.

And I think about how lucky we are to have a home, a safe place to retreat to – even if the doors are hanging off the kitchen presses. It is my home, my family’s home, our haven, our security, our place of warmth and shelter.

It hasn’t taken a war or humanitarian crisis to realise our privilege, but it has acted as a stark reminder as I watch women and children with their lives packed into plastic bags and single solitary cases cross safe borders with babes in arms, and even pets. Leaving behind family, friends, partners, colleagues and not knowing when they’ll return to their homeland or see those they love again. History repeating itself before our very eyes.

I continue to feel helpless as I watch the footage. I have no clue how to help and yet I desperately want to. “I’ll try to raise some money,” I decided – a helpful distraction I figured – but nothing feels enough.

Everything I had taught my children about being upstanders rather than bystanders feels undermined. I understand, in as much as anyone on the outside can, why Nato won't put boots on the ground or close the sky as Zelenskyy has pleaded, and yet I'm not sure I'd be so understanding if it were my children already under attack.

I have a 17-year-old son, close enough to conscription age – I would hate nothing more for him than this. I am conflicted every step of the way.


That’s the thing about parenthood – few things are black or white and certainties are consistently undermined. We are lionesses when it comes to protecting our own, but feel a relatability to others we never thought possible as we learn about the intricacies of parenthood. The children of war have not only lost their homes and been separated from their loved ones and all that entails, they’re facing more disruption to their education, their supports and even medical treatment.

“It could be us. It could be mine, but for the grace of geography,” I find myself thinking as I tuck the smallies into bed. I’m holding them a little tighter these nights, such is my privilege.