While those of us without children are probably finding we have more time on our hands, parents across the UK are facing an altogether different challenge – as Billie and Greg Shepherd can attest.
The stars of ITVBe’s The Mummy Diaries are, like most mums and dads across the nation, having to deal with the difficulties of entertaining their brood for every waking hour.
And anyone who has ever seen an episode of the hilarious reality show – which also stars Billie’s sister Sam Faiers and her family – will know that former TOWIE star Billie, 30, and Greg, 33, have a couple of characters on their hands in Nelly, five, and Arthur, two.
Here, the pair, who wed in the Maldives back in March 2019, tell us how they are staying sane in this unprecedented situation and reveal how the stress initially took its toll…
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How are you both finding the lockdown?
Billie: It’s been okay. When the announcement was first made, telling us that we were going into lockdown, it was a lot for us to get our heads around. I thought, “Oh my God, we actually don’t know how long this could be.” I struggled to come to terms with the unknown. I do still wish we knew when we’d be back to normal. An end date would be amazing but I’ve had to accept that isn’t possible. We’re quite settled indoors and the kids have really surprised me. Naturally, we’ve had our moments. There’s definitely highs and lows being all together with no space but we’re actually handling it really well.
Do the children understand what’s going on?
Billie: Arthur doesn’t really understand, which makes it easier in some ways but harder in others. He doesn’t question things or worry, but then he doesn’t really comprehend that he can’t just go outside.
Greg: He’s always asking us if he can go see his friends or asking if we can go to the park.
Billie: Nelly fully understands about the virus as they spoke to her about it at school before they left. She asks me something about it every day.
How do you explain it to her?
Billie: I explained that the virus means we’ve all got to stay indoors to protect ourselves and other people. I said it’s only going to be a few weeks. Obviously we don’t know how long it’s going to be but I don’t think children her age really understand the concept of weeks or months. Everything has changed for her but, at the same time, she is enjoying being at home with me and Greg. We have our little structure of how the days go, which is okay for now!
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Is it nice to have extra time with the kids?
Greg: It is lovely. I am grateful for more time with them, but it has been testing. It’s well out of routine for us. We’re just constantly trying to find things for them to do.
Billie: We’re such a busy family and usually working here, there and everywhere. Sometimes Nelly will say, “Can we just stay in this weekend?” so, as I said, she is quite enjoying the home time. But as much as she’s enjoying her time indoors, she does miss her friends, her school and teacher. I do really feel for her with that.
How have you found homeschooling?
Billie: I take care of the schooling, while Greg looks after Arthur. Nelly calls me Mrs Marshmallow [laughs]. The school has been really supportive and I’ve been in contact with her teacher so I know what I need to be doing. We do well for a couple of hours, and then she’s just done so I have to fit as much as I can into the mornings. We’ve been doing it from 9am to 1pm, with a few breaks. Once it’s done, she’s got the rest of the day to play.
It’s actually really nice teaching your child and really seeing what they’re like while they’re learning. Obviously we do homework together, but this is totally different. It’s really rewarding, and I’m so proud of Nelly. She gets really excited when she gets something right, it’s so cute. I think the homeschooling in the mornings is giving us a good structure to the day. It’s quite a good routine we’ve got at the moment.
Greg: We’re just taking it day by day. Let’s see what I’m saying in a couple of weeks [laughs].
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Are you finding the situation tough?
Billie: I know it sounds mad, but the days have actually been going so quickly, and spirits are quite high. My mindset is that we are all in this together. No matter what our circumstance or situation is on any particular day, we know there’s someone else out there that could have lost someone that day. I’m so grateful that, at the moment, all of us are happy, healthy and fit. That means everything and that’s what we remember every day. I do hit a brick wall occasionally because of not knowing what’s happening, but I’m staying positive.
What do you do with the children when you need to work?
Billie: Arthur is quite hard work because he needs attention all the time. Nelly is happy to sit and watch Netflix for an hour or do some colouring, and she loves writing stories at the moment. So we’ll wait until Arthur goes for his afternoon nap and then we’ll get our own stuff done.
Greg: I look forward to when Billie needs something from the shops. It’s good to get out of the house!
Billie: Apart from a few walks around the block, me and the kids have largely just stayed indoors. I was a bit confused by the rules of what we could do when it first began.
Are you missing your sister Sam, Billie?
Yes, and the children are missing their cousins too. I’ve been FaceTiming my mum and sister a lot, which really helps. I think it’s so essential to keep those outside connections. It’s really important to remember how lucky we are, as we’ve got each other and the children. Some people are completely on their own, like my mum. I make sure that I speak to her every day and we laugh because all we talk about is food. The conversations are based around what we’ve eaten or what we’re planning to eat – that’s where our excitement comes from! I’ve been cooking a lot more and been trying lots of different recipes with the extra time, which has been nice.
Have you and Sam been trading tips about how to entertain the children?
Samantha has moved house recently so she’s got all that going on! The other day she sent me a video of this little inflatable paddling pool that she’d put in her shower. The kids really like the pool, especially Rosie. I was really laughing as I said that’s about as close as the kids are going to get for a while! I’ll order one for Nelly and Arthur, too.
Are you still trying to spend time just the two of you?
Greg: Well we’ve actually been having dinner a lot more with the kids, whereas before we would have it once they were in bed. Even though we get less time where it’s just us two, it’s been really nice to share that meal with the children. When the kids are in bed we’re so boring, we just have showers and get into bed ourselves. We’ve been watching Tiger King. Whenever I watch a boxset with Billie, she only watches the first one or two episodes and then she gives up on the rest of it. Then she’ll be like, “What’s that? Who’s that? What’s happening?”
Billie: I fall asleep!
Greg: She hasn’t watched the end of Tiger King and she keeps wondering why I keep calling her Carole Baskin. She’s the one who is suspected of murdering her husband [laughs].
Have the two of you been giving each other breaks from childcare?
Billie: At the beginning I said to Greg, “You can go upstairs for an hour then I’ll go up for an hour to have time-outs.” We haven’t really done it though. In the afternoon things really calm down, and then in the evenings we get time while the children are asleep, so it naturally works out. We just juggle it around. Although sometimes I’m wondering where Greg is and he’s watching Netflix in bed.
Have you been enjoying getting involved with the TikTok trends?
Billie: Yes! We’ve got a TikTok account. It’s technically my account but Nelly really loves doing them. Sometimes in the afternoon she’ll say, “Mummy, can we do a TikTok?” Some of the videos are just for fun and stay private, but the ones I’ve posted on my Instagram get such a great reaction. She’s so good at them.
Are the children keeping you entertained?
Billie: Yeah! Having the two kids actually gives us something to do every day. They keep us focused because we’ve got no choice. We’ve got to get them ready, keep them happy, do school work and cook them nice dinners.
Is Nelly still in her own bed?
Billie: She’s actually been creeping back into our bed for the last couple of nights, so we had a conversation about it recently. I’m not going to be harsh on myself though, as it’s an unusual time. I’ve been speaking to my mum and friends on a group chat when I’ve been stressing, and everyone is going through the same thing.
Do you feel grateful for each other?
Billie: We are very much relying on each other through this. The first week was the hardest because we were just bickering, as we weren’t used to being around each other constantly [laughs]. I think we were just stressed with everything going on as well. Things have calmed down now and we’re into the swing of it.
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What are you most looking forward to when all of this is over?
Billie: Seeing all my friends and family. I’m going to have so much more appreciation for normal life and the things which we would always take for granted before.
Greg: We’re going to have a barbecue for our family and friends – any excuse for a party! We’re still in the planning stages of our new home, so that hasn’t been affected too much but we’ll be happy to be working on it again.
Billie: We were meant to go on holiday during Easter but obviously that went out the window. We do like our holidays, so we’ll look forward to booking somewhere nice when it’s safe again.
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