Ever since I had my children, I have been a working mum. I am very proud of this fact, despite constant feelings of guilt – either for not being the best mum or alternatively not being who I was at work before kids. But I’ve learnt to manage these feelings and find the right balance over the years, all made so much easier by having an incredibly supportive and family-friendly employer. This enabled me to enjoy being a working mum. So, I guess you could say that I don’t know any different…
But to be a working mum during a global pandemic, when the schools are closed… this has taken me to whole new levels of guilt and worry - levels that I didn’t think could exist.
In many ways I know I am very lucky: my children are beyond the infant stage of total dependency, they don’t have any mental or physical disabilities, and this time their school is providing a full timetable of live lessons that keeps them very busy during the day. They are also generally quite conscientious, or at least, they don’t want to get in trouble with their teachers!
Yet despite all this, there have been times when I have felt like I am reaching breaking point. This pandemic has been demanding for parents of both sexes - indeed a survey during the first lockdown found that fathers were doing roughly double their usual amount of childcare. But in relative terms, the division of labour remained stubbornly old-fashioned: mothers still did 2.3 more hours of childcare than fathers and 1.7 more hours of housework. Furthermore, working from home is much harder for mothers because in most cases they are the primary carers. In very simple terms, this means many, many interruptions. In fact, during the first lockdown mothers were only able to do one hour of paid work for every three hours done by fathers.
Even as I type, I am being asked to help one child with a Spanish worksheet (I don’t speak Spanish), whilst the other needs ‘an early lunch’ before their next lesson starts. This isn’t a one-off, this is every day! Not forgetting the need to encourage some form of daily exercise and generally maintain a level of positivity and calm within the house. I won’t mention the housework, that has been demoted, along with a list of things that aren’t important anymore.
Feeling like you are reaching breaking point is not great. It doesn’t make for a supportive mother, a half-decent substitute teacher, and certainly not an effective employee. The furlough scheme has gone a considerable way to helping a whole nation of parents (but especially mums) avoid reaching breaking point and for this I am grateful. However, whilst grateful, I also don’t want to be furloughed. I have worries that my absence in 2020 might indicate that work has managed without me and that I am no longer needed, but most of all I enjoy my job. I miss my job and I miss that balance I worked so hard to achieve between being a mum and working.
Yet for now, the juggling must continue…
Surviving lockdown this time round has been different. We talked about what we liked about the first lockdown and quite rightly my son pointed out that we didn’t have to do things exactly the same as we did last time. This was a very good call.
As, although in the first lockdown we had some lovely times - sunshine, long family walks, pancakes for breakfast most days and maybe a bit of schoolwork (if we really had to) - we also had lots of arguments about how little schoolwork was happening, nobody believing I understood how to use Microsoft Teams, why no one could just get up and do their work, why they were not motivated, why they were constantly watching Netflix or on their Xbox, and why there was never any food in the house, despite me spending a small fortune on a weekly shop!
No, there was absolutely no way that was going to be repeated this time round. For starters, the school day usually starts at 9am with a live lesson, leaving no time for a leisurely breakfast of pancakes, and seeing as it is the middle of winter and we live in the Lake District, the great outdoors is not so appealing.
So here we are again, trying to survive lockdown, but this time with a little bit of previous experience and a whole load of lessons learnt. Here’s how we are doing it:
We are taking it one day at a time.
Flexi-furlough has been a life saver. At first I tried to stick to my pre-pandemic hours - what was I thinking! Now I am working in a truly flexible way that not only works well for my children’s schooling, but also for the global nature of my work.
Fresh air is so important. We grab a window in the weather (or not) and get out, rarely altogether this time, but whatever works on the day.
We check in as a family as to what the next day is looking like and what help someone might need.
We flex for each other; this is really important, because despite our check-in, things still often change or get forgotten. I must add, generally I flex to fit around the children, but as time has gone on it is starting to work both ways, probably because I freaked out!
We make time to chat with our friends, either socially or as part of our work or school day.
We are kind to each other, or at least try to be, because at the moment it is the one thing that we can do that makes us feel better.
Pancakes are saved for the weekend – no longer a bribe required to encourage some sort of schoolwork, but a treat after surviving another week in lockdown.
I must finish by saying that there is one thing I am certain of, and that is that you cannot be in survival mode forever and whilst this is keeping me and my family going for now, I know it is not sustainable. In fact, it might not even work for us next week. But for now, I’m taking the positives where I can.
Hannah Irwin is Impact’s Content Marketer.