We have all had some pretty uncomfortable conversations in our homes over the past month. What would happen if one of us gets COVID-19?
Would we separate the family to try and isolate it? What happens if one or both of us lose our jobs? Should we take the kids out of school/daycare? Who will look after the kids?
Will I quit work to take care of the kids?
As three women who grew up on the fairy tale that Cinderella went to university, got a good job and only then thought about getting married (if she chose, while she maintained her independence) to live happily ever after, we have found this particular question one of the most uncomfortable.
We are children of the 80’s and as a result we have never really had to think about whether we would work or take care of the kids. We have always been able to do both. Paid maternity leave and flexible work options have made the decision to be Working Mums pretty straight forward, not always easy, but certainly accessible. We never had to choose.
COVID-19 has meant we are now being told to keep the kids home from school and daycare if we can. The information is unclear on whether kids are safe from COVID-19. The Government’s position on keeping schools and daycares open to ensure Essential Services’ children have care seems sensible. As parents who have been lucky enough to be in industries where we still have jobs but we can socially distance and work from home, we are put in an ethical dilemma. Do we send the kids to school/daycare despite common sense telling us that these environments are hotbeds for viruses to spread? Or do we pull the kids out and in that case how do we get any work done?
Working Mums know that the juggle of work and parenting is a challenge on the best of days. If you are a working Mum you are often working longer and harder (when the kids are in bed) trying to prove you are still a good employee, that you still care. Work from home and social distancing has certainly made this more challenging again.
If you have kids under the age of four and you are ‘working from home,’ you know this is basically impossible. Trying to squeeze work in, through nap times, before they wake in the morning and after they get to bed. Alternatively, if they are at primary school, we are expected to home school our children while we work. This is when the fear is setting in, are we going to be seen as not pulling our weight at work? In this landscape if someone is going to be made redundant or “stood down” will it be us? This is when that feeling “can I do this or do I need to quit my job” is hitting us the hardest. Is it worth it? Are we being selfish trying to keep our jobs and should we surrender for the short term and become full time carers?
Despite the insecurity and uncertainty we feel, we believe there must be a better way to ensure, that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic women are not having to decide; work or kids? That there needs to be more flexibility and consideration from workplaces and the Government on how this can be achieved.
What about Working Dads? If every job in the economy is essential, perhaps some flexibility should be considered on hours and days of working Dad’s so they can do more in less. Allowing both parents to care and work at home equally. Could workplaces accept that standard working hours no longer apply? That one parent can do 6am to 12pm and one do 12pm to 6pm and cover the rest off when the kids are in bed.
What about in-home care? The new measures last week from the Government for “Free Chidcare” are great for those of us who aren’t comfortable sending our kids to daycare in the current climate. It means we don’t need to pay for a service we are not using. It doesn’t really help us though in getting an alternative childcare solution while we work from home. The fact that schools remain open if you choose to send your kids has the same kind of limited impact. Why has there been no conversation about changing the way we access childcare, for the short term, in our homes, to minimise the risk of contagion?
How are people managing work and parenting when the kids are home? Are people still relying on grandparents? Are you taking extra leave days from work?