Who jumps up to change nappies in your house?
Who folds the laundry, cooks dinner and cleans the bathroom?
Who do the kids run to when they need help, or when they want a drink?
Regardless of your normal work and childcare configuration, all bets are currently off for a lot of families. Both parents are working from home. School is closed. Childcare might still be open but some parents are choosing not to send their kids.
Despite many families’ best intentions, women are still bearing the brunt of the new working environment.
Why? Because the number of women who already work flexibility is much higher than the number of men.
Subsequently when circumstances arise that require additional flexibility, it’s assumed that women will adapt - just like they have before.
So how can we turn this crisis into an opportunity to address the ‘normal’ gender imbalances?
Aoife O’Connell, mother of two-year-old Rose, is an AI developer who has never been busier. She says:
“It’s interesting to see the evolution of my business at the moment. Clients are coming to me asking, ‘What do we need now? How can we do it? And how quickly?’"
Rose currently has two days’ a week of daycare but Aoife said she’s not sure for how much longer because she and her husband are committed to social distancing.
“I can foresee issues,” says Aoife.
“When I speak to my family in Ireland, they’re two weeks ahead of us in terms of the spread of the disease. They think we’re crazy for still going out.”
Aoife says that her husband has been granted permission to work from home based on the fact that he suffers from asthma.
The way their days are looking at the moment is that Aoife gets up at 5am and works until 7am. 7am - 8am Aoife looks after Rose, and then her husband takes over childcare from 8am - 10am so Aoife can work again.
Aoife said that she and her husband have a meeting in the morning to figure out their priorities for the day, and then they work childcare around that.
She said that she will consider subcontracting some elements of her work out if it gets too busy to handle everything.
In a similar vein, families with school aged children - meaning homeschooling - might want to consider hiring an online tutor (finances permitting) to help the kids for part of the day so both parents can work.
And if it’s all turning pear-shaped, relationship-wise, there’s always the online family counselling service offered by people like Stephanie Wicker at Simply Kids.
This is not a question of whose job is more important, but at the moment it’s wise to take a moment to consider what your joint priorities are. Does one partner earn more than the other? And is that income more important than usual in the current economic climate? Is there any wiggle room in terms of productivity expectations? Are there any tasks that can be delayed or downgraded in the short-term? Can either parent request increased flexibility, carer’s leave, annual leave or leave without pay?
It’s important to figure out what your work priorities are. This could involve a daily check-in, or formal scheduling where you alternate clocking on and off from work and childcare.
How seriously are you taking homeschooling? Is there any flexibility around the hours your kids are working? Are you sticking to a formal structure? Some kids are still wearing school uniforms, and some parents have programmed Google Home to ring the bell throughout the day. On the other end of the spectrum, some parents have decided to teach their kids to cook, construct basketball hoops or are encouraging their kids to work on personal interest projects.
It’s critical that you agree on what the priorities are regarding homeschooling and find a way to facilitate and support these mutually agreed upon goals.
Regardless of how your household normally runs, things are far from normal at the moment. It is completely unfair and unsustainable to expect one parent to do all the housework and homeschooling and try to jam in a few hours of work in between. Everyone needs to do more - including the kids.
Sit down as a family and work out a realistic housework plan that shares the load in a way that feels fair to everyone involved.
It is critical that parents review their standard childcare practices as this is a contentious area. For example, if one parent normally gets the kids ready in the morning because the other parent has left for work, this arrangement needs to rejigged now that both parents are home. Same goes for dog walking, baths, laundry, grocery runs and cooking.
Alternatively, if one parent is still working outside the home, and one parent is homeschooling, a new arrangement will need to made to allow the homeschooling parent the time to do their own work. Again, this could require temporarily increasing the workload of the parent who works outside of the home. If you’ve gone from 100 per cent capacity to 150 per cent because of the added load of homeschooling, both parents need to find a way to give 75 per cent. Exhausting but necessary.
How kind are you being to each other? How much gratitude are you expressing for the sacrifices you’re both making? How are you speaking to your children and each other? Consciously choose to go easy on each other and speak positively to each other. If you are all healthy, you have a roof over your head and food on the table, things are OK. Everything else is secondary.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Pizza for dinner is fine. Wearing your pyjamas all day on Saturday: also fine. By consciously relaxing your normal standards just a little bit, you will create a little bit of space for relaxation and calm.
Whether it’s an uninterrupted bath, an hour spent alone walking the dog, or taking turns taking the kids out for a bike ride, negotiate with each other to give each other some time off from work and parenting. It’s a high pressure situation having everyone home all the time so don’t be afraid to ask for - and give - each other time out from being on duty.
The objective is simply to get through this time with as much grace and humour as possible. Do whatever you need to do to ease the pressure on yourself and your partner and, if you’re not getting anywhere, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional. Most counsellors and psychologist are offering a Telehealth service, and there are a number of free counselling services on offer.