I read something in The Economist last night that I want to share with you. The Economist has always been very hawkish in its campaign for schools to re-open more promptly than they did and they carry a strongly-worded leader on the subject this week.
(I use the term “re-open” relating to schools advisedly, by the way I understand that schools have been open for the children of key workers and at-risk groups, teachers have been working and that they have been available to families for support. What I mean by schools being “closed” is that most children in the UK have not being going into a school building to have daily lessons.)
Anyway, The Economist: in their leader about the importance of schools opening properly and promptly in September to all pupils they laid out the following information:
The under-18s are a third to half less likely to catch the disease. The under-10s are a thousand times less likely to die than someone aged between 70 and 79.
In Sweden staff at nurseries and primary schools, which never closed, were no more likely to catch the virus than those in other jobs.
A new study of 1,500 teenage pupils and 500 teachers who had gone back to school in Germany in May found that only 0.6% had antibodies to the virus, less than half the national rate found in other studies.
And today the Times reported that Mark Woolhouse, an infectious diseases doctor from Edinburgh University said that scientists have yet to confirm a single case of coronavirus passed from a student to a teacher.
This is all pretty interesting. And I’m telling you all this because it’s made me realise that when it comes to the school closure issue there are charities and pressure groups that advocate for children and there are unions and pressure groups that advocate for teachers. But where is there pressure group or the union or the charity that advocates for mothers? Is there one? Please tell me about it in the comments box. With all respect, Mumsnet doesn’t quite count. Almost, but not quite.
The school closures have, as we all know now, put an inordinate amount of pressure on mothers to pick up almost every single piece of slack at home – the cleaning, the cooking, the supervision of the remote learning, the endless, endless emotional labour that comes with living through such a time. And please don’t tell me it’s relative, I don’t think it’s relevant if another group is having a worse time than mothers during lockdown in the UK. Relative suffering has been used for years as a stick to beat us with and I’m really sick of it.
This situation isn’t because men are useless bastards, it’s because for now, it’s just the way it is. And if your husband is amazing and helpful and you haven’t experienced this, then I am happy for you – but you are the exception, not the rule. If this whole situation had been even 10% as difficult for men as it has been for women it would have been sorted out much faster. It’s been a tax on us just like the tampon tax. Just deal with it – deal with it because you’re a mum.
When you don’t earn or don’t earn as much as your husband, there is a certain amount of shrug-what-can-you-do about all this. But the stories that are coming out now about women who earn as much, if not more, than their husbands experiencing this same massive imbalance are alarming. This is just not okay! Keeping children attending school daily has now become a feminist issue.
Because what worries me is that although schools are set to re-open in September, there will be localised campaigns between now and then to keep certain schools shut – I already know of one in Cambridgeshire, there are bound to be others. I’m also worried about a potential second wave. Will the schools shut again, just because better safe than sorry? Because even though keeping the school doors open is a calculated risk like crossing the road or getting on an airplane, as somewhere in the collective consciousness there is the certainty that the mums will just clear up all the mess, why not shut the schools? What are we going to do about it?
And then I worry that the mothers will just have to take it on the chin all over again when we might not need to – just in the same way that we’ll just do it, just like we’ll do that thing even though we asked someone else to, and we’ll wash up, don’t worry, and no, it’s okay I remembered that thing and yes I filled up the car and also picked up the shoes that were left on the beach.
I worry that no-one is advocating for our rights because no-one gives a shit about us. I start to get crazy and worry that it’s a conspiracy, that some people – men and women -want to keep schools closed because they consciously or unconsciously hate us: that the whole world is geared towards making sure every single mother is kept barefoot in the kitchen. I spiral off and worry that the virus is just this wonderful, marvellous excuse to send us straight back into our boxes where literally everyone thinks we actually belong. I know I sound paranoid now. But just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean I’m not right.
But, please tell me I’m wrong. Make your argument in the handy comments box for the schools being closed until there is a vaccine. Restore my sanity! Tell me what podcasts to listen to and articles to read about Sweden and Israel and all the children who have caught and suffered badly with coronavirus. Tell me about all the teachers who have caught coronavirus from their students. Tell me that the last four months hasn’t been totally and completely for nothing.
Seriously. I’m listening.
Hurrah Esther, someone finally starts speaking some bloody truth. I agree wholeheartedly with every word, my husband is a doctor and all I have heard since March is “ isn’t he wonderful, isn’t he amazing” , whilst I was left entirely on my own for 3 months, with three children and no support. Genuinely, I had horribly dark thoughts at times. There is no way I could do it again. I just can’t even comprehend feeling all those emotions and the utter exhaustion, I am terrified I won’t have the strength next time .
Hey me too! And I read all this stuff about how people have re considered their working lives & loved being at home together – it’s just been him at work & me at home with the 3 kids here…
This is so brilliantly put. I wish it was out there in a broadsheet and being shouted through megaphones at speakers corner (Or twitter or something)! I still can get my head around how quickly we were in this mad dystopian world where the support network for mothers was just wiped out. It’s just so easy for it to happen again and for the invisible workforce of mothers to just rise up and carry on again because, what else can we do?! Over the last four months I’ve wondered how to get the voices of mums heard on this, when we’re all so fricking bogged down and knackered. How would we have found time to campaign?! Also who is advocating on our behalf when these mad Victorian almost wholly male committees are meeting and making all of the decisions about Covid!? Presumably anyone at the table talking about schools reopening will have their kids in school as key worker children, so why would this be a priority?! I think the only way to stop schools from closing again is to join the campaign groups for parents like “September for schools” and “us for them” both of whom are active on social media. But in my darkest moments I do wonder if anyone is listening?! Anyway, at least it’s the holidays now and I don’t have five million worksheets to print from school to the chorus of moaning and crying and shouting from my kids. Solidarity. X
How about mentioning the education children are missing rather than just the inconvenience!
Because I am talking about MOTHERS, not the children. There are plenty of people talking about the effects of this on children
The reason why schools/ nurseries were not prioritised for reopening could be the same as why pubs were prioritised over soft-play, barbers over brow bars. It is because the majority of those making the decisions are men, not women.
Thanks for the post Esther.
Rosie, I think it’s not just a case of the decisions being made by men I think it’s a case of decisions being made with money/the economy at the top of the priority list rather than what is going to be beneficial for the mental well being of multiple areas of society.
Esther, you sound like you’ve probably had a proper shitter of a day. I hope you are pouring yourself a large glass of something and feel slightly better tomorrow. Having said I don’t want to diminish anything that you have said, you have absolutely hit the nail on the head. 🙌🏻🙌🏻 This has hit mothers really hard, mentally, emotionally and financially and perhaps going back to the economy thing, because mothering isn’t seen as having a direct benefit to the economy it’s just ignored and as per usual mums just have to deal with it.
Bravo for speaking out. Xx
Becca you’re so kind but my day has been fine, I am genuinely just very worried about the current situation of so much being heaped on mothers due to all this. And I’m angry that people talk about us like “mothers have had it hard BUT” and then make some joke about wine. The new data on transmission in schools and among children has made me feel really urgent about what will happen to us should there be a proposed second school closure
I take your point, but one of the enormous pressures I felt was educating three children to the equivalent standard of their regular schooling . My eldest sat his common entrance at home , so my school would argue that the children didn’t miss out on education because they churned out 8 lessons a day. But they did miss out because I couldn’t deliver, and that in turn is a massive massive inconvenience!
I agree wholeheartedly with Esther. I’ve read a lot about impact on children. I’m seeing nothing on mothers. This is quite possibly the first thing I’ve read about it in 4 months which is…outrageous at the very least
And I know absolutely NOTHING!! Isn’t it terrible that it is down to the vigilantes like me
Oh gosh, yes, yes, yes. The impact that this has had on my mental health has been significant. And I work part-time and have one toddler – it must be much worse for others in more precarious and pressured situations. The boy went back to nursery this week and it was such a relief. My husband said he wishes we could keep him at home actually. To which I resisted growling and politely suggested that if he cares that much perhaps he’d like to take the time out of his working week 3 days a week to get up in the morning with him, make approximately fifty billion meals and snacks for him, wipe him down after each one, wipe the high chair, the floor, the kitchen. WIPE. Plus all the nappy changes. And the daily visit to the park to stop him going mental. And the bath and the meltdowns, and naps, and bed time. Funnily enough he didn’t take me up on it.
A Reader says
My husband has always wondered aloud, genuinely confused, why on earth I’d want to put the kids in day camps in the summertime. This year he knew better than to ask any questions! (Yes–I have actually managed to fill each week that I wanted to. I think we are lucky in our location for active summer camps.)
Also, in terms of campaigning check out Pregnant Then Screwed. They’re on insta and do lots to campaign for mothers’ and pregnant women’s rights. They’ve recently done a big survey to document pregnant women & women’s experience of childcare, redundancy & safety at work during the pandemic. The results will be published & shared with MPs.
Clare Green says
Yes, I was hopping on to say Pregnant Then Screwed. Not just for maternity time, but also flexible working and rights for all mothers.
Emily Hazard says
Oh GOD the wiping. I am on maternity leave with a 4 year old and almost 9 month old plus big important job husband working full time from home. The meals and cleaning up after all of us are killing me.
Jennifer Macdonald says
The WIPING! About 13 years ago I attended an alumni dinner at uni just after I graduated and a brilliant modern languages graduate in her thirties warned us about how her brilliant career in the Foreign Office had been replaced by days of wiping… we thought she was barmy but I often find myself thinking about how prophetic that was as i wipe down the high chair / counter top / kitchen table / pesto-encrusted baby chin / baby bum for the 100th time that day!
Lucy B says
Thank you for writing this Esther. I am still FUMING that they opened pubs up before schools. And then had the gall to tell people to go back to work next month at the start of the summer holidays when there are next to no holiday clubs running. Whether you’re a working or stay-at-home mother, it’s been an absolute nightmare over the last few months, and it feels like everyone just completely forgot – because as you say, we just get on with it. My husband has been amazing throughout this, but the bottom line is, he earns more than I do, so his work has had to take precedence, and mine has suffered as a result. The number of times I have just thought ‘oh it’s not worth it, I should just take a career break’ (I KNOW how lucky I am to remotely have this as an option) – it’s just such a step back for working mothers. But it’s been awful for the SAH mothers too – as they’ve had no respite at all so can’t justify sharing the home schooling, so they’ve had to do it all plus look after the father who’s now at home all the time too. I could go on and on.
A Reader says
It has been absolute hell for me. My kids go to a school where I pay fees, so I think the school thought we had to get value for money by making sure that the school days continued as normal, with heavily time-tabled days from 9:30-3:30 every day, with activities and assignments that had to be collected and shared on Google Classroom, with due dates and marking and everything. What that meant in reality is that I became a Year One teacher and a Year Three teacher, both full-time, and also became a full-time cleaner and full-time chef to adjust for how many people were in the house the whole time. My own work, a business I have been building for a year, has been put completely on hold.
I held out doing it on my own until the government sneakily announced that, “oh yeah, nannies have been legal all this time, why on earth did you think they weren’t?” and at that point broke down and immediately got someone in to help with the homeschooling. She was amazing but really I couldn’t leave her to do both (even though I have been left to do both?), so at that point I was teaching only one child full-time: vastly helpful, but still no room to do my own job. I’ve had to part ways with about half of my clients because I can’t work for them adequately, so they will be better off looking for someone else has the time and space.
As of a few weeks ago I’m now being medicated for high blood pressure and anxiety, both of which are, in my opinion, situational. Meanwhile my husband is having the time of his life; he disappears upstairs into what used to be MY office (now completely his space) and doesn’t come down until about 6pm, looking for dinner, which he doesn’t cook. His morning commute has been replaced by a nice jog or cycle. This all makes sense because he earns the actual money that keeps us in food and cleaning products and homeschool helpers; my job (which I mentioned I have been building) doesn’t actually pay anything yet, though I thought it might one day. I guess that day will be a little longer off than I thought.
Let’s top it all off with the fact that I wasn’t that interested in having children; my husband wanted to have kids, and I agreed on the basis that we would be equal, 50/50 parents. Well, that hasn’t happened, of course. Until now, though, I could fall back on the fact that I had kids in a society where most people send their children to school and most women are wage earners too. I feel society has let me down massively in this regard, for no reason at all, given the data you reference above.
So, in short, I’m with you.
I could absolutely swing for your husband. This is not ok. He needs to start pulling his weight. It’s not ok that just because the market values his work more, you have become his skivvy. It’s not.
Arghhhhhhhhhh! Yes, yes, yes! I am so angry. Furious. My husband doesn’t understand why and feels targeted by my anger and I’m just much too knackered to be able to articulate it in the right way. We’ve also finally hired a nanny for the next six weeks one day a week so I can have the luxury of uninterrupted work time and my husband seemed surprised I was slightly less angry. It I’m still very angry. I can’t do it again. I just can’t. I also hate all the ‘just pour yourself a glass of wine’ bullshit. It’s just patronising. PS thank you Esther for articulating it. I hope you get a national commission to write about this.
The casual way people use “wine time” as a punchline started out as faintly amusing and now it’s sinister: we are being DRUGGED to do this and not complain about it
Couldn’t agree more with the wine punchlines it’s sinister in many levels.
Thank you for writing this. So true all of it. And the pressure that it all be peaceful and harmonious.. online school on steroids (fee paying so lots of tedious non educational video lessons listening to other kids’ sing songs and show and tell etc’), even a Sports Day we had to do (just go away!), constant IT issues, somehow teaching two kids, cleaning, cooking, forcing it down their throats in the school to etabke’s allotted lunch bracket of 40 minutes the husband just loving (yes loving!) Lockdown bc no commute and only appearing for a quick hug for the kids/some food (miraculously appeared one supposes) and suddenly lifting weights upstairs and children so so sick of the chirpy teachers on videos (‘I am SO excited to be here with you all.. etc’ would have them eye rolling right away) and calls and me pushing, begging, bribing, shouting, dying to get them to stay in the ‘classes’ and then, after all that, working after bedtime til the early hours. I nearly had a breakdown and my eldest still despises me (‘at least my real teacher doesn’t yell’). Husband has no clue why I am terrified September won’t mean school because ‘we got through this just fine and there are people so much worse off’.. yeah yeah.. and our families are abroad so we have our cleaner back but it’s still all me. Thank heavens not on school timetable anymore.
And that’s just me. Kids are really desperate to go back. Please..!
RELATIVE SUFFERING!! “Other people so much worse off” no – that’s him trying consciously or unconsciously to shut you down and it’s not okay. If there is a second lockdown I will issue a call to arms for all mothers with partners to cease all domestic work for the husband (no meals, pile up their dirty clothes and dishes next to their beds) until they mobilise and start making calls and writing emails and joining in the fight to keep school buildings open
GREAT POST! I’m a single parent and my two children are with me 90% of the time. I have my own business so work from home anyway, that part has not been so hard. I’m used to picking up most of the slack, I was in my marriage, at least now I do so without the resentment. Credit to my children who are 15 and 11 and their schools, home schooling has not been as hard for us as it has for others. HOWEVER, I fully agree that many elements of the pandemic have been handled with a huge dose of sexism. It’s been pretty clear the decisions being made a top level are all by men. Pubs and Golf open – of course!! Beauty Salons (an industry run predominately for and by women and contributing a very considerate £30 billion to the economy – let them wait, just ot be safe!) As far as schools are concerned both my children will really welcome being back amongst their peers . My daughter especially can be quite introverted and the lessons where cameras are off allow her to retreat even more into her shell. Children need their friends and real life people who are not their family to learn from! I think as is often the case a lot of the slack has fallen to women during COVID, I guess the only possible comfort is that we are less likely to die from it!
A Reader says
I find the fact that I’m less likely to die from it even more proof that this we are actually already in hell.
A Reader says
Like, I’ll get sick with it and STILL be the one doing the bloody times tables exercises
Cynthia Asquith says
One of my darkest fantasies at the moment is getting antibody tests for the whole family and it turning out, despite everyone else’s coughing and sniffling and “I’m just sooo drained”, that I am the only one who actually had it and nobody knew because I Just Got The Fuck On With It
Sinead (and everyone) I hear you! I am a single mum, running my own business with a business partner who tragically lost her battle with cancer 4 weeks ago. She was only diagnosed in January. So I’ve now also inherited running the whole business whilst trying to manage 2 teenage boys and everything that goes with that. I had plenty of training as even when I was married, my husband didn’t participate in the home, like ever. For me Covid has been a bit of a side show – as my priority was supporting my friend and business partner through a horrendously difficult time. But that said I know only too well from close friends and my sister how much it is just “ASSUMED” that mums will just absorb all the extra shit that has been thrown at them during lockdown. They are the first line of defence for tantrums, illness, arguments, cooking, cleaning, washing and ludicrously irritating questions like “have we got an batteries, my X-Box controller has run out” – not to mention endless IT support, printing of homeschooling resources, provision of endless snacks and frankly a 24 hour room service arrangement. The fact that there is little or no visibility or appreciation for the collective contribution of mums is beyond tragic in 2020. I run a PR company and the strength of feeling in response to Esther’s beautifully written blog makes me want to flag this whole issue with some of my broadcast journalist pals as it would made a bloody great radio phone in!! Who’s up for that?
This is such an important issue. I feel that right now women are going backwards – away from feminism (at speed). Initially it seemed quirky. I quite enjoyed playing the 1950s housewife for a while. Homeschooling was fun (for about 2 hours). But now the novelty has seriously worn off and I fear that this is the ‘new normal’ – i.e. women picking up the pieces, trying to juggle, house, homeschooling, general childcare, cooking, cleaning, working etc etc and keeping calm and carrying behind a false smile.
How can it be right that Primark and Theme Parks opened when schools were shut? Why are there no women in top political positions speaking out for us?
The top women have nannies or full-time stay at home husbands.
Esther, as usual you’re bang on the money. My husbands life hasn’t changed at all since March, I’m the one doing EVERYTHING.
The national lockdown has show that the personal *is* political. Mums are taking one for the team. Again. Even those, like my friend, who is very definitely the bigger earner with The Big Job in her house.
In our house, the lockdown has made it glaringly obvious that my husband will never take on more than about 1.5% of the childcare.
If there is a second lockdown I have decided I will simply refuse to be the Primary Parent. I’ve done 98.5% of the parenting for FOUR MONTHS with no support. So it will be his turn. He’ll just have to take leave and deal with it. Rather like I did.
At a national level, if there is a second lockdown, I will be pestering my MP, the relevant Ministers and gathering my like minded mummy friends (hello my PTA network!) to make a lot of noise. It is not acceptable to simply lean on the army of mums to mop up the Government’s failure to manage schooling during a pandemic.
This may be of interest-
Yes! You are right. I have been struggling to articulate why this has been so horrible for mothers and you have hit the nail on the head. Even when schools reopen in September they will be so different with staggered times etc that I am dreading figuring out all the logistics. I envy my husband who wakes up in the morning, gets ready for work, makes his breakfast and then works in the study while I wake the children up, give them their breakfast, get them ready, sort out their home learning or whatever activity they do and then finally log on to my job at 1030 and then get interrupted every 20 minutes for something or other. By 5pm I am exhausted and then I have to deal with my other job- the cook and cleaner. It has been miserable and exhausting. And I have a husband who helps and is understanding. But as you point out – this is just how it is.
Sara H says
We’re struggling with this too. From September I’ve been told that the school is doing a staggered start and finish (and no wraparound care). The net result is that with a 15min journey each way and half an hour between being able to drop off my reception aged child and my y3 child means it’s going to be two hours out of my working day to do the school run. When I complained about this on our school FB group I was told that employers needed to be flexible. Flexible is allowing for my children to occasionally ask me to open packets of crisps when I’m in a Teams meeting; taking ten hours out of my working week (the equivalent of one working day) isn’t asking for flexibility, frankly it’s Taking The Piss and I don’t blame my employers for not being totally on board with it. My husband will do some but he has to be in the office whereas I WFH, so it is easier for me. Just not, you know. Actually easy.
I completely agree that it’s a feminist issue and whichever way it goes it predominantly affects women. I’m a teacher by profession but currently a stay at home mum to a 2 year old and a 1 year old. I was planning to go back to work in September, my older child would go to nursery and my youngest to my mums. Now, however, that can’t happen. My mum is high risk which means if I go back to work in a school and my son goes to nursery we won’t be able to see her which means no child care for my youngest. Teachers are, predominantly, women who will be having to make similar decisions. My husband is great with the kids but there has, of course, been the attitude that ‘you’d be looking after them anyway’. Being a SAHM without playgroups, parks, soft play, farms etc being closed has been mind numbing. I know I haven’t had to home school but honestly the lack of any structure has been so hard. On the other hand I do know a TA who died from COVID, I don’t know whether she got it from school, how can anyone be sure if the vast majority of kids are asymptomatic? I think the most telling thing is that absolutely no thought has really gone into it from the government. Kids aren’t in school? Women (mums) will deal with it! Kids need to go back? Women (teachers) will deal with it without funding, guidance or any support from the government. They know we are wonderful multi taskers and they know we are used to picking up their shit. And so we go on…
With you 100%!
My husband is a paramedic so is out there on the front line (but doesn’t get a pay rise along with the doctors and teachers, obvs!)
I work full time and have been doing so from home while attempting to homeschool (for the first month maybe!). Luckily my kid is awesome and at 8 is quite happy knocking out some Reading Eggs or BBC bite size while I work with one hand on my laptop and the other cooking something, again, in the kitchen, plus one foot doing the washing and the other to do something creative/DIY like all the other people seem to manage!
Your commenters are so right, it’s boys making up the rules who just don’t give a moments consideration to the consequences of their actions (have you ever heard a more ‘mum’ statement!!).
I was hoping lockdown would be a dreamy bonding time for my son and I but actually he’s just learnt that mummy swears a lot and drinks plenty of wine 😄.
Love your blog Esther, thanks for being a voice of sanity for us 😘
THANK YOU for articulating this. I’m so hacked off with juggling the demands of my child, schooling, work, cleaning, cooking (and everything else) in lockdown. There have been some very dark moments when I’ve wanted to just shout ‘FUCK IT ALL’ and run away. Similar story to the above, my husband wakes up and goes to work in the front room as per usual while I cajole a stroppy 5yo into learning/eating/playing while attempting to run a business. My breaking point was attempting to prepare for a really critical pitch while my daughter watched a movie 3 feet behind me while jumping (loudly) on the sofa only for my husband to breeze in and casually remark on her screen time. If there’s another lockdown I am not doing this again, I’ll bloody riot.
Agree Esther. Being mums we took on the cooking, cleaning, nappies, sleepless nights so none of that bothers me…that’s real life anyway, regardless of lockdown. My husband and I have equal jobs with fairly equal pay and so our lives are pretty equal. Sharing school runs normally, running for trains, both dashing about and always being late for the kids! So lockdown has been a bit of relief from normal hectic lives. However when it comes to homeschooling my husband just backed out and said he can’t do it. The kids don’t listen to him and it ends up in fights. It does but what mum backs out and says she can’t do it? And if he did find 5 mins to do something it either ended with a fall out or I would have to give them something to do or find something online anyway! What really pisses me off tho is, as you say, the expectations from all angles that mums will just crack on…and that’s because we usually do. The option if we don’t? Our kids mental, physical and educational needs are not met and that is worrying. I’ve always taken the attitude that I will do my best to keep them happy and healthy thru lockdown and make sure they are not bored. But now I worry that their educational needs will not be met if this continues. I have no fear whatsoever over Covid and I will do everything in my power to get my kids back to school and learning and me back to being effective as both a mother and an employee as I’ve been a bit shit at both to be honest.
Don’t forget about the nurseries! Agree with everything you’ve said but every time I have read / heard anyone talking about schools I find myself shouting an involuntary ‘and nurseries’ response…..maybe thats what happens when you’re stuck indoors with a 13 month old……
I selfishly, literally cannot contemplate going through all this again with three young children. Eldest with ADHD and trying to teach him while the middle one aged 4 babysat the 2 year old has been unbearable. Am praying the big two will be back in September. Am just desperate to have a coffee out on my own. Or even sitting in my car. My husband is brilliant but working round the clock and does what he can.
All the shit falls to us. Have done nothing but wipe bottoms, cook and unload the dishwasher since March.
It is NOT SELFISH!!! this is exactly what I’m talking about. A mother has been working like a dog for four months and genuinely believes in her mind that to want a break is SELFISH! NO!!!! We have been brain washed. This is worse than I thought.
Well, selfish in the respect that people are dying and I am meant to be grateful that currently we are not!
When I chose to have three children I did not plan to have them all at home at once for months on end and be teaching them too. This is why my husband and I drink like fish every night of the week… This is not sustainable! And we are the lucky ones- have cars, big garden etc etc but those poor people in flats and limited space with small children. Just horrific.
Your suffering is not relative. You don’t have to be grateful just to be alive
Esther, you sound like my therapist. She is forever saying this to me as I sit crying about my problems but immediately following it up with ‘but others have it so much worse than me’ she gets (rightly) quite cross with me. My suffering is not relative. Not necessarily covid related but I am terrible at it and need to work on it. Elaine x
I live in Denmark (although I’m British) and the schools for the smallest opened first, then upwards incrementally, then people went back to work.
Childcare is vital and must be considered. I’m agog at the U.K.
WHERE ARE THE WOMEN????? WHY IS THE U.K. SO BAD AT PLANNING CHILDCARE???
Beth Chambers says
Oh my goodness Esther, thank you sooo much for writing this. I work full time and am the breadwinner but still took on the extra responsibilities you talk about. I feel like I’m minutes from bursting into tears at all times!
I’ve had to enlist my 70 year old mother to supervise my 9 year old as he was on fortnite the minute my back was turned. And I know I’m lucky as I have a 13 and 9 year old who are more self sufficient and also can call on my mum to help, and I’m not at risk of being furloughed! How others have managed I really can’t imagine. I’ve got everything crossed that the schools reopen fully in September…
Beth! Suffering is not relative! Write that down somewhere and say it three times morning and evening. Your suffering. IS NOT. RELATIVE
I nearly got to the point when I was going to kick that sodding dishwasher to death – just the thought of loading it and unloading it again left me raging. Lockdown was one Sisyphean task after the other. I couldn’t even get mine to leave the house for a smallest amount of exercise. I’m about to go and tidy the middle child’s bedroom now because I’m tripping over stuff and I am utterly sick of arguing with her about it – that feels like the choice – go every shade of crazy or just do it myself. The only way I’ve stayed sane is by not allowing myself to think of the little I’ve managed to get my children to do – the knot in stomach nagging is that sense of having been a total failure. I have to remind myself – it’s been a bloody global pandemic none of us are combat trained for this shit. The house is destroyed but at least no one is coming round any time soon…. and I hyperventilate at the thought that they might not go back in September. I will riot with the rest of you.
One thing I’m curious about is why the dads in this situation are so un-creative in their management strategies? I get it, most of them will earn more than most of us. (note: this is changing). But there is flexibility in the system that they are not taking advantage of – especially when they could argue persuasively for it during this unprecedented phase.
What I mean is, why aren’t they using paid leave for one day off a week or periods of unpaid leave or asking for a sabbatical or cashing in sick leave or to do compressed hours and have every 2nd Wednesday off or work mornings on/ afternoons off etc etc. All the strategies that us mums are using and have been using for years in order to juggle home duties, kid duties, work duties and so on.
As a freelancer, the economics mean I am Primary Parent. However, we both brought our children into the world and I cannot get my head round the approach from my husband (and clearly many others) of just keepin’ on choogling as per. Just in the front room, instead of the office in town.
Don’t they see family as part of their remit?
I agree completely with your comments. My husband’s whole attitude to childcare can be summed up in his recent annoying comment, “what are you going to do with them all summer?”
I hear my husband on calls being a super supportive and flexible boss, encouraging his teams to work creatively around their family commitments and childcare needs. Assuring them the company is aware and considerate of the situation. Should probably try practicing what he preaches a little more often…
I honestly believe it starts in maternity leave. It is mostly women that take leave after the baby is born (for good reason obvs) and do we do the bulk of the packing change bags, organising feeding/meals etc etc etc. The men just don’t learn to do it & that early experience is then continued. My husband is a great dad, but I honestly don’t think he’d have a clue what to take for a day out with the toddler. But then, how do we change this? I breastfed for the first year, how could I switch places with him without giving that up? I dunno. We can’t win.
Gemma you make a really good point. If you are not NOSE-DOWN in the early-day practicalities how can you hope to have a clue? I mean they try, but…
A reader says
What really saddens me is the thousands of children out there who don’t have a good, responsible mum like you and have had little or no supervision, let alone home schooling. Yes it is unfair on the mums but lots have risen to the challenge and managed, albeit with sky high stress levels and a heavy reliance on wine. What about the crap mums out there who barely notice if their children have eaten all day? What happens to those children? You are assuming that there are many good mums out there but sadly there aren’t. I am a teacher and it is those I fear for. The government should have put fewer restrictions on schools from the start, based on the medical evidence. Yes, schools were open for vulnerable children in theory but those are exactly the children that aren’t taken to school every day.
In fairness, those children will be (or bloody should be) known to the school. If our school is anything to go by, the welfare officers and/ or relevant teachers will be actively encouraging those families to send the kids in. I know that the social workers attached to our school are also now more actively approaching vulnerable families (because they can now do home visits). The priority rules for attending are specifically designed to allow for this situation. Whether those families *will* send their kids is a different question.
Esther is making the point about MUMS. This hasn’t been a big part of the commentary so far and is also important – it’s not a competition about who’s had it worst.
I’d bloody love Keir Starmer to ask some pointed questions about priorities, mothers and the gendered decisions about what to open up first, to give it a bit of profile.
As it happens Emily Keir is MY MP!! and he’s next on my list of people to complain to
This has made me want to cry; cry with relief that other people feel the same as me. I have been stuck at home on my own with the three kids, one of whom is a wild toddler and I’m just done. Mentally done. My husband had taken reduced pay to help his company out and so is taking a five week block off work starting Friday and I am so grateful for this. Without it, I honestly don’t know how I would cope much longer.
Yes 100%. And also… bastarding teachers unions!! I’m really sorry but I’m so pissed off at their attitude and I will want to strangle something when September inevitably turns into a pathetic half-day or staggered timetable affair. All while being fed a bunch of mealymouthed platitudes about safety, when frankly I think it’s absolute bollocks for anybody but the vulnerable and shielded. The other 92% of us are in next to no danger! Your point about a level of risk is spot on, 170 kids died in car accidents last year but no one would dream of refusing to put their child in a car “because of the risk”.
It’s all bollocks and I’m over it. I’m going to come over all Violet Elizabeth Bott if there is another lockdown and I have to homeschool again.
I don’t think the problem lies with schools or unions. Our schools weren’t closed for any longer than anywhere else really apart from the countries that didn’t close at all. The problem is that schools need a plan to open with the distancing measures that the government want to put in place. In secondary schools this means reorganising thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and support staff. It can’t be done at the drop of a hat and certainly not in the underfunded environments the government have created. The problem lies with men, and particularly men in power, being unwilling to support women and recognise them as equal.
Yes x 100
Liz Truss- MP for Women and Equalities. How old are her children I wonder?
I know this sounds nuts but can’t someone write to every single woman MP in one email with this stuff in it. Ask them for the stats of what proportion of those now being made redundant are women, and at what levels. What are they doing about it to support. Because we won’t vote them in next time if this isn’t at the top of their agenda. Maybe I’ll do it – inbetween working full time and having my kids here all day…..or there must be a women’s rights lead in Govt? Shows how in touch I am – I’m going to look it up now!
All MPs, why should it be the women MPs sole responsibility
And from New York – you can have a kid OR a job
This! Deb Perelman is exactly right. There is no way for women to survive whilst working and educating and earning and living and caring simultaneously.
I live in Sweden but to take my child out of preschool from January as I separated from my abusive ex, so it has been a nightmare trying to work from home when everyone else’s kid was in school but mine = failing at everything…
Jade Ferries says
Thank you for posting this Esther. I had my 6yo daughter for the first 6 weeks of lockdown whilst my ex was stuck (‘stuck’) in Dubai and then quarantined for a week when he got back to the UK. I have never been closer to cracking up than those 6 weeks combining home schooling / working full time / cooking / cleaning. My boyfriend is great and done loads but most of the practical thinking was left to me eg instructing him to clean, what to cook, planning for his 4 kids coming to him at the weekend etc. Which is almost as annoying as having to do it yourself. My ex has just gone back to Dubai for an indeterminate period of time but as I am off for a fortnight and schools in Scotland go back on 12th August it’s not been too bad recently. We have pretty much retained most of the restrictions mainly because I’m so terrified of there being a second lockdown. The worst thing for me personally has been the completely shit quality of sleep I’ve been having for the past 5 months due to all of above. It really makes things so much worse but I have yet to consult my GP for some sleeping tabs ..some sort of imposter syndrome? I dunno.
Anyway this post articulates a lot of thoughts I have had bubbling around in my mind so thanks again.
Thank you – her Twitter is all about trade and transgender issues – can’t see anything on women’s equality which is pretty fundamental you would think now
Sorry to come over all political – but Esther you’re just so right.
Read all the Caroline Criado Perez and THEN ask yourself whether you’re just being paranoid (spoiler alert – you’re not)!!!!! It’s still a world built by men, for men – well, at least it is here and in other countries led by overwhelmingly white, male, populist governments. Quite honestly, it’s a f*cking sh*t show and I’m sick of it. Well said Esther! I hope your editor at The Times commissions you to write a f*cking 4 page spread about all of this (apologies for all the swearing – just soooo tired and fed up!)
I agree wholeheartedly but I honestly believe no-one else cares. They’ll say the care but they don’t. Not really. What they will think is who are these mothers making a big fuss – don’t they know there’s a pandemic happening. They shouldn’t have had kids if they weren’t prepared to look after them etc etc. All the same old bollocks. Let’s face it, no-one really cares about us because there will ALWAYS be someone else who will be deemed more important than mothers of young kids. Unless and until childcare and schools are prioritised as part of the post lockdown plan we will pick up the slack and so life for everyone else goes on and they don’t see there is a problem. As a coping strategy I recommend pretending to go out for a run and hide in a hedge crying for 30 mins every day.
And don’t forget that if you say it’s hard or you just want a break, some “helpful” person will remind you that you are lucky to be able to have children at all or you should cherish every moment because they grow so fast… 😤
Yup, relative suffering! Your suffering is diminished because it “could be worse”! Not okay
Yes, I have lots of thoughts about this as well! I read the Economist article too but I thought it was oddly presented – the issues children in Africa/parts of Asia face in terms of lack of access to the internet etc mean that the cost/benefit analysis of whether or not children should go to school there is completely different to whether kids in the USA/UK etc should be going, and it’s not appropriate to have a blanket policy for the whole world. I really liked Deb Perelman’s (SmittenKitchen) NY Times article on the issues you raised, which I think articulates it all very well – https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/02/business/covid-economy-parents-kids-career-homeschooling.html . But I still don’t know what the answer is. My friends in Israel went back to school, and then last week one of the teachers in one of the kid’s class got covid, and now every family connected to that teacher (apparently this is about 60 families) is in full, not leaving the house at all, quarantine. Because of the delay between catching the virus (being contagious) and showing symptoms, it’s really hard to see how school could open for very long without needing to close quickly and/or frequently, and if you think about all the random kid illnesses, especially at the beginning of the school year, that all look a bit similar to covid, I feel like kids will be off school more than they would be in school, even if they did decide to re-open. State schools in my area (in Washington DC) have just announced their decision to open only virtually for the first term. Our school is private so they may make a different decision, but I think I’m at the point where I’d rather they focused their energies on making a really great virtual school program (they did an OK job last term, but obviously it was all thrown together in a hurry) which really does engage the kids properly and actually teaches them things, than tried to do a hybrid or full opening which I just can’t see lasting. On the other hand, I also wish that school opening was the main priority – it’s maddening to see bars and pubs opening, but schools not. It feels like maybe schools could open properly if they were the only things that opened (along with essential businesses like supermarkets, etc). Anyway.. I’m fortunate enough to have an au pair so have someone to help keep the kids occupied, but I’m the highest earner in our family and keeping the work going properly while dealing with all this is very stressful.
I am not a mother – but watching mothers during this pandemic makes me so mad for you all! How the hell have we allowed a situation where women just pick up the extra care work and no one gives a fuck about the impact on lives, careers, wellbeing…??? Clearly it’s because women don’t matter, and mothers especially don’t matter to decision-makers. I work at a university and mothers are just kind of expected to carry on doing their jobs with no slack or give despite the fact they clearly CANNOT work and homeschool/parent full time.
It is a disgrace that pubs were opened before schools (pins should have been LAST thing to open, as clearly they’re the single most dangerous social environment in terms of this disease spreading). Anyway, all this is to say, if mothers decide to set stuff on fire over this. I’m with you all the way.
Thanks KB! I really appreciate this. For someone not experiencing it to be sympathetic it means a lot. From the outside people can be a lot like “moaning mums” and it’s not fair damn it!
I have just written to my MP after reading this. Lots of friends and family who are mums and the toll this is taking is obvious. My cousin has been at home with two under threes working full time the whole pandemic and her hair has started to fall out. Why the suffering of mums it isn’t obvious to the (men) in power who presumably live with mums is not clear – except that it is obvious they see this as ‘women’s issues’ – the same as when they laughed about beauty industry wanting to re-open, despite having already opened pubs! Solidarity.x
Jesus don’t get me started. I work full time as a crisis-manager for a massive high street bank and while this is certainly not front line work it has been fucking stressful. We have three children aged 11-15 who go to different schools with different attitudes and I have done every single piece of the heavy lifting – despite having a husband working from home. I earn a huge amount of money and had three serious conversations with my husband about whether I should give up my job as I simply couldn’t cope and the response was not that maybe he could take some time to help, or chip in a bit with the laundry even, but that I should suck it up and pull my big girl pants up because we can’t risk one of us not working. I had days in early lockdown where I had 4 hours of non-stop video calls and at the same time was printing off work sheets, putting in endless laundry and washing up Pot Noodle pots that had been discarded by the older kids. I never ever want to go though that again, or let anyone I know go through it.
I get this. Things that occurred to me over the last 4 months:
1. My husband gets to lock himself away in his study for 10/11/12 hrs a day and WORK. Nothing else to think about. And he’s doing longer hours than he ever was. The boys 4 and 9, were all mine…
I had just started to feel some freedom from the youngest starting reception and it was like someone had slammed the cage door shut.
2. I – I was about to graduate/qualify as a counsellor but that’s not happening now – had to grab odd one-off hours in a Saturday to do any work/reading/CPD/courses while he took the boys out. Max 90 mins. Once a week. I’m still doing my placement so I was doing 1 hr a week w a client on the phone IN MY CAR bcs he wouldn’t take them out, but just gave them the fucking tablet.
3. I still had to find all the solutions to all the brand new problems whilst also not being able to really leave the house. Thank god for the weather we had…
4. I felt genuinely massively panicky about the summer holidays bcs there was no sign of hol clubs and I felt I couldn’t do another 6 weeks of early lockdown. I just couldn’t. As it is, god love the school, they’re doing an August one so the boys are having 6 days in just to give me a bit of time.
5. My husband can’t seem to understand he might need to take time off to help. Club isn’t running on a Friday, i now have 2 clients and he’s having to take 2 HALF DAYS to look after the boys. 2. He nearly cried. So did I.
6. We live in a tiny rural village so it’s not been a huge threat, the school has been fantastic, but it has been hard. And I haven’t at any point seen anyone in government giving a tiny shit about women’s earnings, needs, careers, carer status etc. Not one. We’ve lost 4 months, for me it puts me back to at least Xmas to get a job, and I would be happy to say it’s ok, it’s all of us, if there was recognition of us.
The end. God, I’m exhausted …
Completely agree, was angry about this for a while but became positively incandescent on hearing the PM recommend people stop working from home just in time for the fucking longest school holiday of the year!!
I wrote to Boris Johnson about this after that Cummings childcare excuse debacle, which felt a bit silly but hey. I was incandescent. My husband and I both work and I must say completely shared the load but it was just awful. Awful. The hardest and darkest period of our marriage. I was joining conference calls in tears and muting to shout at the children to be quiet. And, of course, my poor children who are only toddlers really acted up at times. I am genuinely considering a career break and I love my job. I wonder how much this pandemic will impact the gender pay gap…
YESSSS! This is ABSOLUTELY how I feel, as a mother and a woman. I couldn’t have put it better. I am also a teacher, and have had my two toddlers at home with me, whilst my partner has been going to work as normal. Nothing has changed for him, except he was doing the weekly shop on the way home (fume, fume!) so we could stay in bubble. I am filled with resentment about this, I really am. This is a brilliant piece, and PLEASE get it into The Times or Daily Mail, so many more people can read it and weep xx
A Reader says
My friend’s 8 year old got Covid four months ago and now is unable to walk due to post viral complications and is in a wheelchair. So please don’t rationalise the risk away too much. I’m not arguing with the evidence on transmission, but I think some people on here are in danger of dismissing the risk entirely and unfortunately it is very real.
A Reader says
Hey, get your own handle.
This is very sad but doesn’t change the fact the risk for children is incredibly low for Covid. And illness risks in general are still at play when going to school. But we can’t all keep our children at home due to those either
I wonder why the Government, who has opened pubs, cafes, shops, blah blah didn’t prioritise schools. Surely they could have opened up some halls, museums, large spaces which were currently closed and adapted them. If they could build a bloody hospital in 2 mins then surely this could work.
The teachers would have felt more comfortable and the unions would have probably come on board. The crucial thing which was missing was clear, precise information about the virus and who were most at risk etc.
Most of us were getting conflicting information every day about how it was spread, and with no clear instructions it ended up in a shit-fest and still is. And the people who had to sit and wonder and keep on going regardless were the women. I asked my friend, who was WFH as well as her husband, if they were dividing up the home schooling. Apparently he was ‘full on’ with work so it all fell on her.
How do you start this conversation with a partner about dividing up choirs, cooking, blah blah blah without it ending in a row? Anyway I still think men don’t mind doing the ‘fun’ things but the grinding day to day boring as shit stuff will still fall to the mother.
I don’t know why I keep coming up as Anonymous, I was a real person until recently ….
Esther it’s like you reached into my brain and beautifully articulated everything I think am I am too tired and overwhelmed to explain!
My husband was furloughed at the start of lockdown which made things much easier as I could work full time from home but then he got called back and is now out of the house approx 12 hours a day. I on the other hand am cramming full time hours into 2.5 days when I can send my 6 and 1 year olds to my mums plus of course evenings and weekends and my personal favourite between 5am and 6.30am before my toddler wakes up.
But what really gets me is that when my husband was off I did everything I could to make having 2 kids full time easier– ordering craft stuff, setting fuo activities, doing the hour’s attempt at homeschooling on my lunch break, tidying awy the chaos every night and most importantly making sure the cupboards were stuffed with snacks and bribes. When I took over the bulk of the childcare I wondered why I was finding things so hard and I realised it was because no-one, it even me was doing all these things to make life easier. Why did I spend so much time and effort making my husband’s life easier but not extend myself the same courtesy? I am starting to think we are brainwashed…
It’s the mental load too – when we found out my mum is going back to work in August it was me who jumped into action and bought more annual leave, asked boss for flexibility, found a holiday club for some days etc etc and that’s despite me being the main breadwinner!
Anyway you are spot on and agree with a previous poster please send this to a national paper so it gets the coverage it so deserves
So many typos buy I agreed so fervently my chubby fingers got the better of me!
I totally agree with Esther and y’all about schools and the load falling to mothers but what lockdown has done is expose the truth about equality.
This has affected women disproportionately because we do every fucking thing. We need to work out why women do all the drudge as well as holding down a job whereas men piss off upstairs on the laptop. It annoys me beyond anything when people say (and I’m one) “My husband is really helpful” just because they make the kids breakfast and take them to the park now and again.
It annoys me hugely that I don’t have any answers and I’m too tired to make a cogent argument. Plus I need to go now to add some more wine to the Ocado.
Solidarity to you all xxx
Esther, I totally agree with what you are saying about women having to unfairly take on so much. However, we only have these facts and statistics about transmission rates NOW so it would have been impossible to know this a few months ago when schools first closed. I am a secondary school teacher and the thought of going back to school in the peak of the virus when thousands of people were dying every day and the whole country was being asked to stay at home was absolutely terrifying. We can see over 200 different students every day at school and there is no space to distance in classrooms, corridors, offices and staff rooms. It has been so hard for us to work from home and our workload has been massive. Many of my colleagues are doing this as well as caring for/teaching their own children. And all we seem to see in the media is people complaining about us. Morale amongst teachers is very low right now.
DB5 yes yes sorry I ought to have said – I would probably have closed schools in the first instance had I been in charge – utterly terrifying… who could possibly know what the right thing to do would be?
But, going forward, things must be different. My sister is a massively vocational maths teacher, with two children 13 and 11 so I do understand the pressures. But this post is not about teachers, but about mothers. I wish I could advocate for both at the same time but as I said – teachers have unions and no-one is speaking up for the mums
Yes, totally agree! As others have said, it would be amazing if this could be published in a newspaper!
Thank you for articulating this, Esther. I and other mum friends have been saying for weeks ‘where is the union for mums?’ ‘Why aren’t we marching in the streets??’ Because we are too bloody tired, that’s why. It’s so clear who has had the ear of the government, and it’s certainly not mothers. As you say, we are just expected to get on with it. It’s not even up for debate. But it’s not on – and it cannot continue. We are falling apart Please get this in a broadsheet newspaper.
For fourteen fucking weeks, I taught three SEN children (two diagnosed autistic, one a magical mystery atypical child) in three year groups at two schools every weekday for three hours and I have never felt so miserable and stressed and inadequate. It was so bad, I took up yoga.
There was a lot more help from the SEN school my eldest goes to than the others, but the teaching was on me. My youngest is (just) five and has a language disorder. All his speech and occupational therapy is delivered in school: all cancelled with no advice to me. I hope you don’t know the pain of trying to teach a kid who can’t understand you how to fucking write.
I need the schools open for my wellbeing as well as theirs. My husband used to say useful things like ‘just don’t bother’ as if I could FORGIVE MYSELF if I hadn’t bothered.
I’m an intelligent woman, I’m starting a doctorate in October, and this mammoth task has absolutely obliterated me.
Dex if Cindy V is the Spike’s beating heart you are our spirit animal: wild and free and without super-ego in your Joe Brown performance dress. With no excuses, casting off all mean social expectation, you are our moral barometer; if you say it is a mammoth task what the hell hope do the rest of us have
That is the best thing anyone has ever said about me.
Hasn’t it all just been PAINFULLY SHIT though? Haven’t we all EARNED OUR WINE?
Hi Esther So the headteachers at my kids’ primary and secondary schools both had it, plus quite a few teachers at both schools and a teacher friend at a 3rd school also had it. Other than them the people I know personally who’ve had it are all hospital doctors. Perhaps this was just a bubble in my bit of North London adjacent to yours or perhaps not. You are right though if it wasn’t assumed the women were going to do the home schooling the schools would have stayed open for more children than they were. My employer gave people special paid leave to home school part time – I signed off on a bunch of applications 95% for women. I couldn’t take any myself as I had to support the team coping without those people so my youngest is now thoroughly unschooled. Plus my job went from 3 days to 5 as we are part of the covid response. My husband’s employers are Americans who believe holidays are for wimps so home schooling time would be laughed at. And although generally he’s all over actually doing 50/50 parenting he has only done about 3 maths lessons in total for the 3 kids….
Laura McC says
It’s been so awful and I feel galvanized to do something about it after reading all this. On paper I’ve had it easier- I earn more but work part time (I’ve had fridays to swan about and read books for years and I really hated giving that up!). My partner had savings so has gone part time meaning we could cover home school without stress for 3 days out of 5. But the 2 days when we work in shifts are so hideous it just wipes out all the calm and goodness of the 1.5 days we each have to lock ourselves in the study and work like dogs. And there was all the emotional upset with kids adjusting to lockdown which meant late bed times etc so no time in evening to self. My boss is nice and says I can just take time off but she loads the responsibility on in the next breath. I thought maternity leave felt like a trap. My god this has taken away my hard fought equilibrium. Good luck all x
I completely agree with your post! We’re in Connecticut here in the U.S. and we’ve been locked down since mid-March. The first couple of weeks were lovely and felt like a nice vacation from the rat race of commuting. I got go spend more time with my 4 1/12 year old daughter and husband and it felt like a gift. The wheels soon came of the bus and I ended up busier at home than I was commuting 90 minutes into NYC every day. My husband always happened to be ‘on a call’ and ‘unavailable’ to help sort my daughter’s day out. Everything from grocery ordering, childcare, housework fell to me. Not for nothing, but I have a bigger job than he does! Somehow book publishing isn’t quite as important apparently. Needless to say we’ve had ‘words’ around my having to do everything and he gets it now, but it was an absolute nightmare for the first couple of months. My daughter managed to cut half of her hair off while I was on a Zoom call (I’m still finding clumps underneath couches, beds, etc) and drank from a bottle of fabric softener another day. She was bored out of her mind and Mommy was losing hers! The good news is that my daughters preschool opened up again in mid-May. We ended up waiting a few weeks to make sure they had no outbreaks and ended up sending her back mid-June. She was like a new kid and I regained some of my sanity. Also, no one at the school has come down with Covid since they reopened in June. Adults all wear masks, kids/teachers have temp checks before they come into the room, no shared play spaces, but kids are mask free. Now hoping she can start kindergarten next month….fingers crossed!
It seems like not only has everyone been failed by the government but all men? I mean it’s ok to say things are changing and men do more than they used to but nothing to this isn’t really progress.
Why aren’t they ashamed? If I read a thread of men talking about how damaged they had been by all the stress and worry and mental load I would be horrified. Why don’t they care? If they don’t care about in the home then they are definitely not going to care in parliament.
I don’t have children, so it’s not my lived experience. However I have empathy and sympathy because I’m not a fucking robot.
Why is it so hard for men and the majority of men in parliament do have children to see that this is problem.
It’s not normal. You are not mad.
I’ve been following The Economist and they have been bang on the money on this. But, and I don’t want to incur a wrath here, some of this sounds like a husbands issue? I’m just agog that’s there are men people have actually married that don’t see rearing children (and all the boring shite that goes with it) as a joint job. I earn the same as my husband now, but only until recently, and the sorting out, packing lunches, wiping has always been pretty much equal. If it wasn’t then I think I’d be so fucking resentful.
It’s still been hard during lockdown, and I’ve realised my husband just breathing sometimes really fucking irritates me, but now would be so much worse if while hearing that annoying breathing I also have to make lunches everyday.
A Reader says
Some men pretended (or honestly believed) they’d be 50/50 parents and then didn’t do that. Mine is a perfect example. He is not the person I married, nor is he the parent he said he would be. Parenthood changed him. Maybe it changed me too, but he used to share cleaning, cooking, etc. No more.
As someone else above said, it starts in maternity leave. I think the answer is that women and men should each get 6 months of parental leave on the same terms as maternity leave currently gets at any given employer. That’s the only way to get them involved, and it also would resolve the current gap you get in (for example) businesses not hiring childbearing-aged women because they “might” go off on leave, or companies that see maternity leave as a period of inactivity that makes it difficult to progress later. Only when men are in the same boat will decisions like those be made on equal footing.
Yes it is partly a husbands issue, but what can we do about that? Their mothers failed to raise boys who were wiling or able to share the domestic load and to turn that around now is impossible. And sometimes women don’t find out that you’ve married someone who isn’t going to share the load until it’s too late.
And if it was possible to change a man in this way, the work would still fall to women to do it. I am trying to nip this in the bud by consciously seeking to raise my son to not be a little Sultan, but it’s not easy and I’ve got no idea if I will succeed or not.
And, do you know? I totally don’t mind taking on most of the domestic stuff, it’s not a problem in normal circumstances and I know other women feel the same way. But this is based on access to some childcare – doing all the domestic stuff AND all the childcare is not possible.
Sorry I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m having a go at you, it’s more that you raised an interesting point (“isn’t this a husband issue?”) and I wanted to take that on. Sounds like your mother in law did a good job x
Another Other Reader says
Childless here. I think it is definitely partly a husband issue. Mine is a very good egg, we balance a lot of stuff etc etc. And yet. I started reading this yesterday and within an hour my husband had asked me where the birthday cards were – same place as they have been for the last ten years, SHITHEAD – and delivered a lecture on why I should be washing the bedlinen at 75 degrees. I KNOW that I have been very very guilty of ‘it’s easier to do it myself’. I’m oddly verbally inarticulate, and quite forgetful, and terrible at left/right, so I find instructions of the ‘tin box, third shelf down, left hand side’ variety much more effort than just getting/doing the thing myself. Hence why he allegedly doesn’t know where cards live. And I don’t let him do laundry. Evidently a wise decision, otherwise everything would be shrunken and the electricity bill out of control.
Minor gripes compared to the hell you are all living, but still: it does feel like you can’t win, as a woman. We bought a new-to-us car last year. I jokingly suggested he should check the spare tyre, since the last time we bought a car the spare didn’t even fit the car. He said no, I thought, bloody hell I will and then thought no, fuck it, why me? It’ll be fine. Guess who was searching eBay for a spare wheel and a winch assembly because, yep, he doesn’t know how to use eBay. Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t. Count me in.
I don’t have children yet, but I work as a midwife with many colleagues who do have them… and what struck me listening to them these last few months was how universal the domestic imbalance seems to be. And these were women working stressful healthcare related jobs, with partners who were mostly furloughed or working from home, and all felt that it was their duty to just “sort” everything. And in particular the husbands and partners who moaned about or simply were not up to the task of sole parenting, being responsible for childcare every day. It was pretty shocking to realise just how many men out there still seem to think in terms of “babysitting” their own kids! It seemed to me so ingrained that women just will “sort out” all aspects of domestic life- childcare, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning etc, and if it’s turned on its head, how badly the men seemed to cope when they had no choice but to step up. It was depressing as hell. I and my husband want children in the next few years, and I think we’re pretty good about dividing the domestic workload so far; but to think that that might be what I am expected to resign myself to as not only a wife but a mother… It makes me despair. True equality still seems to be such a long way off as long as the domestic sphere of life seems to still be seen as the woman’s problem to solve and rule and make all decisions about and just.. bear the brunt of without complaining.
I know I’m only seeing such a small part of it, as a child free woman. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong. But it did and does really unsettle me.
I have only come to realise in the last 3 weeks the cumulative effect the previous 3.5 months have had. The result is that it has all broken me a bit. I asked my husband to read your post and the comments underneath. he was a bit ‘yeah but’ afterwards……I then asked him to name a single hardship the lockdown had caused him and he couldn’t name one. His life has continued as normal, but with less smart clothes. Our kids are Y8 and Y4 both state school. Neither back to school. Senior school has broadly been fine, but primary for my son has been poor. My husband isn’t a bad person. My son was not enthused with schoolwork and my daughter preteen and moody (but good work ethic with school ). i think as I was furloughed I felt I had to do it all – at one point my husband did say ‘well Rishi Sunak IS paying you to do this’.. There were bits I did enjoy and I think I did sort of enjoy it all at the beginning – particularly when Easter hols came so soon. Getting back to school in April was where it went wrong. At times it has felt like i was ruining my relationship with my son with the constant pushing to do his work for school and just moaning at him all the time (he’s excellent at maths, but his literacy needed support and I am NOT good teacher….and most teachers i know say how hard it is to teach school stuff to your own children). My husband has done more in the last few weeks as I have come back off furlough part time but it’s still patchy and i still have to organise everything. Crucially, my self esteem is subterranean now – the balance in our house seemed to have shifted to the 50s…… and it’s hard for him to understand why i am so down when he is actually being quite helpful right now……but i am still doing almost everything.I’m even finding it hard to get back into the swing of things with work….my capacity for concentration seems to have receded. Thank you for saying this. I guess it’s kind of unspoken in our house that he sorts the replacement bulbs, does things with wires, and i do the lunchboxes and organising of homework. That’s teamwork. We are a team. I guess the fact that the organising of homework was all encompassing for several months, together with a month or so where getting food was a miltary operation…….yes it’s still teamwork but the load doesn’t feel balanced anymore.
Clara Yagj says
Great post Ester. I leave you an article from the Cut about the summer camp experiences in the US. Doesn’t look great unfortunately : (
Hampshire Mummy says
I’m so flat out with all the above that I hardly get any time to read the paper. So I’m so grateful that you flagged this finding that children are a lot less likely to transmit to adults. I’m utterly exhausted and completely demoralised. I don’t have a helpful husband and I hit a real low this week. I’ve literally had the fleeting thought more than once that maybe being taken down by covid19 would at least be an end to this cruel and unusual form of Groundhog Day. We are fortunate, we have loads of outside space and don’t face financial ruin, but the relentless childcare, cooking, schooling, entertaining, cleaning and laundry has taken it’s toll. They say it takes a village to raise a child, as it always has, so this situation is highly unusual, and not simply a return to how women lived in the 1950s. I fear children will suffer because mothers will literally lose the ability to keep going if homeschooling restarts.
A mum and teacher says
Yes yes yes, get this in the Times and everywhere else too. This is a feminist issue, and yes it starts with maternity leave and equal maternity and paternity leave is ideally what’s needed to resolve the issue but can we wait that long? Let’s have a mums’ union, not all teachers would be against us. I am a teacher (in fact Esther I think your sister covered my maternity leave) and I am desperate to get myself and my kids back to school, it’s where we all should be.
Thank you Esther for writing this and to everyone who commented.
Deb Perelman, of th blog Smitten Kitchen, also did a good piece on the in The NY Times that basically said: you can’t have kids AND a job in these times, apparently. (And how wrong that is.) I totally agree with you and think that your point about relative suffering is the main reason this hasn’t been talked about more yet. In the second waves all over the world governments really need to reconsider this. I hope they do.
It’s been so interesting reading all of these responses from our lockdown in Melbourne where we are going through a second wave. We have just returned to remote learning for Term 3 after doing it for most of term 2. WE only managed 4 weeks back onsite at school. It has been interesting to see how schools have responded (particularly for under 12yo’s). They are now asking for less work from the kids and the work is much more open ended to allow for parents who don’t have the time or inclination to teach kids but to also allow for parents who do. Childcare, kids of essential workers and this time Special Needs/High Needs kids are allowed on site at school plus the last 2 years of school (Yr 11/12) for those in high school. Asking for hundreds of thousands of kids to be back at school and travelling to school is not the answer in a pandemic. Experiences in places with second waves like Melbourne or Israel show that the virus easily infects those at school, particularly in high school but also many in childcare. Leading to a yoyo school experience which is impossible to manage with work demands due to the need to isolate so many students every time a school reports a case. Masks need to be mandatory for all kids who are old enough to wear them (over 7?) and for all teachers. To all the women who are clearly at the end of their tether, I totally feel your pain. Question – what can we do to make it better? A full page ad in the times to appeal to all in society to support Mum’s better?? Mum’s need to be supported. If not by their significant others then by the rest of society. Our downfall is the downfall of the next generation. Love your work Esther – get on it and pitch the article!!
But, if it’s true that children don’t die from the virus, or transmit it onto adults, why not have them at school? Of course, it can’t be a 2019-style free-for-all, but if masks and hand sanitiser works, can’t the travel to and from school be made safe?
Having read more on this in a medical journal I think the evidence points to young children not spreading it to adults (primary age) but the older children get the more ‘efficient’ they are at spreading it. I haven’t heard of any schools in our area thinking of not opening (we are in Kent) but despite all the staggered starts etc there are still huge groups of parents congregating at the gate of the school in our village which will probably be more likely to spread it than the children. I’m terrified of a second lockdown, my kids are still tiny so the schools don’t affect me but I’d love playgroups to reopen. I can’t bare the thought of being locked up again in the winter.
This is from NPR.com ‘a top health official in Victoria, Australia, cautioned that child-to-child transmission is “more apparent” than was previously understood, as more kids have started to be tested.’ Certainly the list of schools that have had to close recently due to outbreaks are a mile long. One school had over 180 infected students.
Yes Esther – we need you to get this in The Times 🙂 x
I don’t have children and lead a charmed life but even I knew that it was all going to be on the women when the lockdown came. Esther, this is an amazing piece and I urge you to pitch it to The Times because mothers need your voice at the moment. Despite knowing that mothers must have been having it hard, I really had no idea just how hard it has been for you all, all you wonderful women who have carried so much for so long.
Katie Nicholson says
I went back to work after mat leave, to a promotion (yay), then two weeks later we locked down. Covid has made my workload pretty much double. We had the baby at home with us and juggled her throughout the day which worked ok and I think my husband would say we did 50/50. But I do wonder if he thinks food arrives in the house by magic, nappies just appear and the endless night time waking has just gone away (it very much hasn’t). This has ended up being more moany than I intended – I agree so much with what you and others have said, emotional labour is real. There was a really good piece in the ST Style a few weeks ago about emotional labour, written by a bloke called Matthew Fray who’s written a book and looks like he’s making some cash about training men not to make the same mistakes as him!
Oh yes I love that Matthew Fray
Another childless but sympathetic female reader here. On the subject of dads not being as involved as they need to be, there was a brilliant article in the Guardian last weekend. I thought it was going to be about the difficulty of raising a child with 2 homosexual fathers but instead he uses that angle to show how different and tougher it is for women because of society’s expectations even in the 21st century.
Thank you we all really appreciate your empathy and support! Feels less like we are MAD
A Scottish reader says
Scotland is taking a distinctive approach – no doubt in part because of its female leader, sex-balanced cabinet and female scientific advisers such as Devi Sridhar. Many aspects of lock down easing have been delaying in order specifically to prioritise the reopening of schools
Frustrated facilitator says
This is really interesting. Thank you Esther for raising this issue on behalf of mothers. I find it’s a broad issue centred around the fact that we are viewed as facilitators. It falls on us to support the economy (as we are not viewed as valuable to society unless we are contributing to tax) yet we are held responsible for facilitating the practical and emotional wellbeing of all the family including both sets of parents and their needs alongside those of our children and pets. Where is our support? Unfortunately I’ve dealt with this for years having a child with special needs and no option other than to just get on with it. We need a lot more representation and it’s up to us to put a halt to the idea we must achieve all we set out to do perfectly in order to be recognised. We aren’t the ones failing our children, we are doing all we can. We are so conditioned to striving for the perfect lifestyle, house, clothes, Insta ready image we really have to let go of that ideal and accept that whatever we are able to do is good enough. If my hair is a mess and my floor is filthy, my son has spent far too many hours online but I’m contributing to raising the alarm that this situation is unsustainable and unacceptable then I’m ok with that. Be our voice Esther, you have access to channels of communicating this message far wider than many of us.
What you describe in your excellent post does not surprise me one bit. In the class whatsapp group for a class of 29 children there are only 9 dads who even joined the group and they very rarely comment on anything. My husband feels too silly to participate as it is seen as “for mums”.
Ack. I have felt at times that I have been hanging on by a very frayed thread. My mum died just before lockdown, then schools and nursery closed so my 2 and 6 year olds were at home with us, then my work furloughed everyone in my team except me and also said I couldn’t outsource any work. My husband and I both work 4 day weeks and ordinarily we are pretty 50:50 or in fact he probably does a bit more of the housework side of things, and I do more of the logistics/food/meal planning/school stuff. We had to split our work into shifts for the three days that we both work so one would look after the children in the morning and the other in the afternoon and we’d both work in the evenings, then both work like mad on the one day each we have that the other is off with the kids.
This was just about manageable although highly stressful, and then he got Covid so we were trapped in the house for weeks with barely any food deliveries available (family don’t live locally although my dad bless him offered to drive up the M5 in the height of lockdown with food supplies), and I was still working like a mad thing and trying to piece together home schooling for the 6 year old from 48 million twitter links the school was tweeting a day. And then having to phone an ambulance because of husband’s Covid chest pains (thankfully he was ok. And the children and I didn’t catch it which does make me more reassured about schools reopening in that they were in close proximity for weeks to someone with it and didn’t get poorly). The food thing I have found particularly stressful – trying to plan meals up to two weeks ahead with fussy children and an ill husband and no idea when we might next get a food delivery. Thankfully at least that seems to have eased up but as someone said above, what was equal before lockdown very much seems not now – it was totally all consuming for a few weeks. And all the home schooling has fallen to me (my husband and daughter argue like mad if he tries to do it), plus all the downloading, printing of a million worksheets, turning the conservatory into a (chilly) classroom that of course they never went in.
I am a parent governor at my daughter’s school (I thought it would be less stressful than the PTA HAHAHAHAHA) and we were having weekly meetings about whether/when/how to reopen back in May. Schools have been left with hundreds of bits of conflicting guidance (e.g. children should be in bubbles of max 15 so spread into different classrooms, but you shouldn’t operate a part time or rota system – I doubt there are many schools with double the classrooms they actually need), with frightened parents and staff to manage so it has not been easy for them either by any means. The government guidance seems to have been pretty unrealistic and also as you say no one is speaking up for the mums anywhere that matters. The ONS published this article this week which shows that women have been taking on much more of the childcare responsibilities during Covid – but will anyone in govt actually listen? https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/parentinginlockdowncoronavirusandtheeffectsonworklifebalance/2020-07-22
Anyway this is a stream of consciousness but it does feel good to get it out there and also reassuring that other people have found it hard too. The whole experience has cemented my existing belief that I would never ever homeschool by choice! Also that I do enjoy my job but not when I have more work and less time to do it in. Thank you Esther for articulating it (and giving us space to do so as well) and your repetition that suffering is not relative – however hard one has it it’s always the default to think ‘but X has it much harder’ and actually that’s not the point is it.
Nicola Underdown says
Office for National Statistics posted this blogpost yesterday which provides some statistical basis for some of the conclusions that we appear to be reaching independently… https://blog.ons.gov.uk/2020/07/22/parenting-under-lockdown/
If you would like some counterpoint of course the United States is content to provide it for you, we keep losing tiny children and it’s very upsetting. That is probably because our public health is terrible in general however.
Personally I am on the side of “it seems that COVID risk picks up somewhere around 11 or 12, which is also about the age where you might leave a child to supervise themselves for several hours without it being a human rights abuse”. Before we had to fully close because things are so absolutely out of hand, one of our local school systems planned to reopen school buildings exclusively for under-12s and simply mail everyone else a laptop and hope they got on with it. The school system was going to use the space that all those gangly tweens and teens usually take up and spread the little children out over the entire campuses – so fewer kids per hallway, fewer per toilets, fewer breathing on each teacher, etc. etc. I thought this was genius but then my state lost control of the whole thing & also decided bringing the universities back online was more important, so everyone’s off home again – which means about half of the kids under 12 are just minding each other. Complete and total nightmare.
Of course any child dying is a horrific thing, and it does seem US has higher rate of child deaths than comparable countries (likely, as you say, because of poor general public health). But it seems that it is still extremely rare for a child to die of Covid. From a Canadian TV news summary (here: ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/how-deadly-is-covid-19-for-children-here-s-what-we-know-1.5023528).
‘More than four per cent of COVID-19 cases in the United States have been fatal, but only about 0.2 per cent of patients under the age of 17 have died. In the United Kingdom, those figures stand closer to 15 per cent and 0.15 per cent.
A study of 100 children who contracted the novel coronavirus in Italy found that none of them died, even though more than 14 per cent of all known COVID-19 cases in the country have been fatal. A comprehensive study from Europe found a COVID-19 mortality rate in children of less than one per cent. In China, only one of the first 2,135 pediatric patients to have contracted the virus later died. Researchers from Ontario concluded that it is “rare” for children to die after contracting COVID-19 in high- or middle-income countries.’
I guess we’ll see more as this thing progresses but I’m increasingly convinced opening schools (with obviously precautionary measures in place) is essential if we are going to have anything like a functioning society.
Thank you so much Esther for articulating this, and please please get it into The Times – they should be doing this stuff. I’m so ashamed of our governments attitude to getting kids back in school, because it impacts women so fundamentally. I’m 54, so no school age kids anymore, however at the beginning of lockdown two of my sons came back from uni, my husband went straight into 10 hour days on zoom, and my father in law who is 92 arrived for the duration. I did really feel like I went back to the ’50’s just trying to keep food in the fridge, while running a cross between a student hostel and care home. My husband never learnt to cook (I should have trained him from Day 1 but Failed) and my sons both had uni exams and were studying full time. So not a lot of help there until mid June. I am eternally grateful I didn’t have to home school children and I’m deeply sympathetic for those who did, but I’d like to put in a word for older mums please; most of my friends are similarly sandwiched between older kids and ailing parents. I got made redundant at the end of May but barely had a moment to process that, the thinking seems to be that I should be grateful to have the extra time….. I’m just exhausted and the attitude still seems to be that I’ll do it all because I’m Mum.
Mother over the edge says
My husband is amazing and does do a lot HOWEVER I’m on maternity leave having had pneumonia and a C-section before lockdown it was already a mental health rollercoaster . It has been impossible to school eldest as point blank refused after week 3 of lockdown, school were less than helpful when I voiced concerns over child’s mental health. One gift of a zoom call in 4 months.
Husband is a key worker and technically if not on Mat leave so am I. However school had no key worker places immediately available after Mat leave and if schools went back eldest would not be in yr group but stay in a kworker bubble without friends etc.
Gave up on school work and tried to get info into eldest through apps/tv/word games/reading. Meanwhile baby (who is nuts, literally mental NUTS) becomes more and more glued to me. Now we have separation issues- she cries if anyone goes near her. Childminder recommended I socialise baby…. pretty sure that’s not a social distance exercise. This makes me very anxious.
Now Mat leave is over and I’m on annual leave, I need to do a stupid amount of paperwork during my leave to catch up and be prepared for return to work… with both kids at home (10 months and 9yrs) and husband at work. It’s impossible.
Job is better paid than husbands but as I’m part time it’s not significant. As I was reading this article husband came to office when he got back from his more money job said “yeah so catch up later then” in a sarcastic tone…. like he thinks I’m messing about on candy crush rather than returning to a shitstorm with 3 years worth of possible Covid situation plans to make for my work….. (yes really)
Mental health check in with myself next year after a vaccination (please please) because god knows when I’ll actually be able to process what’s happened and mourn the loss of another maternity leave…. eldest is obsessed with social distancing and cries if anyone is within a metre.
I get it we are in the same storm different boats… but I guarantee when I return to work the first thing on people’s lips will be “did you have a good year off, you’re so lucky”
Mother Over the Edge, same storm different boats is such a good analogy. I have friends (furloughed, no kids) who managed to be bored, who are amazed when I say I haven’t worked so hard for years. There’s a real split there.
Nikki A says
Esther – this is a terrific piece, thankyou so much for saying all the things I and so many have been thinking. I have worked flat out as lawyer through lockdown while my husband was furloughed. It was fine at the start but as he went back to work and I was at home, I started to unravel. I could not do remote court hearings while the kids rioted, the dog barked, everybody just constantly staring at me because they want something. I can cope with being a mum and a wife if I have the escape of my work life and work identity to balance that. Without my work life and socialising that goes with that, I feel like my identity has just gone, and I feel like an empty shell. I cannot look at the four walls of my sitting room in silence any more..
it’s not working from home, it’s living at work, but without any of the perks of office life.
Emma L says
I read this a few days ago and so many bells rang, I am just getting a chance to reply now. I forwarded it to all my mum friends, all struggling to work, run a household, educate/entertain their children. And you’re right, no one advocates for us, no one wants to hear it. Because hearing it means taking it on board and making change, which will inconvenience men, and they just don’t want it. To those who say it’s a husband issue, I say NO! It’s a cultural issue that allows men to believe what they do is acceptable. Exhausted mums across the land cannot take on another battle of enacting cultural change when it comes to husbands/partners. We’re doing our best to make our sons do better and our daughters not accept less. And that’s on top of the laundry, the dishwasher, the meal planning, the food shopping, the elderly relative checking in with, the September school timetable scheduling, the summer entertainment programme, the bed making, the hoovering, the WIPING, the generally setting the mood for the house, and that is before anyone has even turned on their work laptop and dealt with that shitshow. Please Esther, go forth and speak for us. All these comments are just a tiny reflection of how mum’s are doing. How many (like I almost did) read it, agreed, thanked the skies someone has articulated how we are feeling, but didn’t comment as they had NO FUCKING TIME!
I’m a key worker, my husband is the main breadwinner and the economic situation meant his job was at risk. So when the school said that they were only offering key worker spaces to dual key worker families there was an implicit assumption that the non-key worker would be able to merrily drop tools and home school. Hollow laugh. What it meant in reality was working or kids from 5am to 11pm every day, with the kids largely being left to it. school work and work-work having to be done at weekends as well as during the week. I genuinely feared for my sanity, and this was with a supportive husband who was doing his bit with the kids (although the bulk of laundry, cooking and food shopping still fell to me – i had to point out that there were no elves doing this before he started do some). My children being offered a part-time school place in June was genuinely one of the best moments of my life. I cannot and will not do this again. School holidays have started and I do not have a childcare plan for the whole holidays. We’ll carry on muddling through, but mentally I’m hanging everything on the kids going back full-time in September, and that if there is a future lockdown it will be shorter, with a better offer from the schools. If this doesn’t happen I know I will not be able to repeat March to May.
Jules C says
Just wanted to add a little note to the point about relative misery and hardship. Years ago I heard about a priest who told someone who was worried not only about a particular problem but at the fact they were worried about this when others were dealing with far worse. He said that although other situations might be worse for those people, you are having to deal with what you are dealing with and so that makes it harder for you. He was probably more eloquent than me but I often remind myself of this. You all sound like ruddy heroes to me x
Julia Rule says
I wrote to my MP using a cut down version of the Us for Them letter. It is mainly focussed on the impact on children but it also refers to parents needing to work.
Hi Esther, I also wanted to say thank you for this. I’ve watched with horror and felt incandescent with rage as the schools have stayed shut as everything else has opened up, and especially last week as Scotland is allowing children to play without social distancing which would make life so much easier for everyone. At first I was concerned just for my two primary school aged children, and the effect on their mental health through lack of school but as time went on it was also for my sanity. My husband is on the vulnerable list so we decided only I would leave the house meaning all shopping fell to me, he is also able to work full time from home and earns much more than me so my half time university lecturer work has had to be much more flexible and fit around trying to homeschool the children, or at least keep them meaningfully occupied for at least some of the time, while he has largely continued as normal and crucially as lots of your readers say, doesn’t do any of the emotional load of childcare (although he does take over in the evenings so I can work/shop etc). Luckily I didn’t have too much live remote teaching to do so I have been able to do what I had to for work and my employer has been pretty flexible and supportive. But I can’t do this again. From september my teaching will have to resume normally or online and I will not be able to do that with children running around at home. I’ve suffered periods of severe anxiety from burnout in the past and although after years of therapy I have lots of effective tools now to avoid this I have had to use them all in the past few months and have still not always managed to maintain equilibrium. I’m only coping now because the pressure to educate has gone in the holidays, but it is still a real challenge to keep myself well enough to keep looking after the children well through the summer. I’m not sure what the solution is, I can’t see the government saying that children are exempt from quarantine even if schools open as planned in september so at the very least I am expecting some disruption and perhaps part time school at least some of the time. However I’m going to take advice from here and work out a fairer distribution of work with my husband. Like others, he is very willing to help and we were a great team until our second child, who has been incredibly challenging and very very clingy to me which means I very much became the primary parent and have developed much more expertise in handling the harder childcare moments than he has. We’ve been working on this but as you say Esther I haven’t got the headspace to help him with this as well just now even though it would make my life easier in the long run. But reading your posts and all these comments has made me feel less alone, thank you. I’ve signed the usandthem letter and will also write to my mp. Here’s hoping for an improvement of some kind soon!
Laura Brown says
My husband is a headteacher and me a teacher and it has been pretty full on for him but as a result I have had to pick up everything else; homeschooling, working from home and at home for key worker children, cooking, cleaning, dealing with the emotional fallout from my children not being able to see anyone – it’s been hideous and frustratingly completely invisible. There has been a lot of celebration for him (warranted) and some serious radio silence for me. Exhausted.
My partner and I run our own small business and obviously (cringe) he had to take on all the day to day running, production and design of all projects.
“You’re lucky you can do that,” people keep saying to me…. yes very lucky I get to potty train, home school, cook, clean, take up baking and as you say pick up shoes from every corner of the house and garden…all day long.
Whilst a second wave doesn’t have much appeal in the slightest, I’m not sure I can mentally continue to be a wonderful little woman. My brain is melting and quite frankly, although I’m sure they’d never say it, my kids are sick of me.
I want my children and the extended community to be safe, schools are an important social and educational experience and it’s the one thing mothers just can’t pick up the slack of. We can all pass on our knowledge but kids need to be in a learning environment with their peers…the school of mum needs a enforced closure!
I am late to the party on this because… well because I’ve been DOING EVERYTHING. Wholeheartedly agree with everything said. But what I want to say here is two things, my two cents.
First, why do we always say ‘I’m lucky my husband is so helpful’ or ‘he’s really great but…’. It should be the STANDARD that things are PROPERLY DIVIDED. We shouldn’t be GRATEFUL for them doing BASIC TASKS. I regularly rage at my husband for ‘helping me out’ – the house is not solely my responsibility, you don’t get a medal for emptying the dishwasher. Or if you do, WHERE THE FUCK ARE MY FIFTY THOUSAND OF THEM. We really struggle here as we’ve always had a very traditional gender divide for what seemed to be logical reasons (commute, wage imbalance, his lack of any practical skill whatsoever). Now I feel as if it’s a huge con. And that everything that wasn’t on my plate turned out to have to farmed our externally so in lockdown it came back to me not to him/us. I know so many men who are living lockdown – no commute, extra free time… not picking up any domestic slack.
Second, how do I square the fact that I wanted to breastfeed my children with wanting equality in parenthood? How has choosing to have children TOGETHER ended up with this situation where I have all the downsides and he has none? Yet I would not give up the feeding. I know one couple (mum an academic and dad a barrister) who took shared parental leave and for the second six months the dad brought the baby to the mum to feed during the day. But that isn’t always going to be practical. And if you, as mother, do the feeding and take the time, you end up, as another commenter said, being the one who knows what to do because the dad just hasn’t been there. My husband says I fuss too much and micromanage but heaven forfend he or the kids ask for something and I haven’t got it!!!!!!!
God this is a long rant. Esther you opened a can of worms but it really needed opening.