Parents juggling work and home learning during lockdown report feeling tired and burnt out

 In Home News Section, Uncategorized

Sonja Volker, a mother of two from Western Sydney, is typical of many working parents struggling to balance home learning and earning an income during lockdown.

With an end to COVID-19 restrictions in Sydney and Melbourne seemingly weeks away, ‘Groundhog Day’ is grinding down those carrying the employee-parent burden.

“I’m exhausted. I never feel like I’ve done enough work, either at work or at home,” Ms Volker told ABC News Breakfast.

Each weekday morning, she and her husband prepare their daughter Victoria, 4, for daycare before switching focus to home learning for their son Nicholas, 6, who has Down Syndrome, and respective work meetings in their home office.

Often, she won’t complete her day as an IT consultant for a major bank until 11.30pm.

“My husband says I never make time to play, which is true,” Ms Volker said.

“It feels like it never ends.”

It’s a similar situation in Melbourne for Dr Anita Goh, an academic working in aging research.

With two primary-aged children learning at home, her most productive hours are now between 9.30pm and 2am, allowing a maximum five hours of sleep before starting all over again.

“It’s just what’s necessary, but I don’t think it’s sustainable,” she said.

“During the day, I am attempting to work and remote school as well as being the cook and the cleaner and the buyer of presents, and the monitor of when they need new shoes.”

When the pandemic hit, Dr Goh dropped her day of clinical work as a neuropsychologist because her academic work was easier to shape around the children’s home learning.

Her partner’s work didn’t change.

It’s a pattern showing up in data across the world – women dropping hours or out of the workplace altogether to manage home learning and childcare, while male partners’ careers are largely maintained.

Women adjusting more than men

A recent global study by consultancy firm McKinsey reported 23 per cent of female workers with young children considered leaving the workforce in 2020, compared to 13 per cent of men.

More women than men also considered downsizing their career, and reported more burnout and exhaustion than male counterparts.

“All of that has potentially long tail consequences,” says Danielle Wood, an economist and CEO of the Grattan Institute.

Grattan’s Women’s Work report details how women and men have both taken on more unpaid work in the home during the pandemic, but women have added more — on average, an extra hour to their existing load.

“My partner is very supportive, but in terms of who the children interrupt, it’s always me,” Dr Goh said.

While families in New South Wales are being strongly encouraged to keep young children home from childcare if they can, the situation is particularly acute in Victoria where there has already been more than 200 days in lockdown, and where childcare is now shut to all but children of authorised workers.

“More than 150,000 families are caught up in that at the moment and on average they are using 30 hours a week of care, so for those families who can’t send their children to care that is 30 hours on top of their normal load that they’re going to have to find each and every week while this is going on,” Ms Wood said.

The state government has also restricted use of babysitters, including grandparents, to families where both parents are authorised workers.

“I used to have a village but I don’t anymore,” said Dr Goh, whose mother used to look after her children one day a week.

What about single parents?

The challenge goes up another notch for single working parents.

“There are single mothers at breaking point working full-time and home schooling who can’t afford to lose their jobs,” says Jenny Davidson, CEO of the Council of Single Mothers and their Children.

“The only thing that can go is sleep or their child’s education.”

In Victoria, single parents aren’t automatically considered authorised workers.

Ms Wood said this must change so their children can attend childcare, and Ms Davidson agreed.

“If gardeners and builders are considered essential, then single mothers who are struggling to maintain paid employment should be supported to do so,” Ms Davidson said.

Is there a silver lining?

The new director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Mary Wooldridge, said the work-from-home revolution would ultimately have benefits for all parents.

“The fact that both men and women have had to work flexibly from home presents a significant opportunity to normalise that into the future,” she said.

“Enlightened employers are recognising the significant challenges women are facing currently and allowing and supporting that flexibility through this difficult time.”

Ms Wood said when governments begin to sequence the plan to reopen, schools and childcare needed to be at the top of the list.

“Both because of the benefits for children … but also because of the employment effects,” she said.

“Maybe these industries don’t have such a strong and vocal lobby group as some others, but I think it’s just so crucially important that we reopen these services.”

Meanwhile, parents, be kind to yourselves

Anita Goh and Sonja Volker had advice for parents in for the long-haul.

“Be kind to yourself, it’s OK for cleaning standards to fall because no-one is coming over anyway!” Dr Goh said.

“Remind yourself of the amazing resilience of kids, and also give your partner (if you are pandemic parenting together) the benefit of the doubt.”

Ms Volker said occasionally prioritising yourself is important; she tries to grab a coffee with her husband after they drop their daughter at kindergarten, so they have time to connect.

“Make sure you feed yourself to keep yourself in balance when challenges arise, and they will,” she said.

“Look for micro ways to bring you joy.”

(Original ABC Article)