If lockdown has taught employers anything, it’s that raising children is a round-the-clock responsibility.
As a working mum, life has always been a juggle and I’m certainly not alone in feeling this way. Carefully balancing the school run with homework, after school activities, clubs and playdates, whilst fitting in a ‘part-time’ job has just got a million times worse! Ok…that’s a slight exaggeration…but it’s not far off.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Covid-19 crisis has caused drastic changes in most parents’ work lives, particularly for mums. The pressure on parents’ time is huge, but unsurprisingly it’s women who still take on the majority of the childcare and home-schooling, while men’s time is less affected. Due to the pandemic, mothers are more likely to have quit or lost their job, or have been furloughed since the start of lockdown. Compared with fathers, they are also spending less time on paid work and more time on household responsibilities.
From speaking to other working women in a similar situation to me, this certainly rings true for many. I am far more likely to get interrupted throughout the day as I juggle schooling, organising family meals and housework and my work pattern is far more sporadic than my partner’s. He has the luxury of working upstairs in a dedicated office space with minimal interruptions, while I am downstairs, keeping one eye on my children and trying to keep two eyes on my computer screen…how is that even possible?
For many families where both parents are still working, the common factor appears to be that it’s the woman who reduces her working hours to manage to squeeze everything into the day. We are the ones who sacrifice deadlines and colleagues’ expectations for the good of the family, but if the pandemic has re-enforced anything, it’s that raising children is a round-the-clock responsibility.
As far as our careers are concerned, many working mums say they feel the need to play down the fact that their caregiving responsibilities would and should never impact the working day and commitment to their employer – but, during lockdown that lie has just been exposed. Children regularly feature on my video calls, interrupt meetings to ask for a drink, show a picture they’ve drawn or announce to everyone on the call they need a wee… much to the amusement of my co-workers; so whilst I might be left feeling embarrassed and apologetic, everyone at least now appreciates that parenting isn’t just confined to after-work hours.
Surely this reality can only be a good thing? The openness and transparency of home-working has helped change business owner’s opinions for the better about the real value of a working mother and what she can bring to your business. However, for some reason – even in 2020, when it comes to parenting, there still seem to be an expectation that the mother should (still) have the children for most of the time at home, while the father works more hours. Perhaps this is more about who is the main breadwinner than anything, but even so, the balance is still way off.
It’s therefore no surprise to know that half of working mums say Covid-19 has damaged their career*. With the majority of schools not set to re-open until September, the long-term impact of what started off as a short-term situation has now become far more permanent, resulting in women being pushed into taking unpaid leave, voluntary furlough or redundancy.
Charity and organisation Pregnant Then Screwed polled almost 3,700 pregnant women and mothers to understand the real impact of Covid-19 on their careers. One woman, who spoke to Pregnant Then Screwed for the survey, said she felt looking after her children while working from home would affect her career further down the line as her work was highly results orientated. She explained: “Clearly, my ability to build momentum with old and new clients has been slowed by the current situation.”
She added that issues caused by working flexibly around childcare had been compounded by a company culture encouraging overtime. She said: “I’m worried that I’m not doing enough with the children or enough work, or that I’m doing too much of everything and at risk of burning out.”
I can completely relate to this. I thought my ‘mum guilt’ was bad enough before lockdown and something I know many mums struggle with on a daily basis, but the pandemic has only exacerbated this further. This comes as welcome news has been announced on 29 June, that the government will aim to return all children to full time education in September, and at least recognises the long-term juggle of balancing it all. How this will be managed and what the impact will be of working in this fog of work-childcare for 6 months before then will only wait to be seen.