Health & Wellbeing

Parents asked to do “three jobs at the same time” during COVID-19 isolation

Elka Wood5 April 2020
A mother and son walking on a beach.

Parenting can be isolating enough without enforced physical isolation as well. Photo: Supplied.

With daycares and schools reducing their capacity or moving online in response to COVID-19 regulations, parents are finding themselves with a triple-whammy situation – expected to work from home, parent full-time and deliver lessons to school-age kids.

“It’s literally doing three jobs at the same time: working, parenting and trying to teach,” says Bemboka mum Paula Mathewson.

While many people are enjoying taking a break from busy routines and making the most of much-needed time to connect with their kids, some parents are (understandably) only just holding it together and report feeling anxious about being home.

Part of the problem could be that the parenting styles and techniques we have developed for modern life are not suited to the situation we now find ourselves in.

We hear all the time from our parents’ generation that kids were expected to play unsupervised for most of the day so mum could keep the household running. But as parents shift towards full-time work, we spend less time with our kids and so can play with them, say yes more and prioritise their needs while we are with them.

As a result, many kids don’t discover boundaries until they reach school age. Skills which require consistency, such as learning to use the toilet, are often learnt at daycare.

While the modern system kind of works, working and parenting is pretty intense, especially when there is so much expectation about the quality of time spent with the kids and most parents can tell you of times they felt trapped and alone.

The physical isolation we’re experiencing now only amplifies these feelings.

A mum at my kid’s school in Bega, Sofia Elek, put it into words: “Don’t forget the parents for who this situation further entrenches feelings of worthlessness. Yet more hours in which to fail.”

The burden is especially great for single-adult households. Elly Goldberg, who lives in Bega with her three teenage kids, says she doesn’t feel good about leaving them alone when she goes to work.

“I don’t like them being unsupervised because they end up on screens all day,” she says. “But it’s also an opportunity for them to self-regulate and practice responsibility.”

We didn’t evolve to parent alone and many of us are feeling the loss of contact with grandparents and community assets such as playgroups, libraries, playgrounds and, especially, the institutions we hand our kids over to, that enable us to take a breath, complete a task and do some much-needed physical and mental self-care.

Merimbula mother Keziah Muthsam is finding the experience is giving her a new appreciation for her children’s teachers.

“It’s a lot more difficult than I ever imagined,” she says. “With four kids, one in year 3, one in year 2 and one in kinder, plus a two-year-old and working, I have never felt so overwhelmed.”

Many parents have told me they feel at a loss when a child refuses to do schoolwork, and that they don’t have the authority to ensure the work gets done, even though their teachers say they comply at school.

Parents who see their kids for a few hours every day are going to parent differently to those doing it full-time.

Being a playmate all day is not sustainable, especially while trying to work and run a household. Neither is serving your kids every meal and cleaning up afterwards, unless they are infants.

Obviously, there is going to be some fallout with the current situation. Parents, go easy on yourselves as you reset your boundaries with your kids. It’s emotionally impossible to parent the way we have been for three hours a day, for 24 hours a day.

To survive this time, we need to channel the 1950s and expect that kids will help more with household tasks.

We might need to tell them, “go outside and don’t come back until dinnertime,” [if we have a safe outside place they can go.]

Spending a few hours poking a stick in the dirt will eventually lead to magic, creative play but for kids who are used to having busy, scheduled lives, it might be upsetting as well.

They might be resistant and tell us numerous times that it is unfair and that they are bored. Hold steady, you are doing a great job.

Remember you are not alone and talk to a fellow parent every day (from a distance, of course).

Our kids are more resilient than we think – as are we!

What's Your Opinion?

24 Responses to Parents asked to do “three jobs at the same time” during COVID-19 isolation

Meg Meg 8:48 am 08 Sep 20

Well this doesn’t reflect the struggles that are just going on and on here. My 8 year old WILL NOT do distance school work without a titanic struggle and Ive given up. I have a full time job and we are going insane. So school work can go shove itself up a drain pipe, Im done, we got to eat.

Stuart Hughes Stuart Hughes 9:37 am 08 Apr 20

This is what being a parent is all about .

Jennifer Jennifer 12:15 am 06 Apr 20

Well said,Elka! All parents need to know they are not alone and they are doing a good job. This time isn’t easy for anyone, hang in there!

Isabel Robinson Isabel Robinson 10:20 pm 05 Apr 20

If you have teenage kids, I think you should ask them to nominate a minimum of four hours/5 days in which they will work. Ask them to pick the hours they think will best suit their concentration. School hours do not always coincide with the kid's peak time. Also have a place that is designated only for doing school work. They sit in that spot only for their designated hours, unless they want to do more schoolwork. Have a quiet chat about how important it is that they don't fall behind - it's their future they're messing with if they fail to make an effort. Then you get them onto google classroom or wherever the teachers have set up their lessons and you walk away. Quietly reward them if they make an effort. Much more quietly show your disappointment if they don't. Remember their lives have been turned upside down, too.

I also think kids can learn to put spreads and fillings on sandwiches from around 4 years of age. Just have whatever requires a sharp knife either off the menu or pre-cut. Kids aren't incapable. And they can put their dirty plates etc on the sink and things back into the fridge from at least that age, too.

I think primary school kids have their lessons on-line, too. Don't help them unless they ask, after letting them know you will do that if they ask. I don't think kids expect parents to be their school teacher, just their back-up when required.

Heather N Chris Penglase Heather N Chris Penglase 7:35 pm 05 Apr 20

People that have no idea what parents that are working from home, dealing with the needs of small children and trying to supervise school lessons do not have the right to judge those that are trying their best to get through each day. This is a trying time for everyone so be nice or do not comment.

Gail Hayes Gail Hayes 3:47 pm 05 Apr 20

Welcome to parenting🤗

Lisa Ashurst Lisa Ashurst 3:28 pm 05 Apr 20

I know families who were doing exactly this - successfully and sans drama - decades ago.

Linda Melhuish Linda Melhuish 3:11 pm 05 Apr 20

The teachers are delivering the lessons, not the parents.

    Amanda Penglase Amanda Penglase 8:41 am 07 Apr 20

    Linda Melhuish Really? I’ll tell my 6 year old I’m not helping him anymore then 🙄

    Emma Chan Emma Chan 6:49 am 08 Apr 20

    Linda Melhuish The teachers are trying. It's not always working that well. Sit my child in front of zoom and she just gets frustrated at the poor sound quality and takes off.

    But, she's been reading, writing, learning fractions and time tables, baking, gardening, doing crafts, exercising, and learning more about things that interest her with us.

    Parents are delivering.

Alimike Smith Alimike Smith 3:03 pm 05 Apr 20

As an exteacher I’d say ditch any schedule.

Work around your work and your kids. Do what’s best for 1. Your income 2. Everyone’s mental health.

Remote learning and homeschooling are definitely not the same.

Mel Mack Mel Mack 1:03 pm 05 Apr 20

schools are not asking parents to deliver lessons; schools are providing lessons that are suitable for remote learning

    Gina Woodward Gina Woodward 1:16 pm 05 Apr 20

    Mel Mack exactly. As some of my teacher friends said last week, this isn’t homeschooling!! But yes some of these parents (I am not one) will have new levels of rules and supervision that they probably aren’t used to juggling.

    Carleen Jones Carleen Jones 8:09 pm 06 Apr 20

    not so! We had some online learning tasks provided today for the first time by school for one primary school child. The other one is still waiting. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to work & inventing a very modest school program. This week is supposed to be the trial week to refine online delivery for next term.

    Mel Mack Mel Mack 8:42 pm 06 Apr 20

    Carleen Jones one example. not the norm.

    Amanda Penglase Amanda Penglase 8:44 am 07 Apr 20

    Mel Mack I’m interested to know how you think remote learning actually works? Obviously no idea...

    Mel Mack Mel Mack 8:55 am 07 Apr 20

    Amanda Penglase actually I'm a teacher with 26 years experience. My school is about to embark on remote learning, part of which I am steering. I also have considerable experience writing curriculum for three subjects at five levels of learning for an online learning company. As you contend: no idea.........🤔

    Amanda Penglase Amanda Penglase 9:14 am 07 Apr 20

    Mel Mack are you a parent on the receiving end of online learning? Our teachers are doing an amazing job and have been proactive in delivering online learning. However I’m required to be actively involved. My son is 6. Your credentials are irrelevant. I’m not sitting my 6 year old in front of a computer from 9-3 unsupervised and unassisted 🤔

    Emma Chan Emma Chan 6:43 am 08 Apr 20

    Mel Mack Schools are trying to, but it isn't always working. Parents are delivering.

Gina Woodward Gina Woodward 12:59 pm 05 Apr 20

Really interesting article plus comments in this thread Meg & Jan

Tom de Plume Tom de Plume 11:53 am 05 Apr 20

Yep. That's what parenting is: LOTS of multitasking but really only one task: raising good humans.

Hilary Webster Hilary Webster 9:01 am 05 Apr 20

A very good article, Elka. I say ‘yes’ to giving the children chores to do, appropriate to their age. This will help them in later life when they grow up and are running their own homes, so is definitely a form of learning.

Robyn McTavish Robyn McTavish 8:29 am 05 Apr 20

I have taught for 30+ years and am now retired. I taught K 1 and 2 for most of my career. Together with my husband also a teacher we worked and raised 3 children. At one point in my work life history I taught young children, raised 3 children and completed a Bachelor of Education by distance ed. It was tough but together as a family we managed. Parents need to be congratulated on how they help their children. It will always be a challenge but one worth putting the effort into. Try not to let the situation get you down. The long term benefits far out weigh the short term struggle. Believe in yourself and work as a team and you will succeed.