4 April 2020

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

| Elka Wood
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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!

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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.

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!

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