looking after kids is a full-time job’

How has it taken a global pandemic for us to realise how much stay-at-home mums do?

Hear that? It’s the collective sound of pennies dropping across the world. Yep, now that parents are forced, or urged, to keep children home from schools and daycare due to the virus that must not be named, a strange phenomenon has occurred. People are realising just how much work a stay-at-home mum actually does.

It seems that no matter how many studies and articles are penned on the topic or stats are released on the true cost of unpaid domestic labour, it’s almost like the message has been falling on deaf ears for decades. Enter a global pandemic.

Now as ‘breadwinners’ are working from their family tables and kids are making cameos in Zoom conference calls, the patriarchy is starting to wise up to the fact that looking after the kids is not lattes and playdates. It’s a 24/7 job that is exhausting, at-times mentally draining and throughout centuries has been, quite frankly, thankless.

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WFH is no breeze, especially with little tots running around

In a Reddit thread one working mums pleaded to her employer:

“I originally felt lucky that my employer was offering a WFH option and allowing those of us with kids (who are forced home by closed schools and daycares) to work around them,” wrote @u/pinkfroggie on a thread titled “This is not working for us”.

“But now I feel tricked. It’s not possible to adequately care for a two-year-old while having to work at the same time. I cannot take calls half the day with a kid in my lap. I cannot send emails when he’s constantly commandeering my keyboard… Sorry, employer. You’re going to have to bear some of the brunt of this situation, too.”

Why does this situation not work? Why are employers surprised that productivity has decreased? Why are parents on the brink of nervous breakdowns? Because at the root of this situation is the fact that looking after a child is a full-time job. Why have we been so blind to this before?

Caring for kids, like any role, has a set of KPIs. Deadlines must be met and output is crucial. It’s not about putting them in a corner with a set of crayons. It’s about teaching them about the world, nurturing them, making them feel safe and loved.

It’s also about practical things, they need to eat, they need to practise good hygiene, they need to wear clothes that are hopefully cleaned. Like any business, child rearing has moving parts that all need to work together.

My best friend has recently found herself looking after three kids without the occasional respite of pre-school. Add the stress of COVID-19 and she is shouldering more of the domestic burden as her husband’s workload has increased.

Her youngest is four- months and the eldest just turned five, and her day makes my full-time job seem like a walk in the park (1.5 metres from others, of course).

While I meet story deadlines and manage staff, she plans her day into 30 minute blocks at a time. 8.30am is Transformers and mermaids. 9am she’s starting teaching lessons on Canada, as her five year old “wants to learn more about the country this week”, 10.30am is morning tea followed by obstacle courses.

After a well deserved lunch, she does French lessons and music concerts. The afternoon is spent scootering in the backyard. Throughout this she breastfeeds her four-month old and attempts to get her to nap in the bassinet – which any mum knows isn’t the easiest of tasks. Somewhere in between, she also has to cook, clean and wash.

She admits that the TV is a lifesaver for necessary downtime but kids get bored of anything after a while so that’s why she likes to have a plan. “I have full responsibility for them so I need to make sure their days are well rounded,” she responds. “Exercise, fresh air, creative play and learning is all up to me which is a daunting task. The more effort I put in the more they learn and we have fun. It doesn’t always go to plan but we try our best and roll with it.”

And while a nine to five work day normally ends at five pm, her’s doesn’t.

“At 8pm two kids are finally asleep. I drink my precious glass of wine and try to catch up with my husband. At the moment I’m having dates with Netflix as he’s working,” she says.

“At 9.30pm I’m normally joined by a baby who doesn’t want to miss an episode of Love Is Blind. We both fall asleep at 10.30pm So tired, I’m lucky if I moisturise or floss.”

This article originally appeared on whimn.com.au and is published here with permission.

More essential coronavirus reading:

Read up on what the government lockdown means for you, understand why Aussie doctors are up arms, be aware of the ‘hidden symptom’ of COVID-19 carriers, prepare yourself for the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, get your sweat on at home with these free online workouts before reviving your over-washed hands with this DIY balm, and then console yourself with these unexpected joys.