When we think back to the start of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic when parents were first faced with the challenge of juggling a full time job, home schooling, and childcare, did anyone really believe they could do it?
It doesn’t matter how you slice it and dice it, if you look at it practically, there’s no way it was going to work easily and here’s why.
A young child is awake for 12-14 hours in any 24h period. During that time they need more or less constant attention, until they are about 8 to 10 years old (unless you relent and give in to much more screen time than you’d normally tolerate…). That leaves a parent with no more than 10-12 hours of “me” time, during which they need to sleep (ideally 8 hours, as Matthew Walker explains in his best seller Why We Sleep), eat, groom, exercise, and… work!
So even at this practical level, the numbers aren’t stacking up. So what do parents do? They sleep less, and neglect themselves further by not exercising or otherwise looking after their mental and physical wellbeing. Even if you feel you can survive on only 5-6 hours of sleep (which according to Matthew Walker's studies, will put you in a perpetual state of legal drunkenness after two nights), that only leaves about 5-6 hours for work and that’s assuming you do nothing else!
What’s more, if you’ve ever actually tried to work after 10-12 hours of looking after children, you’ll know that by the end of the day you have nothing left in you. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
Childcarers who work in nurseries typically have their working hours limited to 35 hours a week and there’s a very good reason for it. It makes sense. It’s hard work, looking after children. With seven hours a day, that’s 30-40% less than what a parent’s full day looks like.
Even in the most privileged cases of two fully employed adults, who are not in fear of losing their jobs, it’s tough. Many have tried to share the burden by working in shifts to look after the children -- often at the expense of their relationship. Layer the mandatory homeschooling on top of that, and you’re at the brink of a revolt!
So, what are parents supposed to do?
There’s an underlying expectation that working parents are superheroes and should find creative ways to handle this on their own. Social media channels are bursting with suggestions - from games and creative projects, to virtual exercise classes and play groups. But just to go through all the options, create the weekly schedule, and keep your kids on track, you’d need a virtual PA.
And then to counterbalance the feelings of guilt and inadequacy parents are experiencing when faced with the impossible task of hitting it out of the park on all counts -- caring for and homeschooling their children while continuing to deliver professionally, allies and supporters are telling parents not to expect perfection and to lower their standards. Right...
One the one hand, that’s encouraging but working parents are merely getting through the day so if they are still expected to teach the entire school curriculum while maintaining their productivity at work, there needs to be some give and take when it comes to the expectations of the government and employers.
And when you dig further, parents are doomed when it comes to homeschooling as demonstrated by this conversation between a five year old and his mum: (child) “Mummy, I don’t have to follow all your rules. (mum) Why not? (child) Because you’re not my teacher!”
This is one example but parents across the UK (and the rest of the world) are dealing with this every day.
At myTamarin, we’ve been closely monitoring discussions on social media and parent forums, and we’ve also surveyed 100+ parents to find out how lockdown has really affected them professionally and personally.
“Government has failed us working parents”
Many parents have been extremely frustrated by the lack of guidance from the government when it comes to homeschooling. While most were in agreement with the precautionary measures taken to close schools, many are concerned about the lack of clarity on the amount of homeschooling they are expected to do. Under normal times, parents will be fined for taking their children out of school for a day, but there is zero guidance on what is deemed to be acceptable in terms of homeschooling under these current circumstances. Are parents expected to deliver a full curriculum, a few hours of homeschooling a day, or do they have the freedom to work out what’s best for their family? And does the answer to this question depend on the age of their children? Quite possibly yes. It’s just that there aren’t any answers for parents.
We have also observed a frustration around government guidelines for employers. Parents feel the government should have provided more guidance to employers on what they should be expecting from their employees who are parents during these times.
In the absence of such guidance, it’s up to each individual employer how they manage working parents.
“Employers are failing us working parents too”
While some working parents feel their employers have been supportive, many more disagree.
Given the lack of guidance from the government, it has been up to employers to adjust their expectations of parents (or not!). Some parents believe they should have been furloughed so they can devote all their time to childcare, and others who want to keep working feel there should be some leniency when it comes to productivity.
Furlough may work for some, but it isn’t necessarily the answer to everyone’s problems.
If your annual income is under £35,000 annually and you are furloughed you will pretty much be able to maintain the same level of income on furlough. But for higher income earners, often in management positions, it won’t work - for two reasons. First, they have responsibilities towards their staff and cannot just disappear. If they do, more jobs would be at stake, and indeed there could be no jobs to come back to once things begin to settle.
Furthermore, if working parents in more senior positions were to be furloughed, they would be taking huge pay cuts, much bigger than the standard 20% furlough cut. Imagine a person on a £80,000 annual salary; if they get furloughed, their income would decrease by more than 60%. That’s too much of a shock for a family to absorb. While it is true that such people are extremely fortunate to be in a position earning this amount in the first place, it doesn’t diminish from the fact that they have a lot to lose.
Positive reports of employers who seem to be handling the situation as best they can, include employers who have increased paid parental leave and prioritised those for furlough based on circumstance, and others are giving paid contingency leave to one parent, allowing them to be off with the children while the other continues to work.
At the other extreme, some parents who have access to paid emergency leave are reporting that their employers are not allowing them to use it for childcare. If this isn’t considered to be an emergency, then what is?!
This is a hard time for everyone but employers need to show empathy and compassion where they can. But we know that employers are struggling themselves. How do you adjust productivity expectations of working parents, but still deliver at the same level for your clients?
Women - back to 1950s housewives?
We have spent the last 50 years fighting for equality in the workplace and getting women into senior positions. Yet, all of this seems to be unravelling at a tremendous speed as it is mostly females who are now on double shifts.
Many parents, especially mothers, would never admit to childcare getting in the way of work. However, private family life has now been brought to the office. Or rather, the office has been brought into the home. Children have been popping up in the background of Zoom meetings and the realities of life as a working parent cannot be ignored.
As Melinda Gates recently put it, even before the pandemic, caregiving options were inadequate and expensive. Now, everything that already made life hard for working families is about to get worse. It’s no mystery who will bear most of the burden. It’s women. It’s always women. Even though most women now work full-time outside the home, they still spend two hours more each day on household tasks and caregiving, are 10 times more likely to stay home with their sick children and are nearly three times as likely as fathers to quit their jobs to take care of a family member. The data tell us that the unpaid caregiving work done by women in their households is, in fact, one of the biggest barriers they face to equal opportunity in the workforce. Post-pandemic, they risk falling even further behind.
Some bosses seem to hold very outdated views on male and female roles in the home. Frustrated working mothers have recounted stories of male bosses or members of their team declaring what a great job their wives are doing homeschooling. Does this mean we’ve gone back in time when it comes to equality? Has childcare become the woman’s responsibility again? And if so, it’s harder than it ever was as it seems they are now expected to hold down a full-time job too.
Guess what, this is causing resentment among female employees. Should they really be expected to handle homeschooling and be 100% productive at work? Something doesn’t quite add up here.
Childcare is a necessity for working parents and not an exception to the rule
One of the main things this unique situation has taught us is the importance of childcare can’t be overlooked, especially when it comes to working parents. Looking after an infant or toddler is a full time job in itself so parents can’t be expected to do another full time job on top of that without sufficient childcare in place.
According to myTamarin’s comprehensive survey of more than 200 nannies and their employers in April 2020, most parents’ ability to work was severely impacted by lockdown and the inaccessibility of childcare. On a scale of 1-10 (where 10 = my ability to work has been wiped out completely), 60% of parents report 8 or more, which means almost two thirds of parents either cannot work at all, or their ability to produce any work has been severely reduced.
Interestingly, around 15% of parents said their work has not been impacted at all. Further digging into the data suggests these are mostly parents who didn’t work before the outbreak. There are however a handful of multi-taskers amongst them who report being able to work from home while also looking after their children, but their children, they admit, are mostly older and hence much more self-sufficient than babies, toddlers and children in the early
Working parents are looking to the government or their employers to step in here. If they are expected to put in an eight hour day (or more) then they should be supported in some way. Suggestions ranged from making childcare fully tax deductible, to employers offering childcare as a benefit. And unless the country is in a state to backstop the economy shutting down, people need to keep working and that includes people who provide childcare.
We can no longer ignore the fact that many workers have children that need to be cared for. To ensure a fast and inclusive recovery, governments, business leaders and investors need to make caregiving a priority.
For a comprehensive report designed for employers, including specific quotes from working parents, and recommended solutions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information on childcare solutions for corporates, please see here.