For many working parents, the transition to working from home due to the pandemic may have been an exciting prospect. No more commuting. No annoying coworkers. More time with kids.
However, as the realities of this new working format set in, it became clear that the situation presented parents with many unexpected challenges. Additional responsibilities, no separation between work and family life, and strained workloads are now all part of day-to-day parenting, with a disproportionate amount of the burden falling to mothers.
Although the percentage of stay-at-home fathers has increased over the years, society still has a long way to go with evening out the balance of emotional labour that mostly lands on women. Men are undoubtedly capable of tasks like planning, scheduling, and remembering, but the assumption is that women will be better at it, and therefore they should do it. This invisible work takes additional energy that’s already spread thin across the many other responsibilities.
With all the additional considerations of life at home during a pandemic, such as arranging more activities, homeschooling, meal-planning and organizing celebrations to make birthdays still feel special, not to mention the delicate navigation of health decisions social isolation, the quantity of emotional labour has been amplified. Coupled with the physical work of house cleaning and grocery runs, keeping a family running is an enormous task for anyone, especially when layered on top of a professional job that’s continued through the pandemic.
While, of course, in an ideal world, labour would be balanced across partners, writer Dani McClain has an explanation for why the workload of a seemingly balanced household has slid back towards women during the pandemic. “In times of economic crisis, when decisions need to be made about the economic security of our families, the job that brings in more money takes priority,” she writes, taking into consideration that only 24% of women earn more than their husbands.
Mothers working from home are not only juggling their professional jobs and childcare responsibilities but everything in between. As Erin McCarthy et al. writes in the Washington Post, “They are homeschooling while working. They’re preparing lunches while working. They’re policing screen time while working — and dealing with the waves of guilt, stress or resignation that come with not doing any of those things particularly well.”
Some parents may even be working more during the pandemic than they were before, whether their jobs require it or they’re doing it out of economic necessity, which means less time spent with children. Conversely, McCarthy observes, “It is surreal for some of the women, who often found themselves feeling that their busy jobs kept them away from their children. Now, they are spending more time than ever with their kids — but this isn’t what they had in mind.”
For other mothers working either full- or part-time, they’re finding it hard to juggle work and parenting responsibilities, so they are considering quitting their jobs to focus on their family – a privilege not everyone can afford, especially single mothers who may not have that option.
Another challenge of working and parenting from home is that there’s no separation between work and family life. While there are things parents can do to help maintain that balance, at the end of the day, all that stands between an upset child and an important conference call is a door, if one is even so lucky.
While all this may sound bleak, life will eventually return to resemble what it was pre-pandemic, and this shift in the family work-life dynamic isn’t without its upsides. Busy parents may finally have a chance to reevaluate and refocus their priorities and be more mentally present around their families. Business leaders are looking into ways to improve their employees’ wellness. And without commutes, school lunches, extracurriculars and additional childcare, it’s a great time to pad the savings account. As with everything throughout this pandemic, the best way forward is to take it one day at a time.
 Vasel, Kathryn “When one partner makes more than the other,” CNN Money, 2015. https://money.cnn.com/2015/04/20/pf/couples-earnings-difference/index.html
 McCarthy, E., Gibson, C., Andrews-Dyer, H., Joyce, A., “A working mom’s quarantine life,” washingtonpost.com, 2020.