Colette Sheridan: Working mothers are sadly the collateral damage of Covid-19

The working mother’s nightmare looks set to continue with fears that hundreds of creches won’t reopen in the autumn, writes Colette Sheridan
Colette Sheridan: Working mothers are sadly the collateral damage of Covid-19

"Children need the routine of school, the consistency of tasks required of them, the school rules as laid down by their teachers and the important opportunities for socialisation with peers." Picture: Stock

THEY say it takes a village to rear a child — but, as parents have discovered, it will take a vineyard to homeschool one.

Such are the levels of stress caused by juggling one’s paid job at home, trying to educate the kids at the kitchen table, and keeping on top of housework and cooking, that it’s no wonder wine consumption is seen as a way of coping.

It’s not, of course, but working mothers (for it is that cohort that is bearing the brunt of Covid-19) are going to reach for the vino (if they can find the time) to self-medicate.

Who would willingly sign up for serious multi-tasking that can start early in the morning and continue right into the night, between preparing meals, overseeing homework and catching up with work emails?

Working mothers used to fret about having it all, whether it was possible to have a family in tandem with an interesting career. Now, it’s about trying to do it all because working mothers have no choice.

They are the collateral damage of Covid-19 — that sneaky virus whose tentacles are far-reaching, wrecking equilibrium and turning a woman’s lot into a nightmare.

While working fathers try to do their bit, they are probably not the ones that clean the bathroom, wash the floors and console small kids who’ve hurt themselves, in between working at a laptop. That’s because women’s paid work is generally not seen as important as that of their partners. Often, it pays less.

Now, the working mother’s nightmare looks set to continue with fears that hundreds of creches won’t reopen in the autumn.

The childcare sector (notoriously expensive for parents but badly paid for staff) has already received €75m in State supports. It will need another €150m to prevent widespread closures.

Since the start of the pandemic, some 180 childcare providers have shut down and more are expected to close their doors. It is a major crisis, one that disproportionately affects mothers - not to mention the children. Now that we live in a strange new world where careers are conducted on the breakfast counter after the bread and cereal crumbs have been wiped away and where children can wander into the kitchen while you’re trying to hold a Zoom meeting, it’s all about compromise. But parents can only be stretched so far.

There’s the worry about whether schools can fully reopen in September. If not, then mothers will have to resume supervising and/or teaching their kids. I’m sure they recoil in horror when the term ‘blended learning’ is bandied about, as if it were something natural and desirable. It’s not. It’s a new concept in this country which does not sit well with many parents.

After all, they never signed up to becoming teachers on top of their own jobs. And then there’s the children and their important needs which are being overlooked as the powers-that-be try to imagine a new world order.

Children need the routine of school, the consistency of tasks required of them, the school rules as laid down by their teachers and the important opportunities for socialisation with peers.

This barmy business of toddlers sitting on their mothers’ laps as they speak to a colleague through a screen is really not ideal. Some would call it unprofessional. In truth, it is multi-tasking taken to its ultimate conclusion. I’ve seen a clip on TV of a mother doing her job while her baby gurgled on her lap, not knowing that it is the cause of so much consternation.

According to a survey by CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) Ireland, organisations that were asked what issues are being highlighted by their staff during the pandemic, said 65% of employees had concerns around childcare. And some 45% had worries about physical and mental health issues to do with working from home. We are living in a time of severe anxiety and one wonders how we’ll retain our sanity and maintain balance in our working lives. And that’s not even addressing the stark reality of people who have lost their jobs.

We all try to be resilient and the willingness of employers to allow their staff work from home is to be welcomed. In theory, this should open the world of work to mothers, single parents and people with disabilities.

But the director of CIPD Ireland, Mary Connaughton, has warned that there is a “danger that working from home could become feminised.” In other words, it could be seen as less important than office work. And then there’s the isolation that comes from being at home all day without adult company. The song about the wheels on the bus going round and round might amuse children but too much of that malarkey will have mothers reaching for the vino.

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