Ruby Magpie founder speaks about balancing childcare and work
You don’t need us to tell you that lockdown has drastically changed pretty much everyone’s work lives. No doubt you have experienced such change for yourself. A recent study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has looked into how the lives of parents have been changed, as suddenly they are doing a lot more childcare than they used to, while simultaneously having to get on with their work. The coexistence of work life and family life has always been a balancing act for everyone, but it seems that the current crisis has brought even more challenges. We spoke to our founder, Suze, a mother of two and full time worker, about how she has managed.
The IFS report investigated how mothers and fathers are balancing work and family life under lockdown in two-parent heterosexual families. The study found that the pressure on parents’ time is immense, with parents doing on average 9 hours of childcare a day and 3 hours of housework. Among all parents, paid work now takes up an average of just 3 hours. Parents are also now often doing at least two activities at the same time.
When asked about whether she has enjoyed spending more time with her children, and how she balances her time, Suze said, “I have loved and hated having my children around over the past few months. I’ve loved being a proper mum; cooking their meals, reading their bedtime story, chilling out on the sofa, taking them out on bike rides. I have put them to bed every night and fed them breakfast every morning. These are such important times in the day for them and pre-lockdown, I often missed these if I had a call or a meeting after work in town. But on the other hand, I’ve been a bad mum…when work has been busy, I have not had the time to focus just on them. It means I have had to leave them to play on their own, do the homework on their own (which I have learnt they can’t), get ratty with them when they’ve interrupted a phone call or a Zoom interview. I now have one child back at school while the other is still home schooling. I thought it would be easier with one child at home but it is a double edged sword. I can spend more time with him doing homework, but he misses his brother being there and gets bored easier so that steals time back. Recently, there have been more tantrums. He’s lonely, he’s missing his friends, and that comes out as anger and bad behaviour. Again, that takes up a lot of time in calming him down and making him feel happier.”
According to the IFS report, mothers are more likely to have quit or lost their job, or to have been furloughed, since the start of lockdown. Those who are still in work are spending less time on paid work compared with fathers, but more time on household responsibilities. They are also doing fewer hours of uninterrupted paid work than fathers are, often combining paid work with childcare. While in 2014/15 mothers and fathers were interrupted during the same proportion of their work hours, now mothers are interrupted over 50% more often.
“My time is constantly interrupted even though my elder son is eight,” Suze said. “He is not self-sufficient. If I want him to watch the iPad all day then yes, he’s fine. But occasionally an hour of games on the iPad snowballs into a 4 hour stint, and of course I feel really guilty. He shouldn’t be watching an iPad for 4 hours solid but I need to work! I can’t leave him to do his homework on his own, he can’t make his own lunch and he won’t just go and get paper if he needs paper for art, he’ll ask me for help. It’s a juggling act, I end up getting up earlier than I ever did to start work and I go to bed later as by the time I finish work, I want to relax rather than just sleep.”
As for how much more housework and childcare she is doing that she was doing before lockdown, Suze said, “Before lockdown, I did hardly any housework or childcare during the week. The weekend was mummy and family time. We have our cleaner back now, thank god, but to be honest within four hours of her leaving, there is food on the floor, toys are everywhere, the bathroom floor is wet. During the week I am now mummy and worker, and the hours have all merged. And it’s hard! We used to have the boys’ grandmother do after school childcare and now that has all stopped.”
Even in families where the mother is employed and the father is not, mothers still do more childcare and the same amount of housework as their partner. However, while they are doing less childcare than mothers, fathers have nearly doubled the time they spend on childcare during lockdown. This is especially true of fathers who have lost their job while their partner continues to do paid work.
We asked Suze how childcare and housework is balanced in her household between her and her partner. “I think we have split stuff well and I am lucky to have a partner who loves to cook and is obsessed with a clean house. However, because my partner has been busier with work, I think it would be fair to say that the day-to-day stuff like homework has landed with me. The irony, though, is that when I try and teach my eldest maths, what should be a thirty minute lesson turns into a two hour one, as we have to fight for an hour first. I am not his teacher, as he likes to point out on a daily basis. In contrast, if my partner teaches him, he sits and listens and it gets done.”
One thing is for sure, a big congratulations is owed to all the parents out there, who have faced the monumental task of making things as normal for their children as possible when of course things have never been less normal. We don’t know how you do it!