Coronavirus Is Forcing Women Into Tired Gender Roles

After having a second baby, and a recent move into self-employment, my role is now to look after our children, says freelance writer Annabel Lee.
I am one of the many self-employed women thrust into full-time childcare.
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I am one of the many self-employed women thrust into full-time childcare.

Figuring out how to work at the moment and look after your children at the same time is an impossible puzzle to solve for many parents.The famous (and hilarious) Robert Kelly interview springs to mind to remind us all how challenging working at home with your kids can be.

With the Government’s Job Retention Scheme now live, the recently updated guidelines stating parents can request to be furloughed if they are unable to work because they need to look after children will come as a relief to many. However, deciding if or which parent might request this can be a difficult decision with mounting fears around job security.

For millions of parents, figuring out how to look after children feels like a huge task. There is no perfect answer, and the playing field isn’t level. Individually, households are trying to make it work, planning shifts with the kids or trying to snatch precious time to work around naps and TV time.

Having only recently returned to work after having my second baby, my work as a freelancer is less stable and frequent than my partner’s. So while he works at home, my role is now (like so many other parents) to look after our children.

Due to my recent maternity leave, and relatively new move into self-employment, I am among the estimated half a million self-employed mothers set to receive less financial support because of having a baby. While I previously relished time not working in order to be with my children, now that I am less able to work or earn, I’m questioning my value and contribution.

“Work for many of us gives us a sense of identity, an outlet for creativity, a sense of purpose and of course financial stability.”

I know I am not alone in figuring out the new normal. On the grand scale of corona stresses this is low-level stuff, but across the country millions of parents are faced with similar dilemmas. Parents are taking on childcare and home schooling, and needing to adjust to a brand new job overnight. Many, like me, are reducing or stopping their normal jobs, unsure when they will get them back and having to rethink their roles. It remains unclear when schools and nurseries will re-open, and the varying strategies for doing so around the world offers no clear path for the UK to follow in terms of a return to education and childcare.

Clearly the most critical role for most of us without front line jobs is to stay home, and with this also comes a need to stop judging ourselves so harshly or feeling guilt for not being able to work or being as productive as usual.

As I adjust to my new job as a stay at home parent I am increasingly thinking about the value we place on work and childcare. I’m not used to such gendered roles at home, having always been fairly equal with my partner in our approach to parenting and our finances. Now I am only working a little I find myself feeling a bit like an old school version of a housewife, carrying the baby while he works.

Why do some of us feel like we aren’t working or contributing, when of course being a parent is a full-time job? There’s a very Pinterest friendly quote I often remember: “Children are not a distraction from more important work, they are the most important work”, which is, of course, true. One silver lining for many of us in the current situation is the gift we are given of spending more time with our children. However, work for many of us gives us a sense of identity, an outlet for creativity, a sense of purpose and of course financial stability.

For now I’ve been trying to learn to embrace my new role; enjoying my daily routine with my kids, carving out special chunks of time to work when I can and reminding myself my job at the moment is to look after my family and help other people do big important work while staying at home.

We’re going to enter a new period of change and recalibration soon, and the roles we find ourselves in are only temporary. Societally, we have to remember that looking after children is a job – and a really important one at that. Parents have been given a difficult challenge in figuring out childcare, and the solution will look different for all of us. We must learn to give parents and carers credit for childcare, and learn together how we balance work, life, kids and everything else in this new normal.

Annabel Lee is a freelance writer.