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Page Updated: 20th July 2022
Below are some personal stories, written by UCD employees, around the theme of parenting during COVID.
A message to my fellow fathers | Spag Bols and Zoom | Family carers | A Fine Balance
A message to my fellow fathers
I like to think of myself as a progressive father and husband. My wife and I try to share childcare responsibilities. When our first son was born, I took six months of parental leave. I pick our children up from school once or twice per week. Heck, I even take the children to winter holidays with my in-laws while my wife is on a 10-day meditation retreat.
On the other hand,… my wife took eight months of parental leave with our first son, and she took a year with the second, while I continued to work. She picks up the kids from school 2-3 times per week. Heck, when I started my job here in Ireland, she stayed back in Germany with two children for four months and worked on her PhD.
We never designed it to be that way. We never consciously made the decision that childcare should mainly be the duty of my wife. On the contrary, my wife and I see ourselves as equals, with shared responsibilities. Yet, the realities indicate we are not.
Why am I saying this? Because the fight for equality never stops. It takes constant effort, constant self-evaluation, and painful honesty to reach equality. Even if we men think we are doing enough, we probably do not. Sometimes we get applauded for our efforts, but this is not because we reached equality, but because we did so pitiful little in the past.
There is a risk that the great pandemic makes all this worse. That it reinforces old role models and obliterates the little progress we have made. Fellow fathers let’s not fall into this trap. Let’s keep in mind that there are not only structural hurdles towards equality at work, but that we also need to live and practice equality and fairness at home.
Don’t try to rationalize yourself out of the problem. Don’t argue why just now your career is more important than childcare duties. Why your partner is just better at home-schooling. Why you can’t organize the ever-changing Zoom schedule of the children. Yes, equality comes through institutional change. But let’s not forget that it also must be a daily experience in our private lives.
The great pandemic can also be an opportunity to renegotiate childcare duties, housework, career ambitions. If we do this right, we may come out as better, fairer families on the other side.
Rainer Melzer, Assistant Professor, School of Biology and Environmental Science
Rainer is part of the Parent Buddy Programme, an informal peer network for parents in UCD. For further details on Supports for Parents and the Parent Buddy Programme, visit https://www.ucd.ie/equality/support/supportsforparents/
Spag Bols and Zoom - Parenting during Covid-19
“Mammy you were meant to print out Busy at Maths page 139, not 140,” says the 10 year old.
“Is there anything to eat?” says the 11 year old.
“Mammy, pink and sparkly is not really my jam anymore,” says the 7 year old, whose wardrobe would blind you if you opened it without a pair of sunglasses on as there are SO.MANY.SPARKLY.CLOTHES.
“I have a Zoom in 2.5 minutes – just do your schoolwork, I’ll be back down in an hour,” I say.
I then go upstairs to discover the husband has colonised the only acceptable room in the house to have a Zoom from (you know… the room without piles of dirty washing in the background, or stacks of unopened boxes from when you moved house seven years ago but still haven’t opened, or without constant passing child or animal traffic…). I listen tentatively at the door – ok he sounds like he’s saying goodbye. Excellent. Just then, my phone rings.
It is my mother, who is cocooning alone in her own house. I answer and tell her I will need to call her back as I am working.
“I thought you said work was closed?” She says.
“I’m working at home mam. I’ll call you back in about an hour.”
“I’ve run out of milk, do you think I can go up to the shop myself?”
“No, mam, I’ll bring some up to you later.”
“In about an hour?”
“No, mam. Look I’ll call you back in an hour”.
When I hear the hubby finishing his Skype call, I barge in and kick him out of the Zoom-able room with a commitment that he can have the room back for his next Skype at 2pm, if he agrees to make the kids’ lunch.
The first couple of weeks of lockdown were pretty much complete chaos. I would give the kids a schedule of schoolwork to do each morning and scoot off upstairs to work. I would then be up and down the stairs like a yo-yo in between Zooms, telling the kids to be quiet and stop drawing poo emojis on each other’s homework, checking long multiplication, preparing endless snacks and trying to make mental notes in my head for my next Zoom meeting while chopping onions for the spag bol. A couple of evenings a week I would run up to Tesco, queue for 20 minutes to get in, then pick up shopping for my elderly mother and drop that to her. I quickly realised that everyone in the country seems to have started to read newspapers again, so most evenings I would be too late to pick up her Evening Herald and my poor mother would have to make do with the Leinster Leader or some other regional gem.
The world of work and home blended into one. Instead of coming home from work in the evening and drawing a line in the sand, I ducked in and out of emails in between folding laundry and checking Irish sentences. An unintentional routine developed with 11pm emails becoming totally normal and, worryingly, people would reply to me at that hour! Then we would get up a few hours later and do it all again. At some point in the fourth week, I realised this was not sustainable.
Thinking of all of the things that we were now NOT doing – no commuting to work, no hustling everyone out the door for school every morning; no travelling to sports activities seven days a week; no 9am Saturday GAA training; no playdates; no birthday parties – I couldn’t grasp why it all felt so stressful and hectic. It was one of those things that defies scientific laws.
Thankfully, the universe apparently tends towards order rather than chaos (phew!) and roll on eight weeks and the house is feeling a lot less chaotic. Over the weeks we’ve tried several different ‘routines’ involving family walks or changing dinner time or having spelling tests etc. The two things which have stuck and which seem to help are:
- Spending about 30-45 minutes each morning before I start working with the kids looking at schoolwork
- Doing online Zumba classes
Ok, so I don’t get around to checking most of the schoolwork, and I still can’t make it through a Zumba class without using several swear words. However, on the plus side, my kids have learned a whole new set of life lessons: how to use a hoover; how to bake the perfect sponge; how to chop an onion like a pro; the purpose of a toilet brush. Helping out at home more has made them more empathetic little humans (“Would you like me to bring you up a cup of tea mammy?” are the sweetest words to hear when you have been staring at a computer screen for hours!) The older ones go for a spin on their bikes on their own each day, loving their newfound independence. They even set up their own book club with their friends using zoom. They see their mammy and daddy working hard each day and have a new understanding of what it means to work (I think they secretly thought that when we disappear off to work each day, we are off having a big ole’ grown-ups party!).
As with so many things to do with parenting, the key was to let go a bit. Trying to be a full-time teacher and do your day-job well and keep a house running all at the same time is not a recipe for happy or successful kids… it is a recipe for tired and stressed out parents. Something has to give and that is ok. I may have given up on correcting long multiplication, but I get to have dinner and walks every day with my favourite people. COVID has brought some terrible sadness to many families. I have a feeling that when we look back on this period, we may also see that COVID has brought us some much needed perspective and a few positives along with it.
Cathy Gibson, HR Partner
Cathy is part of the Parent Buddy Programme, an informal peer network for parents in UCD. For further details on Supports for Parents and the Parent Buddy Programme, visit https://www.ucd.ie/equality/support/supportsforparents/
Give a thought to family carers
As we all try to survive within our own little cocoons at home, it is important to give a thought to those who care for a family member with a disability, or who is seriously ill or frail.
As my 2 year old, who doesn’t understand that mammy has to work, tugs at me for about the tenth time this morning (and it's not even 11am yet), I think about those caring for a child with a severe physical and/or intellectual disability, or those who are deeply worried about a spouse with a serious mental illness or those caring for frail parents whose lives are at particular risk during this pandemic.
Many family carers are having to balance multiple roles and are having to face trade-offs between providing care to their loved one, looking after their own children, and trying to work. Many will be worried about becoming infected with the coronavirus because who will look after their loved one then, or worse still, what will happen if their vulnerable loved one gets the virus.
While the nurses, doctors, healthcare assistants, and other professionals do a great job on the frontline, so too are family carers who are also providing essential care but are often the invisible workforce on the frontline. They deserve as much recognition and acknowledgement.
Having my 2-year-old toddler run rings around me while I sit with my laptop doesn’t seem so bad after all.
Attracta Lafferty, leads the UCD Carewell Project.
Family Carers Ireland offers a Freephone Careline – 1800 24 07 24 to carers who wish to discuss concerns or get advice on a range of topics, including supports and services available from Local Authorities, the HSE, or offered by Family Carers Ireland.
I recently read somewhere that the days are slow, and the weeks are fast during this Covid19 period. Couldn’t agree more. With a young kid in the house, the work-life balance gets tricky – very tricky.
Here are some things I noticed:
- Teaching online is fun – and there is a lot of interaction with students – they are not afraid to ask a lot of questions. But they are more tiring as well.
- Schooling at home is by far the most challenging task. Time to focus is limited and the work-day stretches arbitrarily. But I don’t miss the ‘rushing to school’ part!
- Men seem to be spending significantly more research to journals than women during the lockdown period globally. What’s going on? (We probably know?)
- I am connecting with friends and family via devices – it’s not the same but at least there is connectivity. Scheduling these consciously within a well-organised day is really working – even when the well organised day is upset (which is frequent).
- Free-hand exercise with Joe Wicks is something I would like to do even after lockdown! (https://www.youtube.com/user/thebodycoach1)
- I have been able to sit down and actually learn something. A lot of unnecessary meetings were avoided.
- My family members are unimpressed by my singing skills!
In many ways, the lockdown is skewing our experience and amplifying various inequalities. For me – making sense of time is a core challenge right now and I feel that it is the same for many other colleagues. Perhaps it is a time for self-reflection as well: which of the things that I do is worth that time? I don’t think I would have thought that if I did not have a young kid at home.
For more musings from UCD staff, including Ulyana's entry "Working from Home", check out UCD's "Inclusion Never Stops." Read the UCD's College of Health and Agricultural Science blogs from Fathers to mark International Men's Day 2020 here. Please note: the views and opinions expressed in EDI blog entries below are those of the contributors and do not represent the views of UCD or UCD Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.