21st October 2021
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Covid-19 working mothers

Last week, I had a very good conversation with a mother on the implications of covid-19 on her family. According to her, the compulsory COVID-19 lockdown has made her realise the critical need to spend more time on her children’s academic work. This does not mean that she did not take this task seriously before this time, however homeschooling them through online lessons made her follow their work intently and help with challenges. She is now of the opinion that had she invested more quality time with them prior to the pandemic, they would have excelled better academically, surpassing their current state. We both agreed that generally schools do about 60% of academic work while parents complete the remaining 40%. Although we were aware of this fact but as the saying goes, “experience is the best teacher”. First-hand experience is always better than statistics.

This made me think deeply about the implications of the lockdown on working mothers. I have decided to concentrate on women because I am a mother and can relate with what others in the same situation may be going through. It is also common news that women are the primary caregivers of children worldwide, hence I find it reasonable to focus on them when talking about children. Although, I must acknowledge that in some cases our male counterparts are primary caregivers too due to family dynamics amongst other reasons.

Personally, I think that one of the effects of COVID- 19 lockdown is that many mothers who are left with no other choice than to spend quality time with their families may see a positive effect on their children’s school work, emotional and mental well being. We know that in promoting a well-balanced life, spending quality time with loved ones is greatly encouraged as there are immeasurable benefits. However as I am sure everyone knows, economic realities may make it impossible for some mothers to lead this kind of life with some forced to take up undesirable jobs or have more than one job just to make ends meet.

This is especially true for single mothers who for various reasons are solely responsible for their kids. These mothers tend to rely on nurseries, day care centres and schools to fill in the gap. Passing through this covid-19 lockdown time at home may bring this reality to the forefront and coerce them to take some decisions that have implications on their personal lives. If situations pan out this way, it means that such private decisions of mothers may have serious consequences for the wider public as women who follow this path may take up jobs that are less demanding or choose to work from home.

Up until this pandemic, statistics have shown that these kinds of jobs pay less. Furthermore, there is also a lower chance of climbing up the career ladder in organisations. This has always been one explanation for the difference in pay gap and the absence of women in senior leadership roles. If we see this trend, there may be a continued rise in pay inequality in many organisations as more men become readily available than women to fill these roles.

On the other hand, some mothers may have to confront their own truth that staying at home or working from home full time with children is a path they wouldn’t be willing to take. When I posted this question on my Facebook page, one mother responded “please I have had enough quality time to last me years. As much as I am enjoying working from home, I find that it is harder to draw a line between work and personal time. Some days I am putting more hours that I used to when working at the office. Ironically, the same commute I always complained about was my ‘me time’ and I miss it terribly. So in conclusion, COVID-19 has made me realise I don’t want to work from home full time”.

This frank admission is what we must be willing to confront as mothers. The fact that we are mothers does not mean that we must enjoy spending all our time with our children. We were individuals first before taking on the title of “mother” and we will continue to be. Another user said “I think staying at home makes me sick. I would rather be a volunteer than work from home”. Thankfully, we now live in an era where women have options to work outside of the home. Having that space where you can pursue your own goals alongside those of your children must be a choice on the table for women.

So what does this mean?

If more women decide to spend less time at home after the pandemic, they may continue to take up roles that were hitherto available to only men. We may be seeing the pay inequality reduce as more women flood the workplace and demand to be rightfully paid for the amount of work they put in. As World War 2 saw an increase in women leaving the private sphere and working in public places, this pandemic may just see the same trajectory. We may also see working women staying the course and not dropping out from work after having children which was not the case before to the pandemic.

Whatever trend we see, I hope the choice you make as a mother is an informed one that suits you personally. For me, this pandemic has made me realise that I could work from home by cutting through the noise. Prior to now, I always separated work life from family life. It’s a rule I continued with my PhD. This negatively affected my school work as I had designated days for each of these responsibilities.

Now that I can do both at the same time, when life as we knew it returns, I would definitely continue to combine both responsibilities albeit inelegantly. I would also encourage women to keep the positive habits they have gained during this period and drop the negatives, if any.

This is encouraging you to stay safe.

Ides Ofune

Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at info@desertbloomadvisory.com