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An unexpected silver lining of lockdown: The mental load is more visible than ever.

It will come as a surprise to precisely no one that women have been shouldering the majority of the home schooling and child care work thanks to COVID-19.

In fact, a recent article in the Guardian contains research by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich showing that women in the UK are doing at least 50 per cent more childcare in lockdown than the men in their lives.

As the days turn into weeks and months, many women, myself included, are questioning whether or not lockdown life has revealed some uncomfortable truths about gender equality and the mental load, that need further discussion.

Watch: Horoscopes homeschooling their kids. Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

I had a conversation with a mum friend who sent her son back to school a few days ahead of the NSW government’s recommended start date.

She told me how relieved she felt after just a few hours to herself.

“At first, I thought I could handle homeschooling on top of work and household stuff, but I was not coping. My relationship with my children and with myself was suffering so I told my husband that I had had enough,” she said.

“I felt guilty but then I thought, I am not doing anything illegal and I matter – my mental health matters to me and to my family, so I sent him back.”

With a flexible job and an ability ‘to juggle’, she had taken on the majority of the homeschooling – not her husband. She was the one up to midnight most nights trying to work and she was exhausted and frustrated and wondering why?

Women all over the world have been trying to juggle work and family life in a way that men just don’t – way before lockdown.

I stopped working full-time after I had my son in 2010. It felt too logistically and emotionally hard to manage full-time work when my husband Jules, a GP, already had a stressful job.

Since then I have worked a mix of contractor, part-time and freelance roles to help me stay creative, connected and active in my industry.

I have questioned this decision many times but mostly I have felt the positive aspects outweigh the negative, but now I am not so sure.

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When COVID-19 hit our household, I homeschooled Toby and looked after toddler Leo (when he wasn’t at daycare) while continuing to work just like everyone else. At first there was a novelty factor, but it quickly wore off.

Homeschooling for me was not creative or fun, but a daily struggle. I felt continually guilty and frustrated that I wasn’t achieving anything and that I was being a cranky, irritable mum.

Leigh Campbell and Tegan Natoli discuss why it’s okay not to be okay right now on This Glorious Mess podcast. Post continues below.  

Research from Kings College in London shows that 57 per cent of women are feeling more depressed and anxious compared with 40 per cent of men right now. Likely proving that the additional stress and pressure of homeschooling is affecting our mental health.

So, while us women were struggling with how to juggle life involving working and teaching at home, what were the men doing?

In our house, Jules was still heading out the door to work but he was also a huge support with household duties and childcare. While I know there are plenty of men like him, this is not the case for many women.

According to the same new research, mums in lockdown in the UK were spending up to 30 per cent more time homeschooling than dads. From my own anecdotal evidence of friends here in Australia, I can believe it.

I heard stories of husbands who worked full work days on their laptops from the spare bedroom, emerging only to make cups of tea or lunch for themselves.

These mums were tired and brimming with resentment as they managed kids, snippets of work and the household mostly by themselves.

As news here in Australia continues to remain cautiously optimistic, mums are realising their homeschooling time is coming to an end – whether they want it to or not.

Many mums who previously thought their households to be quite well balanced are also asking themselves how in 2020 did they suddenly and unexpectedly get cast into the role of a 1950s housewife?

The women managing the kids, part time jobs and the household with increasing mental distress, while the men continued to go to work – even if it was only to the spare bedroom.

There will be so many questions about how we live our lives after the full and frightening force of COVID-19 lessens.

For us women – the time to consider how we feel about gender equality and the mental load in our households is here – let’s give it the thought it deserves if not for us, for our kids.

Feature Image: Instagram/@lauracjackel


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