The experience of homeschooling and/or childcare while working during the lockdown
To enhance the interpretation of the data, first, we run a word frequency analysis, included in the NVivo stemmed word function, to isolate the adjectives and adverbs that mothers used to describe their experiences. The most common words were difficult (n = 10), followed by hard (n = 5), stressful (n = 4), struggle (n = 4), challenging (n = 3), frustrating (n = 3), impossible (n = 2), and tough (n= 2).
Further analysis of the extracts that reflected maternal experiences reveal how their daily realities had changed because of having to be present for their children as well as at work. The experience of the mother below reflects the experience of many mothers in the sample:
I have been working normal hours and had my usual caseload. On top of that I had to look after my son, so often I would be in a session and at the same time had to make sure my son doesn't climb on the sofa and falls down!.
The experience of homeschooling itself was challenging too as it was an add-on to an already heavy daily routine and a cause of physical and mental exhaustion
I've always had to juggle working full time and looking after the children [….] what compounded my feelings of frustration has been the home schooling
What seemed to be the most challenging aspect of it was synchronous delivery which involved having to manage conflicting demands, while trying to handle constant interruptions, and unforeseeable events such as child emotional outburst and sibling fights.
(i feel) super stressed as I have had for the most part of it very broken time between teaching kids and working and getting working time interrupted all the time
I have been trying to deliver homeschooling in set periods so I can have set times I am at my desk but that has not always been feasible as I have been managing disagreements between my eldest two children.
This was intensified by child age, special educational needs (SEN) and temperament. For instance, young children needed more support to engage with homework or activities, SEN provision was not always easy to be implemented remotely, and child reluctance to engage with homework. Moreover, lack of motivation to engage with home learning was reported by many mothers. Finally, lack of access to electronic devices, and confidence with teaching were important determinants of the experience.
I am not a teacher, my daughter wants me to be her Mum and not her teacher - this has been learnt the hard way through upset and tears and tantrums-hers and mine!
A few mothers shared more positive experiences pointing out to some of the factors that made the experience less challenging such as less pressure from work, children’s desire to be homeschooled, managed to be organised, and working-remotely and associated benefits such as saving time because of not having to travel to work. However, there were other spheres of life that suffered, such as mental health and work.
Remote working is great for time managing and cutting out travel time but causes anxiety because you are not that visible at work.
When we looked at the data from the point of view of single mothers (n = 9) all but one agreed that it was difficult to manage competing demands. Homeschooling was reported as the most challenging aspect of the lockdown and the cause of losses at work. Additionally, the intersection of the extra pressure of juggling competing responsibilities alone and factors pertaining to the mental and emotional load caused by additional carrying responsibilities, for instance cohabiting elderly parents, and/or by conflict between ex-spouses may put lone mothers at a greater risk of poor wellbeing.
I was helping both with school work till just before summer half term but my work suffered and I lost a client. It has been a terrible situation made worse by stresses of living with elderly parents […].
First, we run a word frequency analysis using the stemmed word function on a list of isolated emotions after excluding emotional states mentioned twice from the same individual. After amending for words that were not clustered together because of typos or not grouped by the software (e.g., guilt/guilty) we found that mothers experienced a wide range of negative feelings with the most common being feeling stressed (n = 9), guilty (n = 8) and worried (n = 4) followed by frustrated, pressured, and tired (n = 3), angry, conflicted, disappointed, failed, proud, and resentful (n = 2).
Then, we coded all the extracts that reflected emotional states including those reported more than once but appearing in a different context, for instance resentful towards husband and to parents eligible to send their kids to school, to capture the whole spectrum of triggers of maternal emotional responses to the situation. The most common reason reported for feeling stressed was having to combine and deliver competing tasks such as work, homeschooling/caring for children, and household chores.
I was feeling rather stressed about combining both work duties, household and homeschooling.
Lack of time, setting-up a routine for both parent and child, constantly being interrupted, and homeschooling were a few additional reasons for feeling stressed.
Feelings of guilt/feeling guilty varied from not contributing as much as the husband to children’s homeschooling, to not being good enough, not spending enough time/making an effort to homeschool and support children’s learning, and not measuring up to other parents. Additionally, a few mothers made links with the pressure from having to deal with competing demands and associated conflict and guilt that come with it when they are prioritised over the parenting/caring role.
I feel guilty when I am taking care of my children that I am not working or keeping up with housework and when I work I feel guilty that my kids are watching too much TV.
A lot of mothers were deeply worried over the impact of the lockdown on child wellbeing and academic achievement. Work-related expectations and pressure to deliver, triggered for some a chain of emotional reactions which were expressed as stress, family conflict, poor parenting behaviour and associated feelings of guilt, worry and inadequacy:
I have felt incompetent many times and stressed about keeping a routine for my son and do my job. I have also felt guilty for not meeting my son's needs as I would expect so and also feeling like I am falling behind in terms of the quality of service I offer […]. All this pressure often manifests in arguments with my husband but also shouting at our son when we feel we have had enough which is something against our general parenting style. This of course creates more guilt and feelings of letting our son down but also worry about his development.
When we reduced the list of feelings by grouping them in to clusters reflecting similar underlying emotional states stress and guilt were still the most prevalent, but anger and resentment (i.e. angry, upset, resentful, annoyed) because of unequal distribution of homeschooling/childcaring/household chores and not being able to send kids at school like other parents, as well as feelings of failure and incompetence (i.e. failed, incompetent, not good enough, not coping, rubbish, can't do it all) were common. Additionally, feelings that reflect physical and mental exhaustion (i.e., tired, drained, exhausted), unfairness, and boredom and monotony were also common.
Another important cluster of feelings that potentially allude to symptoms of anxiety and low mood emerged. Comments from ten mothers that fell under this category include feeling anxious/nervous, panicked, trapped, overwhelmed, low and lonely, and not able to relax/switch off.
Generally, the variety and intensity of feelings did not seem to vary significantly across single mothers and mothers in partnerships. Notwithstanding, the experience of not having anyone to turn to may be particularly challenging to deal with and exacerbate maternal emotional state.
The bad days were feelings of not coping, guilt for not being able to sit with my child and get through the work at his pace, overall guilt that nothing was being done properly because there was too much to do, feeling utterly exhausted and having no time to myself (not doing work or not tending to my child’s needs) and not being able to ask anyone for help.
Several positive feelings were also reported by a group of mothers which included emotional states that suggest a positive outlook such as staying positive and strong, feeling blessed, creative, motivated and energised although for some energy and motivation waned after a while, and be grateful and patient. Of interest are the feeling of pride and agency that some mothers experienced despite the difficulties.
I have moments of really enjoying the time with my children and pride at managing it all.
The theme of support - or lack of it – from partner and work was brought up by many mothers. While a few mothers mentioned that their partners took on more responsibilities, most of them reported a lack of support. Gendered distribution of responsibilities was the most reported reason which for some leD to tension over whose work was more important. Other reasons included prioritising partnern’s work, partners’ increased workload, and disagreements in child upbringing.
... (the lockdown) brought to light that the female is expected to take care of children more than men.
… my husband can ‘go to work’ in the spare room everyday [ … ] and be undisturbed whereas I am always multitasking.
The single mothers in our sample reported receiving no support from their ex – husband. For some the disagreements about children’s upbringing or interaction was a source of significant stress and anxiety.
A few mothers reported that their workload and/or the work expectations decreased during the lockdown with employers being supportive, tolerant, and understanding. Remote working saved time from travelling, although not being physically present at work came with worries about being less visible. A few mothers who felt there was little support mentioned increased workload and expectations to be always available which for some led to financial losses as a result of having to take unpaid leave to cope.
Workload added by those who don't have kids has increased the stress levels and constant meetings about things which could be shared over an email instead.
as there is an expectation that we are all constantly available while at work
The school was another important source of support and provision of devices and individualised support for pupil with SEN were welcomed by a few parents. However, others mentioned receiving little or no support from teachers, excessive homework and lack of communication.
find it frustrated, teachers put too much homework, without thinking about parents who are working, is not my job to teach and I had to go and read things before I explained them to my son. I have to work and help him with his homework at the same time
The on-line lessons were not proven very helpful for everyone.
The daily Google classroom stream became quite oppressive - the 'need' to post delightful pictures of all the rich and exciting activities one was supposed to be doing was irritating. It was quickly dominated by the parents who weren't working and those who were found it hard to engage (me included). That made it harder to handle
Other sources of support included family members such as older children or relatives and neighbours. Support from social media reported in the statements of two mothers suggest that they intensified the anxiety and pressure that mothers experienced rather than offering practical support.
I've found the constant stream of Facebook ideas of 'how to home school your kids' totally frustrating and at times I have felt very guilty that I am not spending the effort and energy that these other parents are home educating their kids and home made experiments etc etc...
Another major theme that appeared in the data was that of mothers’ coping mechanisms which reflected strategies that helped moderate the stress of daily life: adopting a realistic approach, having a positive mentality, and self –management and organisation.
A realistic approach involved looking at life as it is and deal with it in a practical manner which for many entailed lowering expectations in terms of keeping the house clean, time spent with kids, work performance, amount of schoolwork completion, and sticking to rigid schedule such as bedtime and screen time.
we’ve gradually let certain things slip and that’s removed some of the stress. Does it matter if the kids aren’t studying by 9am? Does it matte(r) if the floors haven’t been washed for a week, does it matter if the kids miss showers or baths on some days. Some trade-offs I guess. I did start to intensify become adverse to lockdown motivators, I didn’t have free time to learn something new or make my house sparkle, but now I realise it was people just getting by!
but decided that letting them have more screen time was the only way to survive and if we get an hour of school work done with each of them everyday that’s a good day - less pressure to do everything well as it’s impossible to do everything.
Adopting a positive mentality involved living in the moment and focusing on the positive aspects of the situation such as being grateful for own and family health, for more family time and bonding with children.
My thoughts and feelings were that we should be grateful that we are healthy and well and we should be patient until all this comes to an end.
For a few, efforts for self-organisation and self-management such as planning activities to keep the kid(s) busy while working and setting a schedule of childcare duties to share between partners allowed to work more efficiently. Finally, very few mentioned that having access to outside space such as having a garden or being close to the countryside or communicating with other parents who shared similar concerns and struggles were helpful.