Moms are often seen as powerhouse multitaskers that can do everything at once. We cook dinner, finish a load of laundry, and help with homework all while nursing our baby. But any mom can tell you that trying to multitask is stressful. Add in a worldwide pandemic and our stress is through the roof. It should come as no surprise that moms are more stressed during COVID-19.
If you were to peer inside the homes of most families during the current state of our world, you would probably find moms taking the brunt of the work with the children. This isn’t a knock against the men in our lives, but it is the honest truth- when it comes to taking care of the kids, women are more likely to be the primary caregiver. With a global pandemic on hand, this has increased ten-fold. Not only are we doing the usual cooking, cleaning, and caregiving but now we have taken on the role of teacher, IT person, PE teacher, principal, and counselor…you name it, we’re doing it.
The stress we feel on a regular day of parenting is nothing compared to the stress many families are feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parenting stress is defined as “the distress one experiences when they feel they just can’t cope as a parent. The demands being placed on them are too high, and they don’t have the resources to meet them.” And that is just the definition of everyday parenting stress. Add in trying to do distance learning with unreliable resources and technology, financial stress because of lost jobs, and low levels of social support and you have parents who are on the brink of breaking down.
And although we have learned to multitask under extreme amounts of parenting stress, which is more like survival training and triage, science has shown that women are no better at multitasking than men and these stressful times caused by the coronavirus are causing us to hit a wall.
New research was recently done by the faculty at Northwestern University in March of this year to examine the gender inequality caused by COVID-19. Researchers contended that unlike a typical recession where a man’s job is most likely to be lost because of economic turmoil, during this global pandemic women are finding that they are not only losing their jobs but are also taking on the societal roles of primary caregiver ten-fold. This is because of the notion that homeschooling and general parental caregiving should fall on their shoulders because of gender norms.
However, the research also has found that after the immediate crisis, societal norms on working from home and even primary caregiving roles may start to shift. “Beyond the immediate crisis, there are opposing forces which may ultimately promote gender equality in the labor market. First, businesses are rapidly adopting flexible work arrangements, which are likely to persist. Second, there are also many fathers who now have to take primary responsibility for child care, which may erode social norms that currently lead to an unbalanced distribution of the division of labor in housework and child care.”
So how can we reduce parenting stress and multitasking in moms before they break down?
Much of parenting stress comes from one’s general mindset. If we can change our minds about gender norms and societal beliefs about child-rearing and caregiving, we may find that the burden of parenting stress, especially during COVID-19, will be shared by both partners instead of falling solely on the shoulders of the mother.
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Within the home, parents can begin to share the emotional and physical burden of caregiving especially if both parents are working from home. Parents can trade off homeschooling days or trade-off different subjects with the kids. Dads can start making more meals and helping with household chores more than before the pandemic. For moms, it is important to remember that life looks different now. If your kids don’t eat the most perfect, healthy, and well-balanced meal for every meal, that’s ok. If you miss a class Zoom meeting, that’s fine too. If one day you spend the entire day just watching movies and eating popcorn, that’s wonderful, too. Moms giving themselves grace and asking for help will help relieve the parenting stress during COVID-19 immensely.
In a study conducted in 2016, it was found that those who have family-friendly government policies are more likely to have less parenting stress. The United States was the worst for family-friendly government policy. Still, if the coronavirus pandemic does one good thing, maybe it will be that policies for working families will change so that they provide more familial support, lessening the parenting stress that parents, namely mothers, experience every day.