School closures implemented during the pandemic to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 meant that parents had to take on home-schooling and extra childcare responsibilities. These responsibilities fell disproportionately upon mothers (Power, 2020). While there is emerging evidence that the extra load of responsibilities during the pandemic was associated with poor maternal mental health and wellbeing (Xue & McMunn, 2021), there is still little understanding about the nature of the challenges and emotions experienced by mothers and the ways it has impacted on their wellbeing and family life. In response, we invited working mothers to share their experiences of home-schooling/childcare while working during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. Forty-seven mothers between the ages of 28 and 54 completed an online survey of open-ended questions (Topalli et al., 2020) that was distributed via social media. Below we present some of the key findings.
Combining home-schooling or childcare while working was perceived as difficult by both partnered and lone mothers. High levels of perceived difficulty among mothers were associated with significant stress about managing competing demands, guilt for not meeting children’s needs, and worry over child socioemotional wellbeing and academic learning. Additionally, low perceived support among mothers was associated with poor maternal wellbeing. Many mothers reported limited involvement by fathers in home-schooling/childcare and a lot of them were unhappy when fathers’ involvement was not equal. Additionally, the mothers who reported increased workload and pressure for face time at work reported further poor wellbeing. Finally, mothers who reported low levels of school-support (that is, poor school–family communication, excessive homework demands, lack of or insufficient online teaching) were often more anxious and worried. Strategies that helped mothers cope with the practical and emotional challenges of combining work with home-schooling/childcare included fostering a positive outlook, embracing hope, and accepting the present in a non-judgemental manner.
‘High levels of perceived difficulty among mothers were associated with significant stress about managing competing demands, guilt for not meeting children’s needs, and worry over child socioemotional wellbeing and academic learning.’
Our findings agree with explanatory models of family wellbeing during the pandemic which highlight the role of risk and resilience factors including caregiver wellbeing, perceived support and response to adversity (Prime et al., 2020). Notably, however, they underscore the impetus to consider the role of gender inequalities in the domestic sphere of life and of family-friendly working policies in family wellbeing during the pandemic.
Concerns over child wellbeing were overwhelming for many mothers in our sample and where the pressure was intense it was often prioritised over academic learning. This finding signifies the importance of child social and emotional wellbeing for a stress-free and thriving family life. Emphasis on promoting children’s academic outcomes is a legitimate educational policy target at governmental level. However, considering the scale of the impact of the lockdown on child and caregiver wellbeing (Racine et al., 2020), it is questionable that measures to address the learning losses due to school closures will compensate for losses in mental health and wellbeing. Physical and mental health lays the foundation from which children and young people can start exploring the learning opportunities available to them (Weisbrot & Ryst, 2020). Therefore, the aims of post-pandemic education may have to be re-examined, and school provision could consider integrating social and emotional learning goals more systematically within the curriculum.
Power, K. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the care burden of women and families. Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 16(1), 67–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/15487733.2020.1776561
Prime, H., Wade, M., & Browne, D. T. (2020). Risk and resilience in family well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Psychologist, 75(5), 631–643. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000660
Racine, N., Cooke, J. L., Eirich, R., Korczak, D. J., McArthur, B., & Madigan, S. (2020). Child and adolescent mental illness during COVID-19: A rapid review. Psychiatry Research, 292. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113307
Topalli, P.-Z., Panula, V., & Lyyra, N. (2020). Pandemic mood questionnaire [Unpublished questionnaire]. Department of Teacher Education, University of Turku.
Weisbrot, D. M., & Ryst, E. (2020). Debate: Student mental health matters: The heightened need for school‐based mental health in the era of COVID‐19. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 25(4), 258–259. https://doi.org/10.1111/camh.12427
Xue, B., & McMunn, A. (2021). Gender differences in unpaid care work and psychological distress in the UK Covid-19 lockdown. PloS One, 16(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0247959