Saturday 8 August, 2020

Life interrupted: Parents on returning to work during COVID-19

[iStock.com/NoSystem images]

[iStock.com/NoSystem images]

Whether directly or indirectly, we’ve all been affected by the COVID-19.

The pandemic has upended all of our personal and professional lives and just when we think we’ve adapted to the slew of changes, in comes another plot twist.

With restrictions being relaxed and in some countries lifted altogether, more and more people are being asked to return to the office and according to some parents, the timing couldn’t be worse.

The July-August vacation is upon us, but daycare centres remain closed, and school camps are prohibited so there remains the issue of childcare.

Despite strict adherence to social distancing guidelines, many parents also fear that they may expose their families to the dreaded coronavirus.

According to the UNICEF, employers have a responsibility to help parents cope with the added responsibilities while they attempt to navigate unfamiliar terrain.

Here’s how:

1. By assessing whether current workplace policies effectively support families

2. Grant flexible work arrangements

3. Support parents with safe, accessible and affordable quality childcare options

4. Promote good hygiene in and out of the workplace

5. Provide workers with guidance on how to seek medical support

6. Help workers and their families cope with stress

7. Reduce financial burdens should workers or their family members fall ill with COVID-19

These are all great recommendations, but sadly it isn’t the reality for many.

We’ve chatted with a few women from around the region who shared snippets of their individual experiences and even offered suggestions for ways employers could help ease the burden, if only for a while.

These are their stories.

Laverne Ryan, Montserrat

Manager, Geographic Information Service

It was sometimes difficult to balance work with time spent with my children and I often found myself working late into the night, fearing that I did not put in enough hours during the day because I was spending that prime time with my children. Time management became critical to our survival and ensuring that I spent enough time with them to facilitate educational learning at home while still fulfilling the requirements of my job.

I had additional support from my spouse which took some of the pressure off. It was difficult for me to return to work, my mind is and always will be on the safety and wellbeing of my family. Going out puts us all at risk.

It will be difficult for children to adhere to social distancing guidelines so I’m also concerned about them returning to school when that time comes. How will teachers ensure my child's safety? Will my child be able to wear a mask all day? Will they be subjected to COVID-19 tests? 

How could employers help? By allowing flexible working hours and where possible giving employees the option to work remotely.

 

Melissa Wong, Trinidad and Tobago
Digital Reporter, Loop Caribbean


I would not lie. It is a big challenge working from home with a 3-year-old, especially when he has energy to burn for hours and you are in a job that requires concentration and no errors.

Despite its obvious negative effects, COVID-19 has given me a chance to bond with my son in ways I would have never been able to if I was working from the office.

I have to be grateful that I am employed with a progressive company. However juggling being a mother, teacher, playmate and employee (not to mention wife) is exhausting. More now than ever, I appreciate the work of daycare attendants and teachers. I salute your patience.
 
I have learnt to deal with working the obstacle course for the past five months, planning out work schedules from the night before (until something changes your day), planning possible ways to keep my son occupied and not bored out of his mind (but then he doesn’t like that activity anymore.)

Nothing really goes as planned but I have to make it work.

My biggest concern for him returning to school/daycare is, of course, his health, the risk of falling ill and missing out on further social interaction and learning with children his age.

 

Ayesha Walters, From St Kitts-Nevis residing in Pennsylvania

AP Manager

I was worried that my office would feel that I was not working while at home. School was still in progress and I'm the only parent at my office with a young child. Maybe I was being paranoid but I had to constantly prove to them that I was actually on the job while still navigating online learning with my little one.

Luckily, she is very mature for her age and can go for hours without supervision. However, that, in turn, made me feel guilty for the first few weeks until we got into a routine that divided my time between online learning and working. I also worked longer hours than my pre-COVID days. 

We've managed to find balance and some semblance of normalcy. I decided very early that she needed a schedule such as the one she had at school. She sat at my desk while I worked. It kept us both sane. 

It also helped that my husband was very supportive especially as he is an essential worker and had to go in during the pandemic. 

I have started venturing back to the office twice a week and I've realized that our way of life as we knew it has changed but I'm not worried, to be honest. If you follow the guidelines, you should be fine. And we are doing that with her. 

It was difficult for me to return to work, I hated leaving her at home. I had gotten accustomed to being with her 24/7 and I missed that. So now we talk via DUO throughout the days that I'm in the office. 

Ideally, I would love to stay home and have her continue online learning, but we live in a society where parents are often forced to choose between surviving and caring for our children and more often than not, moms are the ones who have to make this decision. So we are training her in the proper use of the mask, not putting her hands in her mouth or face, constantly washing her hands etc. 

Despite my concerns, I want schools to reopen, not too soon obviously but I have a very active child. She needs to be able to play her viola that's being offered at school, and it's kinda hard to do those things via duo or zoom. I do not doubt that she will be cared for at school but not at the level that I would do it at home. The teacher has to take care of 20 when I have only one. So maybe smaller class sizes, staggering days or school hours will set my heart a bit more at ease.

Workwise, the environment needs to change. Don't get me wrong, some institutions promote the working mother and encourage her to excel and give her opportunities to do so. However, there's still this mentality that you have to be physically in the office to be working and this is the mentality that needs to be changed. 

Oftentimes us as mothers make the sacrifice for our kids and give up our jobs because society dictates that we stay at home and care for our children. I know I feel that no one else can take care of my child better than I can. Pre-COVID, I would be the one most often to stay at home with her if she were sick and I would get ostracized by coworkers (whether in jest or not) that I was taking the day off to relax. Little do they know. 

But upper management has been very understanding of my situation and has allowed me to choose what I wanted to do so for that I am very grateful. But others need to realize that being allowed to work from home is helpful because it puts your mind as ease about your children, it increases productivity because you do not spend endless hours like me in traffic, it's economical because you save on gas and many other things.

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