Juggling between work and family life, working parents play the double role even in this time of pandemic

Published On: July 11, 2020 07:55 AM NPT By: Aditi Baral

The ultimate vocation of ‘pandemic parenting’ has exhausted working parents at physical, emotional and mental levels    

KATHMANDU, July 11: Getting back to work during a pandemic has meant very different to Bishnu Aryal and her husband Bidhyut Raj Pandey. Struggling to fit in between the roles of responsible guardians, parents of two kids and individuals with jobs, all at once, the couple often find themselves at the receiving end of unceasing duties.

“Days have always been full of activities after the pandemic. Sparing a huge time for looking after our kids has become a crucial part of our routines,” says Aryal, a mother of two. “These days I’m not just a mother, I’m also their tutor, and often their playmate. Multitasking has become an inseparable word to define my current circumstances.”

Aryal, who is a banker at one of the branches of Nepal Investment Bank in the Valley, has two children of four and six years of age. Pandemic parenting has become a tough job for Aryal and her husband. “Harder than I thought,” she explains as she believes that all of this is draining and hard to manage. Their job expands from 10 to 5 and leaving two kinds alone at home is the only option they have as of now. And even after returning from their offices, the couple is always engaged in looking after their children, switching roles between a tutor and a guardian and also their play buddy.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to spread with much strength across the world, schools, colleges and even day care centers have remained closed for the past four months. While the situation has impacted families worldwide, families with both working parents have been affected differently and on the spotlight of affliction are working parents with children of small ages.

Now, as the offices have started to reopen, the burden has rather amplified as parents have started to get back to offices but the schools and day care centers remain closed.

This had compelled Aryal and her husband who works in a cooperative to leave their children at home, alone and all at their own. The fear of their children staying alone grasps them firmly but that’s the only option they have at present. “It is really risky as we have to leave our children at home. They’re just 4 and 6 years old and leaving them alone often leaves our hearts heavy,” said Aryal, adding, “But we have to do it anyway. We cannot risk losing our jobs in a crisis like this to look at our children.”

Even before the pandemic had molded new circumstances, correctly balancing work and family life was a tough deal for working parents. However, COVID-19 has just flashed a spotlight on a problem that already existed in society. Shouldering the responsibility of schools and daycares that has been closed for months now has strained the parents in all physical, emotional and mental forms.

As a result of managing additional responsibilities along with the physical, mental and emotional pressure, parents feel that their performance at work has been hampered in some ways impacting their working potential.

“I can rarely focus on my work these days. I’m often worried about my children wondering if they’re safe and if they’ve eaten well or not. As a mother, it’s very hard to realize that we’re compelled to leave our children at home, alone,” Aryal said. 

Psychologist Gopal Dhakal mentions that the pandemic has slightly highlighted the problems that were pre-existent in our society. “Parenting was always a tough job for working parents even before the pandemic. The current crisis has just highlighted the pre existing problems,” he said.

Dhakal explains that this tension can amplify the physical, mental as well as emotional stress in working parents inducing a long term dilemma in mental health. “The additional stress of duties and responsibilities might also affect their work performance.”

For Divya Maharjan, too, the pandemic has brought differences in the circumstances of parenting a child. With Aayan, her eight years old son and a job in hand, parenting has started to feel like a tough job, she says.

“Before the pandemic, it was easy for us as Aayan would be in his school most of the time. But now, managing things is a struggle as we have to look after him along with looking after our own jobs,” Divya said. Divya and her husband go to office on alternate days and drop their son in his maternal house with his grandparents whenever they go to the office.

When they’re at home, the parents often have to sit with Aayan during his online classes to assist him with the use of gadgets and class assignments even while continuing their own work while working from home. 

Nevertheless, the pandemic hasn’t just exhausted the parents but Aayan too seems worn out by the ever-elongating lockdown. He always talks about missing his friends and school and is no longer as cheerful as before. This is when the parents turn anxious and they often try to switch their roles in becoming his play buddy.

“The constant switching of roles to assist him with all kinds of help and support he needs is exhausting sometimes. Spending family time together would be fun in the early days of the lockdown but now it’s been months and it’s not easy anymore,” Divya said.

According to Dhakal, like working parents, their children too are under the risk of mental wrench due to the crisis, in fact much more than the parents. “Children are the most vulnerable group to face emotional and mental problems due to the circumstances created by the pandemic. Adults are mature enough to comprehend these problems and analyze thoroughly but it’s not the same with children,” he said.

The circumstance has definitely trained both mothers and fathers to step up for the division of responsibilities, but like the pre-pandemic era, women still continue to bear a lopsided share of the burden. Even when both the parents are working parents, women are seen spending more time and effort than men in nurturing and caring for children.

With her seven months old son, Sita Magar set off for Salyan last month. Magar who works under the ministry of Agriculture was transferred to Salyan from Kathmandu for a year. “Giving up on my work wasn’t a solution so I had to bring my son along with me,” she said.

Magar often leaves her child with a niece who lives nearby her residence in Salyan and on other days she takes him along with her to the office. “It is definitely hard to manage work life while raising a child but I haven’t let this hamper my professional life.”

According to Mina Uprety, sociologist at Tribhuvan University, women have always been divided with greater responsibility when it comes to looking after a family and raising a child. “Since ancient times, society has enforced women to be responsible for home-based chores. Even when both the parents are working, women are somehow inclined toward the responsibility of home chores and raising a child,” she said.

The strain it inflicts on women creates a sense of vulnerability in their emotions and mental health status. “However, I believe the pandemic has helped in changing this situation in some ways as even men are seen involved in household chores and looking after a child,” says Uprety.

Unlike many families, Magar too feels that the responsibility has been divided mutually between her and her husband Shanta Bahadur Magar as her husband has also been looking after their elder child - a nine years old daughter. 

“It is appreciable that he has been cooperative throughout this whole time as he is looking after our elder daughter,” she said, “Currently he has been able to look after our daughter as his work hasn’t resumed but I fear there will be no one to look after her after his work resumes in regular hours.”

It is clear that many parents, weary from nearly five months of homeschooling, are extremely eager to have their children return to in-person learning. However, with the virus spreading stronger than ever, it isn’t hard to figure out that these institutions have no signs of reopening anytime soon.

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