Juggling Work And Home Schooling Is Taking Its Toll On Mums' Mental Health
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Featured Image Credit: Mary Hale/Katy Humphrey
It comes as no surprise that parents are feeling the effects of juggling work and home schooling throughout the pandemic.
But with schools set to remain closed for at least another month - and studies showing women are taking on the bulk of the childcare in lockdown - it's clear that many mums are beginning to buckle under the pressure of this never-ending juggling act.
Psychologist Zoë Clews explains that, for many women, trying to manage their jobs, childcare needs and home schooling has created an environment whereby mums are unable to enjoy spending time with their children. Instead, it has put them in a position of conflict.
"You simply cannot expect mums to be able to deliver workload at the same level as child-free colleagues who can put in the hours and are not facing the extra burden of simultaneously trying to supervise schoolwork, referee squabbles and manage meltdowns," she tells Tyla.
"For single mothers, things are even tougher as they are shouldering all of the burden without so much as a minute to themselves during the day."
"I don't care what anyone says, it's impossible to work from home and care for two young children on your own"
Alice Davies, 42 from Brighton, single mum to six-year-old Bella and four-year-old Jake
Alice, a communications executive, has worked from home throughout lockdown and says the pressure has been immense.
"Their father is not involved so I have to work and home school and provide childcare 24/7," says Alice, whose children are in Year 2 and Reception. "To be honest I've done very little homeschooling as the demands of work and just day-to-day childcare have taken all my time and energy."
Normally Alice would be supported by breakfast clubs, after school clubs and weekend activities for the children during her working hours, but due to lockdown this is no longer an option.
"I don't care what anyone says, it's impossible to work from and care for two young children on your own. I begged my employer to furlough me but they said no."
Alice says her employer has advised her to 'work flexibly', meaning they expect her to work outside of her normal work hours or on weekends to complete her tasks. "For me, in my situation this is not an option as I have the children with me at all times," she explains.
"It's destroying my relationship with my kids as I'm constantly telling them to be quiet and go away while I work."
"Mentally it's an incredible drain"
Katy Humphrey, 33, from Nottinghamshire has a seven-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son
Katy's living room has become her office space - both for her work as a virtual assistant, and as a makeshift classroom. She and her husband have agreed she will be in charge of all the homeschooling due to his job.
"It's a nightmare at the moment," says Katy, who supports clients remotely while handling event coordination, social media and scheduling - all while trying to complete at least three hours of homeschooling per day.
Her daughter's primary school sends a daily PowerPoint presentation with two videos lasting three minutes each. "They say we can just give it to them and they can get on with the work [but] I've never known a child in Year 2 able to read a presentation and do the work with little assistance," she says.
"I have to juggle my meetings and client work time with schooling. Sounds easy - but I think mentally it's an incredible drain."
Katy says she manages to do around an hour, two at most, of homeschooling. "If I'm honest, it's rare that we can give it our sole attention. I have clients that need ad-hoc work doing, have questions and things pop up unexpectedly. Some days are easier than others but it's a real struggle.
"My to-do list is as long as my arm and adding a seven-year-old's and 12-year-old's curriculum into that is just not manageable."
Katy admits she has struggled to switch between her job and being a homeschool teacher throughout the day. "The pressure of home schooling from the schools is immense, I tell myself that I can only do my best and that's good enough but being told by the school that actually it isn't, is a hard pill to swallow".
"Overwhelm can be debilitating"
Mum-of-two Chloe Sparkes, 34, from Lincolnshire has operated her jewellery business from home during lockdown
Chloe is mum to a five-year-old and a three-year-old. Following her pregnancies, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and postnatal depression.
Between answering customer queries and fulfilling orders, Chloe has to be a homeschool teacher. "Being a one-woman army, there's also the other hats I need to wear [and] I have to find time for somewhere in between being a wife and a mother, running a household and, at the moment, being two different teachers."
The numerous lockdowns have taken a heavy toll on her mental health, she says. "I ended up having a complete burnout in September. I had a big panic attack and felt ill for days afterwards.
"This lockdown, I've found it even more tough mentally. It's cold and dark, the days are longer and the kids can't be free to range and play outside," she tells Tyla.
Chloe has to manage schoolwork from two different teachers as well as her own workload, housework, family time and dealing with tantrums. "There you have the epitome of absolute overwhelm. Overwhelm can be debilitating sometimes."
"Be kind to yourself and don't try to be Supermum"
Mum-of-two Mary Hals is a 34-year-old mental health nurse from East Sussex
Mary has a four-year-old daughter and an eight-week-old son, and worked from home during the pandemic before going on maternity leave at the end of last year. She confesses: "I often give advice to patients on how to look after their mental health, but this can be hard to apply to myself."
Mary had just welcomed her youngest when the country went into its third lockdown in January. "The hardest thing has been feeling isolated, although I have been messaging a few mums from the Peanut app which has really helped," she says.
She is now on maternity leave, having worked from home from her 28th week in her pregnancy as recommended. Before that she worked on a male acute psychiatric ward.
While we can't be sure when children will return to school, Mary has offered some advice in the meantime for mothers that are struggling.
"Be kind to yourself and don't try to be Supermum," she says. "There is so much pressure to be the perfect mum- home schooling, doing fun activities, cooking home cooked meals.
"This is not only unrealistic but is also adding so much pressure to an already stressful situation."
Psychologist Zoë also has some advice for mums who are currently struggling: "Support is the answer to everything, so wherever you can get extra support be that friends, family, therapist, online support groups or helplines realise that it's vital that you reach out and say 'I'm not coping right now' there is no shame in it."
For help or support, visit mind.org.uk