Working mothers are bearing an unfair burden in lockdown fallout

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

The work is flying in via Seesaw, Aladdin or Teams. Live classes are being streamed on Zoom. Teachers are doing their bit.

Parents are doing their bit too. They’re correcting sums, reacquainting themselves with the caitheamh aimsire, and fashioning metre sticks out of lengths of twine. The home printer is burning enough ink to power the Chinese State Grid.

All of the national debate about homeschooling so far has focused on what teachers, schools, the Department of Education, children and parents need to do. But there’s another set of stakeholders who have largely been silent. Too many employers seem to be adopting the approach that worked so well for them from March to September. They’re simply pretending it’s not happening.

There are over 560,000 primary school children in the country. Few but the most mature are self-reliant learners. The younger they are, the more input, help and cajoling they need. No matter how available and dedicated their teachers, the hands-on bit currently has to come from their parents. And if last time round is any indication, that often means their mother.

A recently-published UCD study on the last lockdown found that “there was a clear gender difference in who was helping the children with remote learning, with 95 per cent of children reporting that their mothers helped them, compared to 52 per cent of children reporting that their fathers helped them.”  

A qualitative study by Maynooth University, published in December, looked at the experiences of 30 mothers. “You’re a teacher, you’re a mother, you’re a worker. You’re doing the laundry, you’re cooking lunch,” one told researchers. Another said that she felt guilty for ignoring her children when she was working, and when she was helping them, “you’re kind of going, ‘Oh my God, I hope nobody’s looking for me’.”

About the author

Mamie M. Arndt