Sometimes I write my blog just to normalise things. I hope that by putting my feelings out there I might just bring some comfort to other parents at this time. And what a time it is! I’m in Melbourne, so am currently in week 10 of a pretty hard lockdown. It started with a gentle “Stage 3” lockdown (meaning restaurants were closed, but we could still go to the shops, and schools were still open). That didn’t even last two weeks before we were thrust into “Stage 4” lockdown, meaning no shops, no family support, no babysitting and school (sob!).
Now, I’m going to confess, I didn’t not cope during lockdown one. It wasn’t until it was over that I realised how close to the edge I was. How completely broken I was. How much I had actually used everything I had to try and home school and work at the same time (and hubby too!). I knew I couldn’t do it again without having a complete breakdown. Something had to give.
Home schooling in lockdown #2 aka crushing guilt 1
I’m the first to admit that I’m lucky. Not everyone has managed to get through this crisis with a job in tact, and we’re lucky that my husband and I have managed to maintain our jobs (mine with a little help from government subsidies). Still, home schooling and working full time is an impossible ask. You’re stretched in all directions, and finish the day a weary husk of yourself. I know people whose lives are working, schooling, sleeping and eating, and while I applaud them, I just knew that was not something we could sustain.
Fortunately for me, my hubby has been with the same employer for 12 years, and has mounds of leave available to him. Plus, his forward-thinking organisation gifted all employees a day a week of “COVID leave” while in lockdown. It’s amazing. As a result, hubby has pulled back to 50% of his usual workload to do most of the home schooling, with me doing one day a week. This has taken the burden away, and hubby is pretty happy. He’s a great, patient teacher.
Here’s what I didn’t expect to feel from this though. Guilt. Crushing guilt. I know it’s not logical, and it certainly doesn’t align to my feminist values, but somehow there’s this part of me that feels like, as “mother”, I should be the one supporting my child. Even though we know it’s better for my mental health this way. Even though she’s perfectly happy. Even though hubby is a much nicer teacher than I am. And with guilt comes shame. At first I was embarrassed to admit that hubby was doing it all. And I still feel awkward when people complain about home schooling and I think, “It’s not that bad” because how could it be when you’re not doing most of it?
Working flexible in lockdown #2 aka more crushing guilt
When hubby negotiated some home schooling flexibility we didn’t think we’d be into this as long as we have been. We are now facing school holidays with no access to care (not even the usual care from family members is allowed!), and at least another week of home schooling on the other side of it. Even my hubby’s understanding workplace can’t keep this generosity up for much longer.
So … it’s my turn. And with that comes a request for flexibility, because I know doing it all will break me. My work says all the right things. “We will support you, no matter what.” They grant requests for carer’s leave. And yet I’m faced with the same workload. I’m faced with expectations. I’m filled with another round of crushing guilt when I have to tell colleagues that I’m on reduced hours for the next few weeks. Yet this time it’s because I’m putting being “Mum” before being a colleague. I can’t win.
Laugh or cry
Part of me just wants to laugh at myself. It doesn’t matter what I do, I feel guilty. And it’s an ongoing struggle for me. I can remember announcing I was pregnant, and being quick to state, “But I’m still dedicated to my career”. And while I have been I have to admit that I know I’ve sacrificed some of my professional progress through motherhood – who hasn’t?
This guilt doesn’t really compare to the guilt I feel as a mother if I’m not there for my daughter. She is my priority, and when this lockdown was looming the first thing I said to my boss was, “I’m putting my family first this time. Last time I put my work before my family, and it didn’t work. It nearly broke me.” Her response was shock. Why? Because I just got on with it. Because she had no idea just how much I was struggling to juggle it all. Because she thought I was OK.
So I guess what I want to acknowledge is, we all feel guilty. And some of us feel guilty no matter what we do. Mother’s guilt is a very real thing. But what we can do is be open about how we feel. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to say, “I can’t do it this way”. Tell your employer if you’re struggling. It’s hard, and I’m still learning how to do it, but it’s the best gift you can give yourself, particularly in our current state of heightened emotions. Give yourself a break. Acknowledge the guilt, then let it float away.