Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UK Schools have been shut for the best part of four weeks with little indication of when they will be opening again. For millions of working mums across the nation, their home has all of a sudden become an office, a classroom, and a family relaxation and entertainment space all in one. This very new way of living is incredibly difficult to get used to, and the responsibility of working as well as continuing children’s education is undoubtedly causing stress and anxiety for many.
A recent report from the Guardian has shed light on just how stressful the situation is for many working and expectant mums. Suggesting that many women are being told by employers they are not allowed to work from home whilst the schools have closed, and being made redundant whilst working fathers are being able to continue working as usual. The situation has highlighted how much unconscious bias can damage opportunities for working mums to excel in their jobs.
The pandemic has quickly unearthed how differently men and women are treated in the world of work. An article in The Atlantic has pointed out that the Coronavirus poses a real threat to feminism, and that if we’re not careful about ensuring equality between working mothers and fathers during this time “women’s independence will be a silent victim of the pandemic”.
In light of such worrying reports, we’ve looked at how it is possible for working mums to homeschool given the right flexibility and support from employers.
One of the key methods working mums can use to successfully homeschool is to establish a daily routine, even if it’s loose, and remain consistent with it.
Balancing working from home with homeschooling will require flexibility from both employers and employees if it’s to work. If you’re a working mum concerned about job security the first thing to do is to have a conversation with your employer about agreeing on a realistic flexible working agreement. Perhaps you can agree to work different hours to the core 9-5 routine? Or even temporarily work part-time, if it’s affordable. Being able to work when your children are having downtime, playtime or in the evenings will mean that you can focus on their learning when they need you, and keep working.
Concerns from a psychologist in a recent report by Today warn that the coronavirus pandemic is placing huge mental strain on women. The report summarises this burden by suggesting the current pressure on working mums is like the ‘1950s meets 2020’ with women bearing household burdens, childcare responsibilities, financial worries and job security anxieties simultaneously. The pandemic has also highlighted how prevalent the motherhood penalty is in many industries in the UK.
For working mums trying to juggle it all at the moment, it’s really important to keep in mind that it’s okay to struggle. These aren’t normal times, we’re currently amid a global pandemic and under any other circumstance, mothers wouldn’t be expected to teach their children and work at the same time. To enable working mums to stand a chance at balancing everything, employers should enable them the flexibility to complete their work in alternative hours than they would if their children were in school.
Adjusting the daily learning schedule for children alongside flexible working may also be a realistic solution to balancing it all. For example, one situation could be mornings reserved for schooling and focusing on a few hours of key learning, and then afternoons are for children to have downtime, craft time, or independent learning whilst mums work. If you’re in a two-parent household, it will also be helpful to share the responsibilities and come up with a homeschool routine involving shared input. Making use of free online learning resources to engage children in independent learning is also a way to balance their learning with your work.
Flexibility is a keyword to keep in mind right now. Your child’s school may have set work to be done every day and guidance on how much learning to do in a week, using this alongside the principals of flexible working to develop a routine that works for you and the children will help you embrace the changes.
Many parents won’t have the choice to set up a separate working space, but if you can it will help to establish a routine if there is a place your children associate with learning in the home. If you have a dining room or even dining table perhaps setting up pens, paper, pencils, school books etc. on the table and even tasking your children to craft a sign for their new ‘classroom’ will help them to get into the headspace of school whenever they are sat there. Similarly for parents, if you don’t already have a dedicated place where you go to work, choose a spot in your home where you will work, and again you could even ask your children to draw a sign indicating it’s your new ‘office’ so that they know that when you’re there you’re effectively ‘at work’.
There is a real risk of gender equality at work and in wider society going backwards if the response to working from home and homeschooling is handled wrongly and unfairly. The government have put in place certain schemes such as the furlough scheme to effectively prevent employers from having to make people redundant and this should be considered before making a working mum redundant. For employers, it may be a challenging time financially, but it’s also a chance to reflect on core diversity and inclusion values and allow that to inform decisions about supporting working and expectant mums facing unprecedented pressures at home.
For mums that are working from home, establishing a flexible schedule that works for your family and taking it day by day is seemingly the best route to find balance working from home and homeschooling.