Lockdowns and self-quarantine measures since the arrival of COVID-19 have disproportionately affected moms versus dads.
Seven in 10 women report they have primarily taken on child care duties since the crisis began in March, according to a recent survey from GALE, a creative media consultancy. While 36% of men indicated they and their spouse took on caregiving duties equally, only 16% of women said the same.
The findings aren’t surprising, said Jean Fitzpatrick, a relationship therapist in New York.
“I think very often that women do a lot of tasks that remain invisible,” she said. “Women tend to walk through a room and pick something up when it's on the floor or interact with their child and in ways that may not even be noticed.”
As the pandemic persists, there are ways couples can work together on child care duties, so one spouse isn’t left overburdened. Here’s what experts advise.
Acknowledge the stress
Spousal communication is paramount, but so is the recognition that pandemic-era life is unusual.
“There is grief about the feeling that so much of what matters to us in life has just disappeared,” Fitzpatrick said. Acknowledge that the things you once loved like sports games, dining out, and going to concerts no longer exist, and people are “worried that many of them are going to sink.”
Pointing out that partners constantly sharing the same physical space without interruptions for work or individual social time is another major disruption and cause for stress, Fitzpatrick also mentioned that there’s a real concern about health and safety.
All of the background information needs to be acknowledged before partners can have a meaningful discussion on how they’re going to homeschool their children or decide if the family will visit friends or relatives.
Reconnect with your partner
For mothers who identify with parental burnout or feel like they’re pulling the lion’s share of household chores and child-rearing, communicate because your message is likely to be well-received as men want to be more involved.
“I've actually had some dads say, ‘it bothers me that [the children] go to her first,’” Fitzpatrick said. “We're in a wonderful moment when actually men and women are ripe for wanting to shift that a little bit.”
Broaching these conversations needs to happen at the appropriate time, she said, preferably not when one partner’s tensions are high.
“Too often partners try to fix things on the fly,” she said. “Rather than just get mad or lose your temper, set up a routine where you can talk to each other.”
Fitzpatrick offered her suggestions.
Create a shared family calendar like Google Calendar or Cozi. Include every family member’s appointments, school events, conferences, business trips, activities, and meetings, so both partners know what’s going on.
Confer in weekly or daily meetings with your partner to discuss your upcoming goals and reflect on the week’s events. Fitzpatrick stressed that the check-ins are not a time to attack the other or air grievances with the other. Rather, it should be a peaceful discussion, perhaps “you have a glass of wine together and maybe sit in your backyard if you have one.”
“Recognize that you're sharing responsibilities, not tasks. It's not just one partner is the boss and the other one feels like they're reporting to that partner,” she said. “You're building a feeling of teamwork.”
Don’t fret over screen time
With families confined to the four walls of a home, nearly 40% of millennial and Gen X moms gave their children more screen time during isolation, according to the data.
Parents who previously had drawn hard lines on screen time for their children can bend the rules now because not all screen content is created equal, Fitzpatrick said.
Screen time for video chatting with a grandparent because of social distancing is different from your child playing a video game with a repetitive theme, Fitzgerald explained, citing research from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As schools design their plans for the 2020-2021 school year, online education is on the table for many states. In that outcome, screen time is bound to increase and so will a child’s developmental need for physical movement and conversation.
“If your child has to be on the screen because of school,” Fitzpatrick said, “then probably it's important for that child to have more physical exercise and more interaction with a 3D human.”
Read more information and tips in our Family section