It is never easy to be parents! We work 365 days a year. Seven days a week. No right to vacations, days off and holidays. Seeing well, being a parent represents another job besides work. Split between educating or feeding a child; the smallest games; take it to school, football, or explanations; get angry, worry about homework or have her tidy up her room. Any child requires attention and affection, of course. The "sixth sense" always in the "on". And, above all, time. Long time!
But if, under normal circumstances, the work of parents is never taken into account (if anyone considers that it can reach an estimated cost of € 75 per day, per child), during the quarantine, the work of parents left to take place in “part-time” and started to take place in “full-time”. In other words, it was "pushed to the limit": parents working as parents "24 hours a day, without interruption, without lunchtime, without weekends and without the right to burnouts from parents. And, above all, many other tasks that, so quickly, transformed them into teachers or explainers, as well as cultural animators, leisure animators or conflict managers. Most of them are teleworking, with no time limits and, however, with performances considered surprising by their employers. And with their lives as parents, educational assistants and dedicated workers taking place in the perimeter of a room. Converted into an “open space” where everyone worked as a “co-work”.
Trying to understand the work of parents in the course of quarantine, we organized a study * at the BabyLab of the University of Coimbra that aimed to assess the working time of parents. And relate these results to your level of satisfaction with life. “Parent work” means all the time that the mother or father devotes to their child (ren). Whether it's preparing meals for you, helping you with your hygiene, taking you to school, engaging in extracurricular activities, playing with them, helping you (s) with homework, etc.
Most of the surveyed parents had been in confinement for more than 1 month, when they answered the proposed questionnaire. More than half of the surveyed parents (54.6%) felt they had less or no support during this period.
The biggest difficulties identified in the quarantine period – more than those related to teleworking, for example – are, above all, those related to their children: “Accompanying their children on the telescope and in school work”; “Knowing how to occupy children's time”; "Manage family conflicts". The level of family conflict, on the other hand, seems proportional to the number of children in a family. That is, quarantine, for example, seems to have brought no more conflict to families with a single child.
For most, their parents' “work day”, during quarantine, started to start an hour later, considering the hour before that period, and to end an hour or two beyond what was usual for them . At 8:00 am, it began, for 46.4% of parents, who ended after 10 pm or 11 pm, in 67.7% of the situations. The “Tasks“ Taking care of hygiene ”,“ Managing meals ”,“ Making beds / tidying up the room ”,“ Taking care of children's clothes ”,“ Taking them to school / extracurricular activities ”,“ Playing ”and“ Supporting work home ”, present significant differences, which reveals a change in their parents' management. The majority (more than 60%) recognize that the distribution of this work is not homogeneous between both fathers, putting more stress on the mothers.
Most parents (55.4%) consider the amount of schoolwork in this period to be moderate or adequate, with 22.8% classifying it as exaggerated.
During quarantine, and considering a weekday, 77.9% of parents spend at least 1 hour helping their children with their homework. 46.4% spend more than 2 hours a day playing with their children. And 40.1% more than 2 hours a day watching TV. Most parents (77.4%) recognize using electronic devices to minimize family conflicts and entertain their children.
More than 80% recognize that, in this period of confinement, having less time available to them. On average, parents felt significantly less satisfied with their lives. These values are dependent on the type of housing they live in, the time they have for themselves and the support of third parties for their “parenting work”. In addition, there is a significant and proportional relationship between satisfaction with life and the number of children. Likewise, this degree of satisfaction is all the greater the lower the level of perception required in schoolwork, the less family conflicts there are and the more homogeneous is the distribution of “parenting work”.
Children – supporting their school tasks, accompanying them on the telescope, occupying them and managing family conflicts around them – are identified as the greatest difficulties during quarantine. Because they will also have been “the center” of your concerns. The increase in working time for parents during this period is made by sacrificing the time they had for themselves. The increase in parental work seems to have accentuated a heterogeneous division of educational responsibilities during quarantine. No schedule flexibility. And without interruptions. Added by the school attendance to the children, which will have become an added factor of stress for everyone. And that made many of the work tasks, related to teleworking, remain pending until after the children fell asleep, even extending until dawn. In addition, the sample to which we had access has, as one of its most important biases *, the educational level of the people who collaborated. Which leads us to assume, from the data at our disposal, that the discrepancies in the division of parenting tasks, the space limitations of countless Portuguese families, their financial concerns and concerns about not being able to meet all their children's needs ( included), may be even more significant. What will make the mental health of Portuguese families tend to be, in the long term, compromised by everything that has been demanded of parents and that, in a real state of parental emergency, they corresponded in this period of confinement.
The end of some of the measures imposed by the State in response to this pandemic does not correspond to the end of the “state of parental emergency” that parents have been experiencing. Especially because many of those who were telecommuting remain in this condition. Now, more and more tired. And with the added concern of, if necessary, managing their children's social unrest when they start to return to daycare centers and school, without yet having irrefutable data about the consequences that will fall on them. In fact, concerns about their children, their parents and their work will have done (and will continue to do) with parents not even having opportunities to think about themselves. In your conflicts and in your personal relationships. Which, with caution, may lead us to consider that, when there is a real “parental deflation”, the “parental emergency state” in which they have lived – which “forces” them to function, almost always in “alert mode” ”And without space for anything other than the responsibilities they have with their children, their parents and their work – will most likely give way to more states of exhaustion, to atmospheres with a“ depressive breeze ” and the emergence of family conflicts. Which, if so, will make the next summer vacation (themselves also subject to some confinement) a less relaxed and less "nutritious" space than they could be.
As much as the mental health resources of parents and families have proven unmistakable in this quarantine, do not confuse resilience with a “state of parental emergency”. The parents are healthy, they resisted the quarantine in a surprising way but, in the long run, they will need to “decompress”. It is therefore natural – and healthy, even – that, after the “lack of patience” that many parents and many children have been manifesting, there will be disturbances in some and in the near future, so that they can finally metabolize everything that has been demanded. Parents and children will “need” to go through periods when they will feel most irascible and impulsive. On the other hand, children will need to realize that the more “sweet” rules regarding electronic toys, television and other everyday routines will need a “grace period” to get back to what they were. Parents will lose their balance more often. Couple relationships will “constipate” with another frequency. But, with the start of a kind of “death figure”, it is these post-confinement reactions that give us “group immunity” so that, after all this, we look at other challenges, stronger than we were, before quarantine.
PS. This investigation results from a total of 4153 responses, collected online. The target population to which it refers is made up of mothers and fathers, without restrictions on sexual orientation or marital status, with children aged up to 12 years. The sample is made up of 97.2% females and 2.8% males. The average age is 39.79 years, with 97.1% being between 30 …