Parents take stock after a year of juggling responsibilities during lockdown | Lifestyle | DW | 07.04.2021
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Parents take stock after a year of juggling responsibilities during lockdown

During the first lockdown in spring 2020, parents' tales about balancing work and children at home went viral on social media. A year later, the situation is still tense. Especially for women.

When journalist and mother Mareice Kaiser wondered on Twitter about a year ago what "parents do who are at their wits' end," she struck a nerve. Under the hashtag #Coronaeltern (corona parents), parents across Germany took the opportunity to let off steam about the challenges of juggling working from home and dealing with their kids  at the same time. At that point, Germany had been in lockdown mode for several weeks, with daycare centers and schools already closed. Playgrounds and sports fields were also off-limits, and children were for the most part not allowed to meet up with friends.

Being stuck at home was difficult for many families, despite all the work-out videos on YouTube and children's TV options. Many employers still expected daily workloads to be fulfilled as per usual, but now teachers were also demanding the children's scanned worksheets in the evening.

Under the hashtag #coronaparents, parents in other countries, too, shared their frustrations about improvised home schooling solutions, ice cream breakfasts and sleepless nights.

Fears of the future, burnout

About a year later, there is still no sign of relaxation. On the contrary.

According to Germany's Robert Koch Institute, the country is in the midst of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The 7-day incidence rate per 100,000 inhabitants hit about 130 at the beginning of April. Although schools and daycare centers have largely reopened after several months of lockdown, there is still no sign of normalcy in people's everyday lives.

Daycare centers are open only a limited number of hours per day. Schools have also greatly scaled back the number of classes. Some schools hold lessons in classrooms only every other day, others ask the students to come in daily but for just a few hours. Many parents wonder what will happen next week, after the Easter break. Some states have already announced that childcare facilities will only offer emergency care.

But even without the official lockdown and emergency operations, parents feel the rising pressure to keep their children at home. "And there it is, the message not to send the child to daycare if possible," wrote one German user on Twitter, pointing out her child comes home every day with happy stories about the great time they had in the forest. Again, she says, it is the parents who have to make decisions. Another mother complained about a lack of support for parents. "I feel burned out, and I wouldn't be surprised to see parents keeling over one by one." Another wrote about a mother in tears on the phone because she doesn't know how to take care of her child when the daycare centers return to emergency mode.

Mothers hit especially hard

It is not a coincidence that most of the voices venting their frustration on social media are female. Numerous studies show that, on average, women are significantly more burdened by coronavirus restrictions than men. Although fathers increasingly help raise their children and do household chores, women still bear the brunt. German sociologist Jutta Allmendinger has referred to what she calls a "retraditionalization" of gender roles that could be setting back women's emancipation by decades.

Woman sits in front of laptop, head in hands

A year after the pandemic first hit, many parents are utterly exhausted and anxious

An October 2020 National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) confirmed that childcare is more often the responsibility of mothers. "Working mothers have often taken charge of the care of their children alone, while many fathers have only provided supplementary care. As other studies show, balancing these two responsibilities is likely to be difficult, especially with children in daycare," the study says.

In a June 2020 study by Germany's Federal Institute for Population Research, women reported high stress levels more often than men. About one out of four mothers with children under the age of 6 felt dejected at least once a week. In a survey conducted at the end of 2020, the Techniker Krankenkasse health insurers found that more than half of the mothers interviewed were stressed more profoundly than before the coronavirus crisis. At about 40%, the proportion was slightly lower among men.

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'At the limit all the time'

Women who opt for a few weeks of treatments at specialized health resorts have always been exhausted, Anne Schilling, managing director of Germany's Müttergenesungswerk (Maternal Health Care Foundation) told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland in February 2021. "But the women who turn to us now are simply at their wits' end," she says, adding these women are "burned out and overwhelmed." The lack of prospects is particularly worrying, Schilling says.

"They suffer from the fact that nothing can be planned: daycare centers are closed, regular classes are scheduled, only to be cancelled again. This is not only exhausting for the women, it puts a strain on them," she argues. "After all, there's a lot at stake here — their own jobs, their children's education, the whole family." What she would most like to see is a push for fathers to participate more and to reduce their working hours in return.

More tests for children, more child sick days and even a very hard lockdown — which would include bans on travel and business — in order to have more freedom afterwards are some of the solutions for stressed parents currently floated on social media.

Yet people still haven't lost their sense of humor. Teresa Bücker suggested politicians should sponsor two young children each — and actively take care of them. "Practical experience is so important," the German journalist wrote.

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