You become ‘the help’
Because I was working in the kitchen, every time I made a drink, I thought, “Oh, he’ll want a drink as well.” So, then, you know, at the side of his screen was, like, a hand and a coffee cup just being put down in front of him, and that, kind of, argh, got me a bit. Like, “I can see what I’m doing here. I don’t know how I feel with it and my own politics,” and I just thought, “Oh God, just be compassionate. He just needs a hot drink. Don’t read too much into it,” but it is more than that. There was a massive shift in power in that. I just sort of, went with it, but yes, you become the help because you’re there for the kids. They’d come in, one by one, for their check-ins and just spill it all out, and then lunch and then dinner. I realised with us all being out, you’d only ever really worry about one meal a day, in the evening perhaps, and now there was not just another one, but, kind of, making sure, you know, supermarket delivery, that had to be done. I wasn’t going out to the supermarket. It was being delivered here and it should have been easier, but it’s the whole thing, like you have to press ‘submit’ the night before and make sure you’ve got all the things that people want. #15
Maintaining family life
I think, at the beginning of the first lockdown, there was a sort of energy that came with the change to lifestyle, and some of the sensemaking of what was going on was, for me, about the unsustainability of the way that we lived. Not just in sort of environmental terms, you know. It was very tiring. We spent a lot of time sat in traffic, and we were time poor. I was also sort of mindful of how everybody was doing. It’s difficult with teenagers, to find ways of engaging them in conversation. And if you ask them how they’re doing, they say, “Fine.” But I’ve always set quite a high value around eating together every evening and that being an important part of maintaining family life. And I enjoy cooking, you know. I find it quite therapeutic, really. So, I just was trying to, yeah, create some regular points of connection. But when I look back – when I realised that some of my friends weren’t doing that, that their kids were, you know, making themselves a sandwich and taking it back to their rooms, I thought, “Hang on a minute, this is knackering! #7
A tag-team approach, with a lot of resentment
Despite work being generally manageable, there was a degree of tension and simmering resentment with my husband! In general, he is a very hands-on parent and we have a good sharing of responsibilities. But there has always been a recurring and underlying argument between us revolving around our different career types and employment statuses. Because he is self-employed, his stance is that it’s valid for him to work any and all hours he can, whilst because I am an employee, I should only work my hours, and anything I do over-and-above is unpaid and exploitative. This came to the fore again during the lockdown and I felt we were often ‘fighting our corners’ to justify that our work needs and to protect our work time. It became quite adversarial. We both did manage to get our work done, and neither of us had to try to work simultaneously with childcaring, but it was only achieved through this tag-team approach that involved a lot of resentment, neither of us feeling the other was really respecting our needs. #22
I’ve never felt like such a skivvy.
Suddenly you know, you’ve just got two of us just in the house all day every day and it was … he’s not someone to do housework or to see the need to clean or tidy things up. So, I suddenly felt this massive, kind of, burden of extra household stuff that I had to do. So, that was on one side and then the food side I think probably became a little bit of an obsession, like, you know, literally getting up at three in the morning to try and get an Amazon Prime Now food slot rather than leaving the house and going to a supermarket. I’ve never felt like such a skivvy. He just isn’t normally in the house this much. #19
Wearing multiple hats all day long
You’re wearing multiple hats all day long, looking after children, you know, doing stuff at home, all the extra work that was surrounding our home. My husband’s a keyworker, so he left home. He didn’t have that. He was able to separate that. So, somehow it felt like it was all upon me to do that work. You can’t write if you’re just burnt out and exhausted. And it’s not even just that stuff. It takes more effort to meet up with people. So, my husband’s not organising Zoom quizzes for friends and family, you know. It’s always the wives that organise the, “Oh, shall we meet on a Friday night round Zoom? Everybody bring a bottle,” you know. And so there’s a lot of the emotional labour involved in that as well. And, you know, he’s not packaging off nice presents to people at Easter and Halloween to make sure our friends’ kids are getting sweeties at Halloween, even though they can’t go out. #14
Everyone was fed and watered.
I think while the kids were at home, my job was to feed, water, structure and then the bits in-between were where I could do what I needed to do. That was the only way that I could not feel resentful of them. That was my job. And that seemed really important for their mental health really, I was really concerned about that. And I think, fingers crossed, we did alright, we’ve all come out the other end and everyone’s still functioning. I don’t think the efforts we put in to this year will be recognised ‘in the round’ – colleagues who had no caring responsibilities have been able to pursue personal agendas much more easily than others and although the institution says it will recognise this in future promotion rounds, I know that won’t be the case having sat on promotion committees in the past. The burden of care fell on women, has always fallen on women and will continue to do so. #20
The closed door, the separate room
I was having a conversation with my daughter the other day. She wanted something, we were both working at home and the kids were still off school. She asked me and I said why are you asking me, go and ask dad and she was like, well he’s working. So, it was like, well I’m working. It was that classic thing. So, I said that’s really sexist because why is his work more important than mine? It made her think a little bit. There was this presumption, the closed door, the separate room, the fact that his work involves more kind of calls and interaction, meetings, and that kind of thing. Whereas mine might be writing. And not only that physical division and what’s visible but also invisible labour, the worrying about the home schooling and what to cook for tea and all of that and all the multiple tasks that I think women do. I’m being really general here I know, but men might log off at five o’clock and then think, oh I now have to go and do this. Whereas you can’t work like that if you’ve got everyone in the house and you’re having to juggle all these things. #2