“Yet again mothers have been set an impossible task and told it’s our fault for failing at it.”
That’s a quote I found on Mumsnet. It’s on a thread focused on working full time while homeschooling children.
Many of those commenting on the thread were clearly tired and burned out after months of doing the working from home / homeschooling dance. Is it quite so black and white: Fathers concentrating on paid employment and leaving mums to fail as they take on the extraordinary burden of homeschooling while also doing the domestic chores (and probably holding down a job as well)?
How involved have fathers been?
A team from the Education Studies department at the University of Warwick is trying to find out exactly how involved fathers have been with homeschooling over the past three months. The research is ongoing, but Dr Mark Pulsford, who is leading the team, has shared a few insights with me.
Dads over the age of 18 have anonymously answered a series of questions about their experiences of homeschooling during lockdown. What’s emerged is a lot more complex than simply Dads = lazy and bad, mums = doing all the work and good (If you are a dad over the age of 18 you can take part yourself by following this link).
Here are three quotes that dads have given about their experiences. I think anyone, be they a mum, dad or carer who has been involved with homeschooling while also trying to hold down a job will relate to them.
“The experience has been hugely challenging, as the children often don’t want to engage, and can [sic] angry and/or just walk off. It’s also been a real challenge juggling home school with working from home. Neither of us gets the opportunity to ‘decompress’ as we just go straight from work to school or vice versa.”
“Sometimes very trying – going from work to schooling to work and back through the day can be incredibly intense and challenging. There have been days we have ‘given up’ as it’s a battle but I’ve learnt to pick my battles and not fight everything. Trying to be kinder to myself and the kids in dealing with such a stressful time.”
“Trying to keep our younger child on task has progressively more difficult as the lockdown progresses. I think the novelty of homeschooling has now worn off for all of us.”
Mums and dads are all feeling pressure
I thought these comments were fascinating. Over recent weeks I’ve had lots of chats with mums (I’m a work form home dad, I spend a lot of time talking to mums) and pretty much any one of them could have made those remarks.
Various other organisations have published research or are investigating what’s going on behind closed doors in family homes. A pretty consistent picture is forming whereby women are carrying out the majority of the domestic work, but that men are increasingly getting involved and doing more of this stuff than ever before.
Homeschooling is a whole new element. Prior to March 2020, homeschooling was an activity carried out by a small number of families. Since lockdown, all families with school-aged children have had to rapidly adjust to this change and perhaps that’s why women and men, where men are genuinely engaged with the homeschooling, are having such a similar experience.
Recurring themes and research aims
Dr Pulsford told me two themes are emerging. Firstly, as I’ve outlined above, men are finding homeschooling difficult and balancing paid work and domestic chores has been tough. Secondly, men are reporting that they have a much greater understanding of the activities their children do at school and what they learn.
You may be wondering why this research is being carried out. As is the case with many elements of fatherhood, there is simply an academic vacuum in this area. It’s not been looked at in detail in the past. Also, there is a desire to gain a greater understanding of the support fathers need so schools and other institutions can provide help so fathers can be even more involved with educating their children.
This could be the first of many lockdowns
While I don’t wish to frighten anyone, that final point is particularly important. We’re in this situation because of a virus called COVID-19. As one person put it to me, “Could we be in the era of pandemics? What if there is a COVID-20, 21 or 22?” Over recent years we’ve hard SARS and MERS. COVID-19 is simply the biggest of several respiratory conditions that have posed a threat to public health.
The thought of further lockdowns is not pleasant, but this may not be the one and only time us mums and dads end up working from home while also homeschooling our kids. Let’s not forget that Leicester has already gone back into a partial lockdown.
If this type of thing could happen again, plans need to be in place so all family members can play an active role in educating their children. That way we can make sure it’s not a burden dumped on any women who happen to be in the household.
I think the results of this research will be very interesting indeed. As a next step, it would be fascinating to find out exactly what the gender divide is with homeschooling. I suspect women are doing more, but with some better support in place, maybe men would feel more comfortable helping their offspring with schoolwork.
I’d like to know about your experiences. Who has done the majority of the homeschooling in your household? Whether you are a mum or a dad, can you relate to the quotes I’ve published here? Please do leave a comment with your thoughts.