Since the COVID19 pandemic hit earlier this year, there have been numerous reports suggesting that 2020 is the end of the working mother. Between childcare responsibilities, housework, and homeschooling, women are left with very little time to do much else. With many schools partially or completely remote and daycares closed, it’s become harder for working mothers to devote the energy required to keep up with responsibilities at work. While in many families it’s been fathers that have stepped up to shoulder most of the burden, the fact remains that mothers have overwhelming been the ones to sacrifice their careers.
For that reason, they often have to choose between being a good employee or a good mother. During a pandemic year, there seems to be little opportunity to do both. But while mothers are noticeably handling unprecedented amounts of stress, the complex pressures working fathers are facing during this time are often ignored.
For the fathers who did not lose their job in the surge of layoffs that cashed the country, they have suddenly found themselves under extraordinary demands to carry the financial burden of the entire family. Working fathers have had to juggle their work schedules, responsibilities at home, adjusting the way they work to accommodate social distancing guidelines, and working harder than ever to prove to their employers that they are worth keeping around despite the economic uncertainty. The constant reminder of how vulnerable families are to chaos under even the most ideal circumstances rings true for so many during this pandemic.
Fathers Helping Stressed Mothers
Research shows that forty-nine percent of mothers are feeling isolated during this pandemic. Furthermore, the study shows that mothers are also far more likely to feel depressed, stressed, as though they have no time for themselves, and are more likely to cry due to being overwhelmed by it all. And although mothers are taking on much of the homeschooling – a job they never expected to do, they also feel far more uncomfortable than fathers about sending their children back to the classroom for in-person school or daycare.
While studies show that mothers inherently do more of the nurturing and overall parenting, it’s a stereotype to say fathers are absent. Prior to lockdown, dads around the developed world were putting in more time than ever with parenting and household chores.
According to Pew Research data, today’s average dad spends nearly three times as much of his week doing housework and caring for the children as his predecessor in the 1960s. That averages to be between 8 and 10 hours a week, although moms continue to contribute over twice that. An interesting aspect of that study indicates that more than half of American dads report that they believe parenting to be central to their identity. Because mothers are now taking on so much more of the childcare and homeschooling duties, which are more stressful than ever, fathers are finding they need to take on even more at home. For many, this means leaving work early, cancelling meetings, or getting less sleep to give mothers a break. All of which can cause undue stress and added pressure.
Less Quality Family Time
Perhaps even more overwhelming, for some families, the financial toll from the mother not working is too great and the father is expected to pick up extra work to help the family make ends meet. Yet the paradox of taking on extra work, means missing out on unemployment opportunities or extra stimulus checks. For fathers who are taking more work in an effort to support their families, it means less leisure time with the family and fewer breaks for both mom and dad. Much of the time fathers have to dedicate to their families is spent on making dinner, giving baths, and helping with schoolwork.
The stalled US economy combined with strain of lockdown measures mean many working-class fathers are forced to not only continue working but pick up extra shifts, overtime, and work longer while risking exposing themselves to infection. Because their jobs are critical to the family’s financial security, they have no other choice but to tirelessly work. Although the federal government approved stimulus checks, for many struggling families, that check did not go very far.
As fathers do their best in an effort to be everything to everyone, what develops from a daily time crunch is a much harsher foe. Depression. A study out of the University of Oxford conducted by Dr. Anna Machin, shows that men suffer from depression due to their commitments to fatherhood and their careers.
The men in the study described their anxieties of spending enough time with their families while also seeking work promotions. Throw in a pandemic and the pressures of holding on during a struggling economy and the intensity swells. The financial burden of earning as much money as possible (especially when mom cannot work) means little to no escape. Dads may feel trapped by their responsibilities at home while trying to remain of value to their employer.
The lack of escape, the absence of any type of outlet means no outlet to relieve stress. No bar, no work events, no hanging out with friends, no dates and even less sex with their spouse, can lead to depression. Unfortunately, men are notorious for seeking mental health treatment far less than women.
Due to the stigmas including emasculating language, a feeling of weakness, notions of failure, and a lack of control are all potential excuses why men are less likely to seek help for their mental health. But just as all of us are taking precautions during this unprecedented time to care for our physical health, it is a critical time for men and women to care for their mental health. It is important as parents, as spouses, and for them as individuals.
The Toll on Marriage
For many households, the overwhelming feelings of pressure, stress and anxiety are causing divorce rates to soar. The combination of financial strain, illness or death of loved ones, child care, homeschooling, and depression is putting a significant drain on relationships. For many couples, the outlook has become far too grim leaving their marriage at the brink of collapse.
Consider Marriage Counseling
Undoubtedly, both partners are experiencing varied forms of stress and anxiety due to the pandemic. Mothers are trying to keep their head above water at home caring for the children and fathers are tackling career pressures as they fear the financial future of their families. Handling the trauma of 2020 is something that many couples cannot do on their own.
As the divorce rate shows, many couples are throwing in the towel on their marriage. But before you choose that option, know that marriages can be saved with the help of a professional counselor. Behavioral therapy and communication training are just a few of the ways an licensed therapist can help. You can get through this pandemic with your marriage still unbroken.
Better Times to Come
While in the middle of all the craziness it can be hard to have perspective, it’s critical for coping with all the uncertainty. So it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that this pandemic will, at some point, be over and life will go back to normal. In the meantime, as hard as things there, this is also an opportunity to spend more time with family and appreciate the simpler things in life.