May 22, 2020


Are you working from home? How's it going for you? Are you getting everything done? Or do you have the dog and the kids on your screen 10 times every Zoom meeting?

You cannot deliver a baby remotely, so my colleagues are masking up and gowning up and doing their best to deliver the best babies in health care and keep themselves as safe as they can. But many people are working from home, men and women. Many moms have always worked at home. All mothers are working mothers. Taking care of children, older parents, and the home and cooking can be a full-time job.

Even in the most "balanced home" -- I use that in quotes if you can hear my voice -- where both partners "share equally," and I'm putting bunny quotes on those too in my voice, in child care and house care, working from home may not be as successful for one member of the team as another. Many studies have shown that women in two-career families do more of the domestic work -- read housework -- cooking and meal preparing and child care.

The other housework that women are more likely to do than men in male-female partnerships are very gender stereotyped. This includes affective work. Affective labor is the emotional work done in the home that hopefully keeps the family together -- recognizing and preparing for holidays and celebrations and birthdays, reaching out to kids in the home and family members outside the home to strengthen social contacts, asking how are you doing and listening to the response, and cognitive work, who pays attention to what's on the shelves in the pantry, who makes the inclusive grocery list, who notices that the laundry needs to be done. These are not sex-specific jobs. They're gender-specific jobs, jobs related to social roles. They can be assumed by one partner or another in couples of any sexual identification, but commonly in male and female identifying couples, these jobs are more likely to be done by women.

For some people who have never worked at home, it may be a quieter and more joyful time. But many women say they are busier and more stressed than ever before with so many people wanting their attention isolated at home.

For women in academics whose jobs and promotion depend on writing papers, several journals have noted that the papers submitted for publication by women have dramatically decreased compared to those submitted by men. There are many reasons this may be so. Women may be taking a larger teaching role, and preparing a curriculum to do online on short notice takes a lot of work.

And there is some very disturbing increase in domestic violence. The YWCA has seen a 33% increase in calls to the crisis line over the weeks of the lockdown compared to a year ago. Around the world, in high income and low income countries, domestic violence rises when there's social isolation. Stress, alcohol consumption, and financial difficulties are all considered risk factors for violence in the home, and the prevalence of all these three triggers is increasing.

Some ideas for making this work for you and your family.

Time. Make a schedule for your day, meetings you have to make, things that are time sensitive that you need to get done. If you have a partner, make the schedule together the night before so you don't have conflicting times. If there are kids in the house, divide up the kid supervision in a way that makes time for required work meetings.

Space. Mark out your space. If you have a big house with two offices, good for you. If you have a one-bedroom apartment, mark out a space on your dining room table or living room that is your space and save the bedroom for shared office space for quiet times. Discourage anyone from spreading their work or their school stuff all over the home.

Noise. Be thoughtful about noise. Use your inside voice and your kids too. If you're taking a meeting, use earbuds so the whole house doesn't need to hear your meeting. If you have a mic that you can speak into quietly, even better. It may be that women who are generally good multitaskers may not be able to shut out noise and will be more distracted. Yells and crying from kids will require a response if you're a single parent. But if you have a partner and it is their scheduled kid time, let them handle it. If you have a partner on kid call, wear noise canceling headphones so you can listen to yourself think.

Kids. If you're a single parent and have sentient children over five, you can expect them to give you some quiet time. Do you bribe them with screen time? Do you bribe them with junk food? Well, this is your choice, and some choices are better than others. You can give them a task to complete. Consider engaging kids over five in house care. You haven't trained your five-year-old to clean their room and the kitchen yet? Well, like dogs, you get the kid you train. If you have a partner, divide up the kid care time and expectations.

Tag team parenting. Tag, you're it. Divide it up in some equitable way that works for your relationship. Kid time can have expectations such as time outside for kids to exercise, kid learning time for school work, kid and partner cleaning time. It isn't fair if one partner uses up their time with kid videos and junk food, and the other partner gets to inherit the mess of hyped up kids when their time comes up. Kids need a schedule too, and they're used to one if they have school. So they don't get to sleep all morning and stay up all night. They don't get to eat junk all day. Schedule meals and stick to it.

Pets. Keep a schedule for dogs because dogs like a schedule. Divvy up who gets to take the dog out. If you can, take the kids with you so there's a little quiet time in the house. Cats can take care of themselves.

Housework. So many people in the house makes for more mess, and mess messes with your head, at least it does mine. How you divide up house care will be important and potentially a threatening job. Talk about it. Include kids if they're old enough. The house doesn't have to be white glove, perfectly clean. But now you have to decide on what gets cleaned when and how much noise you can make with the washer and dryer and vacuum when the other person is on a Zoom meeting.

Family time, couple time, me time. Put that in the schedule. Prepare meals together if that works for you. Play a game or do a puzzle together. Take a walk together. Sit in the bathtub by yourself. Only one bathroom in your house? Make a curtain across the bathtub and rules that no one talks to the person in the bathtub unless it's an emergency or that it's bath playtime.

Timeout. The crying room. It is okay to go into the potty by yourself and cry a little. But let's get real about how much time you can spend on the potty crying or screaming soundlessly. Reach out to a friend if you need some emotional help. Schedule a virtual visit when the kids are in bed or at least in their rooms for the night.

At the end of the day, make the house schedule for tomorrow and consider this three best things. At the end of the day, physically write down the three best things that happened that day, everybody who can write. For kids who can speak but can't write, write it down for them. Post them someplace for a day and look at them, because sometimes some really good things can happen.

At the end of this pandemic, whenever it is and we get back to spreading our work and play all over town, each family will have solved its own home work their own way. They will build memories and have a collection of three best things.

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