Family of four playing Monopoly together

‘The pressure cooker’ of working from home and homeschooling: A sense of humour may get us through

Laurie Wallace Lynch

We’ve all no doubt seen the video that went viral where Professor Robert Kelly was at home in South Korea, being interviewed live on BBC News when suddenly his two young children wander into the room, followed by their frantic mother who tries to quickly grab them. This scenario can happen readily during the COVID-19 crisis when many parents are working from home, providing 24/7 childcare and homeschooling. But fear not, a sense of humour and involving children can make people see and appreciate the hard work parents do every single day.

That’s according to U of T Mississauga sociology Professor Melissa Milkie, who has done extensive research on family dynamics and gender. Though some “hero” parents are on the front lines working in essential jobs outside the home, others are contending with a strange collision of their work and family lives.

 “What is happening now is not so much the juggling of the two roles of parent and worker, but a complete explosion of how we normally spend our time—and where we spend it—now that everything is under one (sometimes very small) roof,” says Milkie. “But some pressures may be relieved by knowing we are all in this together.”

Reaching out to friends, online or by phone, can be a great stress reliever.

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Sociology Professor Melissa Milkie

“This shared support is an excellent way to buffer the emotions,” says Milkie. “And seeing the humour and appreciating the resilience that other parents are showing can be great.

“One of my kids has a science teacher who made a video lesson demonstrating a concept and her young son helped her in the video. He was adorably serious as he held a model of a molecule as she explained the content. So, when kids interrupt a video call or we include them purposely, it can show others the care work that we do as parents, and the huge value in it.”  

Several research groups are now studying whether the current COVID-19 mitigation measures may be changing the family dynamic.

“Based on prior research, we know women take on the lion’s share of housework and childcare, even when employed full time,” Milkie says. “Researchers might see parents employing children more in the work of running a household. To some extent this could alleviate stress on parents, especially mothers, and teach children that household chores are both necessary and meaningful for the greater good of the family.”

Despite the many challenges, Milkie encourages parents to appreciate the small parenting victories that may occur at this time.

“Parents should not feel pressure to do anything additional or special to create bonding experiences or ‘grow closer’ right now. Loving kids and each other, trying to show respect and resilience with family members is enough.”

She suggests doing something new together, be it playing a new card or board game, a new exercise, watching the same show or sharing what was learned from a book. Now is also the time to encourage independent skills, where children can teach themselves a new card trick, try a recipe, take on some chores, play well with a sibling or apologize without prompting.

“Celebrate these as parenting victories and appreciate and encourage the child’s efforts. These can be special moments of little joys,” Milkie says.

The work being done by parents during this crisis is not going unnoticed, she adds.

“The new visibility of the care work parents do can impact government and workplace leaders in the future by showing how important the hard work of raising healthy kids is, and it indicates that people who take care of children for a living should be paid better.

“Parents and family members should take pride in knowing that raising kids in this tough situation—kids whose health and wellbeing is vital for our communities in the future—is an incredibly meaningful contribution to society.”