On an early evening in mid-December, Priya Amin was working from home, as she has since the pandemic started in the spring. Her then-six-year-old son, Kirin, asked her if she was done. (He’s since turned seven.) Amin, CEO of virtual childcare company Flexable, told him she still had work to do.
About ten minutes later, he came back into the room where she was working and handed her a drawing of two figures. She congratulated him on the drawing — and then she looked closer. It was a picture of the scene that had just taken place, where the child figure asks “Mommy are you done?” The mom in the drawing replies “no,” her eyes focused on the screen, her hands outstretched as if typing on a computer. At the top, he had written “It makes me sad!!!!!!”
“It hit me in my stomach,” Amin told HuffPost Canada.
The picture made her feel guilty, because this kind of scenario plays out regularly at her house, she said. Her husband was working at the same time, and their work responsibilities meant they weren’t spending as much quality time with their two kids as they would have liked. But they didn’t have a choice — like parents all over the world, they spend all of their time having to work, parent, teach, cook, clean, and deal with the stress of what’s happening in the world, all from home, all without a break. For both of them, remote work means after-hours emails and messages are eating into family time. It’s a lot to bear.
“It makes me kind of sad, because I feel like we all, especially working parents, feel like we have to shoulder this alone,” Amin said.
She shared Kirin’s drawing in what she and her co-workers call their “sanity thread,” a group message where they talk about things that aren’t work-related in an effort to maintain some human connection. It resonated with many of them, and they encouraged her to blog about it. The piece she posted on LinkedIn quickly went viral.
Since then, Amin has heard from parents all over the world who can relate to the difficulties of parenting through a pandemic.
“I really just wanted to offer that solace: Hey, we’re all feeling really shitty about this right now,” she said.
“I feel like we all, especially working parents, feel like we have to shoulder this alone.”
Kirin’s drawing also made her think about the effect this is having on children. “It’s a view into the mental health of our kids, too,” she said. “So much of how they communicate and interact, especially at that sweet, tender age of 5, 6, 7, is through pictures.”
For her kids, “every day is a different day.” There are days when the pandemic is hard for them, and “there are some days where I feel like they’re thriving and doing great.” In her estimation, the good days are the ones where she takes more breaks and checks in on them more often — but as she pointed out, that means less productivity at work. It’s a constant trade-off.
“I think we’re asking our kids to be self-sufficient a lot earlier than we’re comfortable with, and earlier than they’re capable of,” she said.
Watch: There is nothing more natural than mom guilt. Story continues after video.
That guilt about not being productive at work, or about not being an attentive enough parent, will never really go away. But Amin said the most effective way she’s found to deal with it is to just be vocal.
“I may be unique in this, but I think just putting it out there as much as possible,” she said. “Being honest about how you’re feeling is, at least from from my perspective, the healthiest thing that you can do. Internalizing that guilt or keeping it to yourself or feeling like ‘I need to suck it up, I need to be stronger’ — that is not the right way to approach this.”
She suggests other parents — and especially moms, who often feel more pressure to be providing childcare — talk to one another for support, and most importantly, talk to their employer about their challenges.
She worries about the lasting effects of the pandemic on women in the workplace, she said. Canadian participation in the workforce fell by almost 5 per cent between February and May, largely because it was women who left their jobs to look after children. And women of colour face even higher unemployment rates than white women.
“If there’s a collective rallying cry around: I need your support, you need to step up and provide more benefits for childcare, provide more things that are going to make me feel more supported from a mental health standpoint, or from a wellness standpoint, that’s going to alleviate that guilt,” she said.
“That guilt is driven by society.”