As participation of women in the Canadian labor force increased, there was a decline in sole incoming earning members of the family. Dual-income households with families increased from 33 per cent in 1976 to to 55 per cent in 2014. However, when the lockdown began, women have had a different experience in terms of household responsibilities.
Andrea O’Reilly, a professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, has stated in yFile that women still do far more work than men, statistically speaking. The duties of a mother can be seen as something that is inherent, that women undertake by virtue of their motherhood.
Staying at home has made it difficult to draw a boundary between work and family. “Working at home might sound easy, but it’s really not — and with my daughter it’s even harder. There’s so much to do and such little time,” says Grace Halder, a medical assistant student at the Allen School of Health Science.
Agata Stypka, the student success coordinator of Calumet and Stong Colleges, shares the same sentiment. “As a working mom with two children between the ages of four and seven, I must admit there have been many moments throughout the pandemic when I have felt stretched,” she says.
The already high expectations from mothers had exacerbated throughout the pandemic, as children’s classes had shifted online initially in 2020. Mothers were bombarded with advice on how to keep their children up-to-date with academics and provide an environment for them to do other activities they would normally do at school. And yet, O’Reilly says these accomplishments by mothers are going unnoticed.
In Canada, women have reported spending a weekly average of 68 hours on just looking after their children even before the pandemic. This number has increased to 95 hours during the pandemic, as reported in a study by Vox Pop Labs.
In addition to the struggles of existing mothers, new mothers faced their own unique challenges brought by the pandemic, including attending prenatal appointments virtually and having to measure their own belly with a tape.
“Becoming a new mom at such a young age was really life changing for me, especially during this time. Only my husband was allowed in the delivery room, and there was my doctor and one nurse,” Halder says.
However, despite these challenges, women have stepped up in every way and found hope. For example, contacting loved ones virtually has been one of the ways Stypka has found courage. “A ‘moms group’ I am part of is a wonderful outlet to share our experiences with virtual learning. I can vent but also ask for support,” Stypka says about the Whatsapp groups she is a part of.
Furthermore, it is not all grim in the share of household work. A survey by UN Women has found that since the pandemic started, men have been helping more in household chores. In Canadian households surveyed, both women and men with children aged under 15 at home have reported that their time spent on taking care of children has increased by 39 per cent.
“My husband does help me a lot with our daughter. Sometimes I get tired and fall asleep and he bathes and feeds our daughter” Halder says, regarding sharing childcare duties.
As well, women have also found their own way of coping with the chaos we all find ourselves in.
“I have seen a lot of women setting up online businesses from their home,” says Anika Tasneem, a second-year Bachelor of Laws student residing in Bangladesh.
“Early on in the pandemic I read Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection and it was a wonderful reminder of the practices to help me manage this new and evolving world and live wholeheartedly,” Stypka says.