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Women shoulder more of their kids’ remote learning responsibilities



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Parenting under coronavirus while working from home and kids are out of school is tough, and single parents can face an additional array of challenges.

USA TODAY

David and Heidi Crawford are adjusting to a new normal as they split parenting duties in the age of stay-at-home orders.

David, who runs a university recreation program in Washington state, and his wife, a fourth-grade teacher, were both required to work from home starting in March. During that time, their kids, aged 5 and 8, also transitioned into remote learning.

The couple has semi-distinct roles: David handles groceries while Heidi is responsible for most tasks related to scheduling, planning and distance learning.

“So many people get stuck in the ‘it’s got to be an equal load, it’s got to be 50-50 for everything’ and that’s just not the reality,” David said. “When it comes to the education side of things, I defer to her.”

The coronavirus crisis is putting unprecedented pressure on parents forced to spend more time at home while kids attend class from the living room. But the fallout isn’t equally split, according to a survey conducted by YouGov in partnership with USA TODAY and LinkedIn.

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Women are taking on a greater share of parenting responsibilities during the home isolations and men tend to think they’re contributing more to the kids than they actually are, according to the recent survey of professionals age 18 to 74.

In most cases, the imbalance is an extension of what’s known as “invisible labor,” experts say, and the situation is being compounded during the pandemic. 

When asked whether child care duties are split equally during the workday, 57% of men said they were, while only 45% of women agreed. Sixty-six percent of women said they are primarily responsible for helping children with remote learning during the workday, compared with 41% of men.

Heidi said she and her husband are juggling remote work and parenting just fine. She said it felt “natural” to take on more of the responsibilities surrounding her kids’ education since she teaches grade-school for a living.

“I probably have higher expectations. I know if he wrote his letters correctly, or if he is just being lazy about his work,” Heidi said. 

But oftentimes, disparities in familial tasks persist because the day-to-day duties women take care of go unspoken or unnoticed. It’s sometimes implicitly assumed that the woman in the household will pick up these responsibilities, whether or not they actually want to.

“Even before the pandemic, the amount of housework, child care and other responsibilities women were taking on was a persistent problem,” said Lindsay Stark, associate professor of social work at the Brown School at Washington University.  “That’s really been exacerbated with COVID-19 and with closures of schools.”

Stark’s area of expertise is measuring sensitive and difficult-to-measure social phenomena, including gender roles. 

Mothers in heterosexual relationships often shoulder most of the child care, she said. 

Whether working full-time jobs or acting as stay-at-home parents, they’re making mental notes of appointments, keeping track of daily activities and coordinating family schedules.

They’re overseeing their kids’ education and tying up loose ends to keep the family running. It’s the type of work that seems to only get noticed if it hasn’t been done. It’s often referred to as “invisible work” or the kind of behind-the-scenes effort that is unpaid, unacknowledged, sometimes unrewarding but mostly essential.

“There are all of these extra ways that women tend to be picking up extra components of child care and running a household and it’s often invisible to their partners who really do believe that are making a good faith effort to contribute equally,” Stark said.

A 2019 study found that invisible work can lead to “feelings of emptiness” and “role overload.” It’s not that most men don’t want to help with these sorts of things. It’s that they are often unaware of how tiresome it can be, Stark said.

As shelter-in-place orders are lifted, and parents start to return to work, women will likely continue to take on a disproportionate amount of child care and remote learning tasks, Stark added. 

In some households where men are working more flexible jobs, they are stepping up.

Suzy Hobbs Baker, who heads a climate change initiative at the University of Michigan, said her husband takes the reins with the kids three days a week while she handles online meetings.

She worked from home before the pandemic, but now things are more hectic with her husband and two toddlers around all day.

“The whole family invaded my normal routine,” Hobbs Baker said. “So we had to get creative and figure out how to take shifts with the kids.”

The Crawfords have also gotten crafty with their approach to working from home with children.  

Heidi wrote down all her Zoom meeting times on a calendar, and David’s job enables him to take care of the kids during those times.

“I try to take on as much as I can,” David said. “Sometimes, our son will have like two pages of homework, and then he’ll bring it to me afterward and we’ll go through it together.”

Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown. 

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