Pressure on Parents Rises as the Pandemic Drags On

By Hasanah Akhir

December 2021 FEATURE
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Awin's family during board game time.
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DURING COVID, PARENTS have been forced to assume full child-rearing duties, including playing the role of educator; these responsibilities used to be shared with childcare centres and schools.

Many initially loved spending more time with their children, but as the pandemic wore on, they soon found themselves stretched thin, juggling work and childcare. Without a support system, it was only a matter of time before fatigue eventually set in.

Raj* loves his time with his two toddlers. But now that they are with him at all times of the day, Raj struggles to manage working, caring, teaching and just being present with his children. He drew up a play-and-learn timetable for the first three months of lockdown, but it did not pan out the way he had hoped. He finds it especially challenging looking after his two-year-old daughter; his son had at that age been placed at a childcare centre. “I could’ve given my children all my attention pre-Covid, but now, being with them the entire day, I’m mentally and physically drained by 7pm.”

It is an acknowledged fact that when children are homeschooled, parents as “pseudo-educators” must also learn alongside them. Mother-of-five Awin realises that to guide her children in schoolwork, she has to copy the teacher’s tone and delivery style. “My two younger children tell me they’d rather attend kindergarten because learning is more fun that way. I don’t know how pre-school teachers do it. I’ve tried imitating them, but by the end of it, I was so exhausted from just trying!"

Teena (second from left) with her six boys and parents.

Teena, a mother of six boys between the ages two and 13 years, agrees. She too is kept busy with her children’s online classes. “It is overwhelming,” Teena admits, when she has to also make sure her youngest is given time to learn and play. There are times when Teena had to ask her two eldest sons to look after the younger ones while she got the house chores done. “I now understand the proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. I have to put on so many hats during the day; I’m the mother, the cook, the cleaner, and now, also the educator. Twenty-four hours a day just isn’t enough.”

But some parents like Dharma have had it relatively easier. Dharma’s mother lives in the same apartment building and helps to care for her son, Siva, after schooling hours, giving Dharma time to catch her breath. But those who depend heavily on external childcare support, such as Raj and Teena, are not afforded the same luxury.

Dharma and her family.

Increased work demands, and changing education and child development needs have made redundant the old ways of parenting. Many are relearning how to “parent” amidst a 21st century pandemic; perhaps now is the time to rethink the incorporation of childcare and education policies into the nation’s management of the Covid-19 crisis.

PM
Hasanah Akhir

is advocate for family inclusiveness. She is currently working at the Family and Children’s Affairs Department of the Penang Women’s Development Corporation (PWDC).