We all were not ready when the pandemic hit. What started as a 14- day break morphed into months of staying at home, hiding from the ravaging virus that continued to wreak havoc all over the world.
A year later, we are still grappling with the effects of the pandemic, some countries more affected than others. Regardless of our social settings - being a mother has never been harder, with the biggest chunk of childcare during pandemic left to mothers. Although there are no registered statistics on the issue at the time, an English study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the University College London puts things into context.
Research from 3,500 families with both parents (male and female) revealed that mothers were more likely than fathers to have left paid work or reduced their work hours to give childcare.
Mothers were also reported to be doing more childcare, housework and home teaching than fathers, splitting their time between work and caring for children at the same time.
Conversations we had with some mothers in Uganda depict a similar pattern. At a time when mothers are expected to possess multiple hands to get all the work done, some mothers share their experiences mothering in a pandemic.
Immaculate Wanyana Kayongo is a mother of four, aged 10, 12, 15 and 19. The 38- year -old is also a businesswoman. Kayongo was working at her shop in Kampala when the lockdown was announced. She was optimistic that it would not take too long before everything went back to normal.
“Our shop was closed and so, both of us were out of work. As the weeks went by, we started using the capital and months later, we were in debt,” Kayongo explains.
With all her children at home everyday last year, the financial burden became overwhelming.
“Instead of having three meals a day, we reduced them to only two; breakfast and dinner. It was not easy for the children to adjust,” Kayongo recollects.
Her financial status notwithstanding, coexistence with her teenagers became another challenge for Kayongo. “At first, they spent time watching television, but with time, they got bored. They started missing their friends and yearned to leave home for a change of environment. But I would not let them because of the fear of the pandemic.
Children were not used to having both of us at home every day and they were disturbed that I was in their space at every turn. They wanted time to be alone. Severally, they complained that I was being overprotective. Parenting became a full time job with me settling disputes and fights among children,” Kayongo explains. Kayongo says she no longer enjoyed her space considering that she had multiple tasks to accomplish. “I was seeing their mistakes all the time and this challenged my parenting skills,” she adds.
While Kayongo laboured with her teenage daughters, Rehema Mukeera, a mother of five; two, five, seven, 10 and 13-year-olds, struggled to give attention to her young ones.
“Previously, they would be in school, which kept the old ones busy, leaving me time to take care of the young one. Now that there was no school for one and a half years, childcare became a challenge,” she confesses.
She says her eldest son started making friends in the neighbourhood, something that exposed him to a wrong peer group.
“He started learning all sorts of mannerisms. He became so unruly and up to now, I am still struggling to get him on the right track,” says Mukeera.
Several reports indicate that a number of children have been abused. Many school-going girls below the age of 18, for example, have been reported pregnant.
In Kitgum for example, 1,519 girls below 19 years visited a hospital for antenatal care since the coronavirus pandemic. About 180 Primary Seven candidates in Kamuli District and 22 in Pallisa District were reported pregnant according to Daily Monitor.
To avert the spread of the virus, the world experienced nationwide school closures in about 194 countries, affecting close to 1.6 billion learners – more than 90 per cent of the world’s school-going population, according to UNESCO.
The story was not different in Uganda, and once more, another role was added to parents. They were the new teachers, a job that mostly fell on mothers.
Since there was a government programme to facilitate continuity of learning on television, Kayongo ensured that subscription for pay TV and electricity were paid to help her children cope with learning during the lockdown.
She, however, had to supervise their learning and follow up on assignments. “I couldn’t effectively help them because I could not comprehend their classwork. Their father was not available to help them and as the months went by, children got tired of learning on TV. They started dodging lessons and eventually stopped learning,” she recounts.
Mukeera says she enjoyed the homeschooling experience. “I used to homeschool my children but I later made a decision to send them to school because I had other responsibilities. When schools were closed, I had a whiteboard, seats, books and I started teaching them. Since they are all at different education levels, every child had a time to study. I would get online resources for them to learn,” she narrates her homeschooling routine.
Conflict in roles
Homeschooling became more challenging because she was the only parent at home with no help. She had to do housework, take care of the children and supervise their learning, among other things, which made the different roles conflict.
“Time came when the needs were so many and the priority was no longer education but survival. I had to put other roles aside and concentrate on generating income for the family. I started driving Uber; working from morning till night. I had to delegate my mothering roles to older children. I would only be available at night,” she shares.
Like Mukeera, Ritah Mwine, a mother of three; four, six and 10, also found herself in the same predicament. She had to quit her job to be able to effectively care for her three children. “It was impossible for me to work from home and have the children in the same environment. I would use the day time to look after them and teach them using online resources that their schools provided. Night time was for work. For a few weeks, this worked for me, but I could not cope,” she says.
During the day, she would be too tired to do meaningful work and help the children with classwork and at night, she would be too exhausted to deliver on her work tasks. Before long, she failed to meet deadlines and on several occasions, she missed meetings.
“I suffered from a burnout. The doctor advised me to take rest for some days. My husband and I eventually decided that I leave the job and concentrate on taking care of children, especially after schools had no sign of opening. To date, I am still a stay-at-home mother,” she says.
The fear of the virus
For Kayongo, protection against the virus meant keeping children indoors. She never allowed any friends to visit her home and did not attempt sending children to the market or shops.
She later eased the rules to playing and interacting with the neighbours for a short time, while they wore masks and washed their hands regularly.
For Mukeera, the emphasis was protecting them from mixing with other children and people, so no outsider was allowed to access the home.
“I also taught and sensitised them about how the coronavirus is spread and how to prevent it. However, when I started working, few of these rules were followed. Even now that some are back to school, I am constantly concerned and worried about the possibility of them catching the virus,” she says.
“The pandemic has taught me that before one has children, they need to consider the cost of parenting; both monetary and time to nurture them. In the pandemic, parenting became a full time job and as such, I have had to reconsider my priorities,” Mukeera shares.
The pandemic also taught her to increase her savings for the rainy day. Survival was crucial during the lockdown and those who had saved enough money did not feel the financial pinch.
“It was also a great opportunity for me to teach my children to live within our means. I had my children understand that what we could afford is what we would have,” Mukeera adds.
For Kayongo, the biggest lesson has been learning how to develop a relationship with her teenage daughters and how to generally deal with them. “I have had to adjust to a new way of parenting. I have learnt to be flexible with them. I used to be too strict to ignore some of the mistakes they made. I have learnt their passions, strengths and weaknesses, their behaviour and these will help me to guide them better. Actually, by the time I went back to work, we had learnt to coexist and enjoy each other’s presence. We would do fun things together such as exercises and taking long walks with them,” Kayongo shares. Mwine says the pandemic made her appreciate family, children and joys that parenting brings, things she used to take for granted in the past.
“Although I lost my job, I have built a strong connection with my children that no amount of money can buy. Previously, life was about work and the househelp did most of the work. I know my children better now, we communicate better and even if being a parent every hour of every day is exhausting, there can be no better reward than raising your children,” says Mwine.
Money vs. parenting
“Time came when the needs were so many and the priority was no longer education but survival. I had to put other roles aside and concentrate on generating income for the family. I started driving Uber; working from morning till night. I had to delegate my mothering roles to older children. I would only be available at night.”