Mother's Day under Covid-19: How parenting changed during the pandemic

Lunch Actually co-founder Violet Lim and her son Corum and daughter Cara. PHOTO: COURTESY OF IRINA NILSSON

SINGAPORE - Ms Mavis Tan, 42, has her hands full during the coronavirus.

After guiding her children in their home-based learning (HBL) when schools closed in early April, the stay-at-home mother set her kids, Zach and Sara, daily "challenges" to keep boredom at bay.

As they stay indoors for the ongoing school holidays, the six- and seven-year-old have been competing to make crafts and toys in assorted challenges - involving paper cups, Lego and ice-cream sticks -their mother has set up.

Afterwards, Ms Tan, who is married to a 52-year-old Briton who works in corporate insurance, gets Zach and Sara to do a show-and-tell presentation about their projects on video, which she sends to their arts enrichment teachers for evaluation.

She also helps them put together a series of videos, titled #FriendsofFFLShare, which features science experiments, singing and other activities for kids.

Strict circuit breaker measures and a shut-in school holiday, which began on Tuesday, have made parenting more challenging for her.

"It's overwhelming. We are all at home and we have had to take over some of the responsibility of the teachers, on top of our routine work, such as planning and preparing the children's meals," she says.

Many mothers like her report that the parenting load has intensified during the pandemic as families are shut in in confined spaces, shared with spouses who now work from home.

At the same time, some say the enforced proximity has payoffs such as increased, even if unplanned, quality time with their children.

The heavier parenting burden has contributed to rising stress levels for mothers, which may lead to poorer mental and emotional health, a recent survey has found.

The survey on the state of motherhood in Singapore, by Focus on the Family Singapore, found that 60 per cent of mothers reported stress levels of 7 - or higher - out of 10, with 10 being the highest.

This contrasts with 52 per cent of mothers reporting similar stress levels in the same survey last year.

Ms Mavis Tan and her children Zach and Sara Edwards. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MAVIS TAN

Conducted from Mar 18 to Apr 20, which takes in the start of the Circuit Breaker on Apr 7, the survey had 1,076 respondents.

The same survey last year, also conducted by the Focus on the Family Singapore charity, already revealed considerable stressors for women: Four in five mothers experienced "mum guilt", and seven in 10 mums reported feeling angry or frustrated many times a week.

Mum guilt is the feeling of guilt, doubt or worry when mothers think that they are failing as parents, or falling short of expectations of what a mother should be.

Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe, chief executive officer of Focus on the Family Singapore, notes: "Coupled with this year's findings, it would appear that Covid-19 and the extended Circuit Breaker is adding to the physical and mental load that mothers carry in terms of child-caregiving and household chores."

Also known as emotional labour, the mental load she refers to is traditionally borne mostly by women. It describes a constant stream of thinking, planning and organising for one's household. This is usually accompanied by a low-level hum of anxiety about the well-being of one's family.

Such work can range from scheduling activities to keep a toddler with a 15-minute attention span occupied while working from home; supporting a child in his home-based learning; remembering a baby's vaccination dates, buying a birthday present for the mother-in-law; to keeping track of what groceries need restocking.

The mental load of incessantly planning and organising, for example, meals and activities for the household, has become "more visible" under Covid-19, says Dr Aliya Hamid Rao, an assistant professor of sociology at Singapore Management University (SMU). Additionally, mothers are also viewed as being physically responsible for more of the childcare.

But one dividend of this unusual time, says Dr Nilanjan Raghunath, an assistant professor of sociology at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), is that family dynamics may change under coronavirus, with some couples witnessing less imbalance in their co-parenting.

"Even though mothers are multi-tasking more than ever, Dads, too, are doing more for the family," she notes.

One example is what was happening in Ms Nur Hafizah Sulaiman's household during home-based learning (HBL).

(From left) Mr Mohammed Fariheen Bin Mohamed Faroukh; daughter Leia Sarah, daughter Lana Rose, son Mika Asidq, wife Nur Hafizah Bte Sulaiman. PHOTO: COURTESY OF NUR HAFIZAH BTE SULAIMAN

The 37-year-old sales manager often left the supervision of her three children - Lana Rose, four; Leia Sarah, six; and Mika Asidq, eight - to her husband, as she ducked behind closed doors to attend to hour-long calls from clients.

Her husband, freelance trader Mohammed Fariheen Mohamed Faroukh, 37, became the dominant HBL parent as his schedule was more flexibile than hers. Previously, she was the only one engaged with the children's academic work.

She says: "I step up when I need to, and he does the same. It's about give and take."

The uncertainty of the coronavirus situation has also led many parents to re-assess their parenting priorities.

Ms Violet Lim, who co-founded local dating agency Lunch Actually with her husband, Mr Jamie Lee, has had to deal with a series of surprises in recent months.

Both Ms Lim, 40, and Mr Lee, 44, were hospitalised after contracting Covid-19 following a trip to the United States in early March.

Ms Lim had to quickly adjust to being a HBL guide after being discharged. Her younger child, Cara, 11, has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and sometimes finds it challenging to pay attention in school, so Ms Lim was pleasantly surprised to find her daughter thriving under HBL.

Cara, who has a 14-year-old brother, Corum, learnt at her own pace and ticked off the assignments each day, completing them ahead of time.

Ms Lim says: "Covid has reinforced my view that my parenting has to be focused on preparing the children for any eventuality, whether it's in terms of imparting values or skill sets.

"Increasingly, with all the uncertainty in the word, we want to make sure that they learn to be independent and to make good decisions."

Beyond academics, Ms Lim has been teaching her children to be resilient, such as encouraging them to be intentional in how they react to events. For example, the children can choose to stay positive, rather than be consumed with negativity, when reading unremitting news reports about the virus.

Meanwhile, nurse Amy Teoh, 33, is finding life more relaxing, even though her role as an essential worker is demanding.

The senior staff nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), who has been deployed to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) screening centre, works the night shift now. To reduce the risk of infection, she showers before she leaves work and again, when she arrives home to her husband and three children, aged three, five and eight.

Ms Teoh, 33, says: "I'm more relaxed about parenting as I've delegated some responsibilities to my husband and children."

She appreciates living in the moment, joining in as the kids play hide and seek at home.

Covid-19 has also made Ms Judith Alagirisamy, who is in her late 30s, reflect on her beliefs about being a mother.

(From left) Ezra Xavier, Savarimuthu Xavier, Judith Alagirisamy and Micah Xavier. PHOTO: COURTESY OF JUDITH ALAGIRISAMY

"As a mum, I had a sense of needing to do everything and to do it well," says the mother of two, who works in the non-profit sector. She is more willing to ask for help from her husband, teacher Savarimuthu Xavier, who has started buying groceries for her parents. The couple have two sons, Ezra, 10, and Micah, 12.

Time seems to flow differently under the Circuit Breaker.

Where once there was a rush to keep to a schedule of enrichment classes for the kids, there are now family movie nights and unhurried evenings.

Micah is learning basic Japanese on the Duolingo app and Ezra is writing his own stories.

Ms Judith says: "I've realised that, as a mum, your life can be simple and quiet, and still really good."

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