Childfree in the Time of Coronavirus

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Hello, readers, the world’s worst blogger is back!

I’ve had a few topics I wanted to discuss on my blog, but in light of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, I thought that it would be a bit a frivolous time to be discussing childfree issues when thousands of people are dying by the day. Ultimately, though, I decided that all this time spent at home should be put to work on things I enjoy outside of my working hours. Plus, who people (myself included) could use a distraction from the chaos.

A recent Vanity Fair article, Dispatches From the Gender Gap: Work-From-Home Moms in the Time of Coronavirus, put into perspective the issue of being childfree in the context of the pandemic. Specifically, when it comes to unpaid work or emotional labour. 

Even in the 21st century, there is no country in the world where women and men perform the same amount of care work. Those of us who have been sent to work from home — by the way, not nearly as sexy as Fifth Harmony would have you believe —already have an enormous amount of privilege, even if our conditions are less than ideal. Compared to those who have been laid off, and “essential workers” who either are in the line of fire by working with Covid-19 (the illness resulting from Coronavirus) patients every day, cleaning surfaces where the virus could be lingering, or interacting with people who could be carriers (and getting screamed at while not even earning a living wage), people working from home have it pretty good, even if it’s not an ideal situation.

Many households with two parents who both work outside the home are now in a new situation: both parents are now home full time, along with their kids. What does this mean in terms of childcare?

To a misguided manager who wrote in to Ask A Manager to well, ask a manager if it is “Reasonable to expect an employee to find a way to work her normal schedule even while she is telecommuting” while the employee is taking care of her toddler, because “It is frustrating to hear ‘I can’t’ do such and such when she would have been able to do it easily in the workplace”, and she shouldn’t be having trouble because “Her husband is also at home”, apparently, it means that men and women do equal amounts of childcare. 

This is demonstrably false. Even in the most egalitarian countries (and households). Men simply do not pull their weight when it comes to childcare. When a man does, it’s the exception, not the rule. 

The women quoted in the Vanity Fair article are dealing with things like a husband who goes to his home office and shuts the door because he’s “Pretty strict with keeping his office time pristine” and having to find ways to keep their kids entertained, because their husbands simply don’t. Even if their husbands are self-sufficient, they simply don’t care enough to take care of their own children.

Part of emotional labour is what author Eve Rodsky calls in an article on CNN by Elissa Strauss is “worry work”: “Moms are more likely than dads to anticipate the needs of the family and plan ahead for worst case scenarios. (Listen closely, and you can hear the hum of ‘what’s next?’ on a constant loop in most moms’ heads.)” Rodsky says that “research shows that the majority of daily life disruptions are handled by moms, including when both parents work”, so during a crisis like the one we are living in now, by default, the majority of the burden falls on mothers’ shoulders. 

This pandemic is not an easy time for anyone, not even for people like me who have it good: despite being able to work from home, not displaying any symptoms, having an uncompromised immune system, and an apartment to myself, I can’t work out, socialize in person, or buy groceries without planning my day around when there will be the fewest number of people out (both to avoid long lines and to avoid spreading or contracting the virus). These are petty complaints compared to what so many have to deal with. People are being laid off, struggling to find childcare, or are forced to put themselves at risk every day to keep society running; many without hazard pay, reasonable precautions, or personal protective equipment

Despite my own personal blessings, this still isn’t an easy time for anyone. I’m still concerned for how other people will make it through this. I’m still at risk every time I need to leave the house, just like everyone else — and no, being young(ish) and healthy doesn’t mean that you’re safe. I could be a carrier and be putting people at risk myself without even knowing it. And from my friends who’ve survived Covid-19, even if you make it through without permanent lung damage, it makes you feel worse than death. (So, like, stay inside, even if you feel “fine”.)

Even if being stuck at home alone without being able to go out and see your friends can be lonely (sometimes — I’ve been Facetiming like there’s no tomorrow, which is not a bad substitute), I still would not trade my relative freedom for anything. 

As Kim Congdon on Twitter put it,

Stay inside. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We will get through this. 

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