Solo parenting: A tough task made tougher by COVID-19
Before the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic wrecked routines and daily lives worldwide, a typical day for Donna used to be a breeze.
Donna, a 35-year-old single mother of three, usually rises at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays to make sure her kids are up and ready before 7 a.m. Once they have been dropped off to school by their trusty tricycle driver, Donna would prepare for work and leave home at 9 a.m. to commute to her office in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City. Work would end at 7 p.m. and depending on how merciless traffic is, she arrives home around 8:30 to 9:00 p.m.
The days went like clockwork, but in mid-March, the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was implemented in Luzon and other areas to prevent coronavirus transmission. Like many other Filipinos, Donna would have to adjust and change her daily routine as she and her family go about their lives sharply altered by the pandemic.
Donna was able to keep her job when the ECQ started, and since she worked as a digital marketer, transitioning to a work-from-home setting was not that complicated for her.
There is a lot of responsibility involved in being a single mom after all, and much at stake, still, when you’re the sole breadwinner of the household.
“In terms of financial assistance, it’s just me. No help from anyone,” she told INQUIRER.net. “I pay for the bills and daily necessities. That’s why I do not have the option to be jobless. I am in survival mode since the pandemic.”
Paid work and unpaid care work
Outside of professional paid work, women usually do unpaid work or labor at home, such as child care, elder care and house chores.
The Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) said in April 2019 that the monetary value of women’s unpaid work in the Philippines was worth P1.9 trillion.
Citing 2015 data, senior research fellow Michael Abrigo said the value of unpaid work amounted to P2.5 trillion, of which women do 76 percent.
The unpaid labor done by women at home can be referred to as the “second shift”. American sociologist Arlie Hochschild, with Anne Machung, first coined this in 1989 in their book “The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home”.
Noting the pay gap between men and women at work and the “leisure gap” in the household, Hochschild said that working mothers usually work a shift at an office or factory, and then another shift at home involving housework and child care.
Abrigo also said that some Filipino women are constrained from joining the labor force because they choose child-rearing first. He added that a way to resolve this was to encourage men to help their spouses with chores at home.
But for working single moms, or solo parents, relying on a spouse to share the tasks and chores at home is not always possible.
Donna used to have helpers around to assist her in running the household and take care of the kids while she worked, but they were unable to return during the ECQ because they needed to stay with and care for their own families.
She is grateful for being allowed to live with her parents and grandmother, since it will enable her mother and lola to give a helping hand with household chores, especially when she is too caught up with her job.
She has since decided to enroll her 14-year-old for the next school year, saying she does not have the extra funds to buy individual gadgets or the time to monitor the schooling of her two younger kids, aged 8 and 7.
“Work has been really demanding ever since the lockdown because of the pressure to keep the business afloat,” Donna said.
“This pressure resulted in more hours in front of the computer screen,” she said. “In between video call meetings, I assist in the needs of my kids and help in any way I can to make the load lighter for my mom and lola.”
“I give all my love and respect to my mom and lola for keeping our home livable, and my kids well-fed. But I am aware of the physical exhaustion of housework, that’s why I help as much as I can,” she added.
Rona Ferrera, 42, is a single mom to a 20-year-old and 19-year-old. She works as an office clerk and, on a typical day, would leave for her job at 7 a.m. and return home at 7 p.m.
But like Donna, Rona has been busy working from home since the quarantine started and relies on nobody else when it comes to finances.
“We don’t have kasambahay since we live in a small house…” Rona told INQUIRER.net. “As for financial support, I get none from my husband. In the time of pandemic, we survive [through] the salary given to me, then the food support given by the mayor or LGU.”
Rona also carries the heavy responsibility of looking after her 75-year-old grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
“The biggest struggle so far is taking care of grandma… She’s more work than my job,” she admitted.
“She won’t bathe if you don’t watch her,” Rona said. “She takes stuff from the neighbor thinking it’s ours. She’s always outside.”
“So when COVID-19 struck, it’s a tough struggle for us. You need to keep watch over her because she would escape,” Rona said of her grandmother. “She quarrels with the neighbors but they are kind and don’t mind her.”
Struggles and fears during the pandemic
Working from home may seem ideal on the surface, but it has also blurred the lines separating personal life from work, of knowing when to stop or take a break and when it gets too much.
“It’s mentally exhausting. There are nights when I cry to sleep because of anxiety,” said Donna. “I try to compartmentalize to fix my mindset and get back on track. Having a written daily list somehow gives a feeling of fulfillment especially when 80% of the boxes are checked.”
Rona also said she no longer has leisure time for herself since she started working from home, saying her only form of unwinding has been drinking a glass of cold water.
And as the tasks at work add up with the responsibilities at home, so do the struggles and fears they have amid the pandemic.
Donna said she finds herself worried about her children’s future due because of the political and economic developments in the country. In her own way, she tries to educate them on what’s going on in the country and the world.
“I share important national and world news to my teenager’s Messenger,” she said. “I oblige him to read it then express his thoughts. If he has questions or misunderstood statements, I help clarify so he can formulate the right mindset to assess the situation.”
Rona, on the other hand, is fearful of uncertainties and deals with this by being fervent in her faith.
“What if we catch the virus? Where am I going to get the money?” she said. “I cope by praying to God.”
On solo parenting
Solo parenting is no walk in the park, especially now in the middle of a pandemic when the future is uncertain, and when single mothers like Donna and Rona must take the reins of not only their lives but their families’ as well.
Not often are people aware of the struggles of single mothers, according to Rona. This included stigma being attached to single parents, which wasn’t easy to shake off.
“What hurts most is that everyone blames you when [the man leaves],” she said. “It’s always like it’s the woman’s fault.”
But there’s a silver lining. For Rona, it’s clear she’s going through the wringer for her children.
“I was able to overcome different [kinds] of [hardships] by praying to God and thinking about my family,” Rona said.
The silver lining when I became a single mom [are] my children,” she said. “Despite the hardship, I went through with my past husband, we were able to live without him —and happily.”
Solo parenting is not for the weak.
“Solo parenting in the time of pandemic is a test of resiliency and mental toughness,” said Donna.
“Parenting is not just about earning money. It’s a job of raising humans to be responsible individuals,” she added. “No matter how hard I work to supply all their basic needs, but do not have the right mentality to raise and guide them, I think I fail as a parent.” WITH REPORT FROM KARL R. OCAMPO
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