A woman reading her computer with her young child in her lap


If This Piece Were Written By a Father, Would You Hate It?

Mar 11, 2021

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article for CBC Parents about the challenges of parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic, using the metaphor of running a marathon with an undefined finish line. Although I’m relatively new to the public publishing world, I know enough to expect that there will be comments from strangers, and that they won’t always be kind.

"Lately I'm wondering: am I not allowed to comment on the challenges of parenting during a pandemic because I hold relative privilege in the world?"

As a writer, I try anticipate where I might be critiqued and mitigate some of it in advance. It’s not just self-preservation, I believe it makes for better writing. As a person and a parent, I hold reflexivity as a core value and try to incorporate it as best I can into my writing. Meaning that, I know as a white, middle-class cis-gendered woman, when I talk about the challenges of parenting during a global pandemic, I know I have it relatively easy. I know I have it relatively easy within both the Canadian and global contexts, because I have studied, worked, lived and breathed international development, anthropology and social change for the past 20 years.

I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out and that I get it right with everything I write, but I try as best I can to be aware of my privilege and not to be obnoxiously entitled about it. But lately I'm wondering: am I not allowed to comment on the challenges of parenting during a pandemic because I hold relative privilege in the world? The way it felt reading the comments on that article is that I'm not, mainly because I'm a woman.

Do you have pandemic privilege? Read about what it is and ways in which your privilege can help others right now here.

Parenting in this generation and COVID-19

I was called an entitled millennial, whining about parenting because I couldn’t just drop off my kid at his grandparents. They talked about being raised by boomers, the last generation that really cared about family values and raised their kids properly — but I was raised by boomers. I even had a childhood one may view as idealized when it comes to family values. My mom stayed home for 10 years when we were young, baked brown bread and made homemade strawberry jam and devoted herself to our early years. This was part social norm, part conscious choice and part privilege. When we were ready, my mom could and did go back to her career.

"Looking for work and working from home require the same, if not more, mental and emotional reserves and patience, especially with a young child under foot."

Does my need, as a mom and woman, to earn an income while my child is under five mean I don’t have family values, or worse, that I didn’t really want to become a parent? If my husband had written the same article, would he be told not to have had children if he has to earn an income to provide for them, while adapting to an emerging global pandemic? I don't think so, sadly.

Statistics confirm that the rising cost of living in Canada has made things harder financially for the younger generations. Housing costs more, much more, for us than it did for our parents, and jobs are far less secure. So, many families need two working parents to make ends meet — not because they don’t have family values, but because it's just the reality if they want a family and a place to live. My mom had the choice to stop working and focus on us, so for people like me, this is also the first time we're looking at a situation where it's a necessity to keep working.

And now, with COVID-19, it's even harder. The incomes of women, especially visible minorities and new immigrants, have been most affected. And as kids started spending all their time at home, it was mostly women who assumed the parental tasks in the household.

In our home, it was my husband’s income that was gone nearly overnight. Mine did keep coming, but with a six-month payment delay as they're consulting contracts. I wrote in my article that we were both working from home, and was told we had it easy because at least we were still working, but looking for work and working from home require the same, if not more, mental and emotional reserves and patience, especially with a young child under foot.

Understanding in a challenging time

There were also comments noting that I only have one child, and he’s not homeschooling yet. This year has been challenging for all of us, with or without kids, but I do believe parents need to be granted some understanding — because all of us as human beings need that right now. I know my hardships have been manageable, relatively speaking, but what has to happen so that it's OK for us to grieve our situations publically?

The article Katharine wrote compared how she's feeling about parenting during COVID-19 to being 26 kilometres into a marathon with no finish line. You can find it here.

Does the loss of a pregnancy in the early days of lockdown, a pregnancy so far along it was days shy of being termed a stillbirth, give me permission to be tired? Does grieving this loss while cut off from social supports, while parenting, while working, while adapting to the pandemic world give me permission to find it a little bit hard? Does that mean I didn’t want or plan for the responsibility of parenting my three-year-old? No, it does not. But I'm a woman who chose to share my experience, and now I feel I need to defend and justify my commentary (on extensively documented public health issues) with painful personal experiences.

None of us planned to parent and work full-time at home. It’s not rocket science as to why that wasn’t the standard practice before the pandemic. But I ask again, just for a moment: imagine my husband had written the same article I did. I believe he would have been met with praise for making it work at home, adapting to the challenges of the pandemic while becoming a more hands-on dad in the process. I don't think he would have been told that he should've thought twice about having a family while keeping a job and trying to survive a global pandemic. But I'm the mom, and I have a job and I dared to publicly state that parenting while working during a pandemic is hard.

I've made my case, and hope that in the future, we all give parents, and each other, understanding before passing judgement. I love being a mom with every fibre of my being, and if someone can't see that, I think the magic of motherhood might be lost on them.

Article Author Katharine Hagerman
Katharine Hagerman

Read more from Katharine here.

Katharine Hagerman is a global public health consultant currently based in Cairo, Egypt, with her husband and their three-year-old son. She holds a master’s of public health from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. During non-COVID times she spends summers ultra-running and teaching yoga in her hometown of Haliburton, Ontario. She occasionally writes a professional reflective blog turned personal musings page.

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