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Opinion: Parents are burnt out. But many of us can’t afford the help we need

Opinion: Parents are burnt out. But many of us can’t afford the help we need
Written by Publishing Team

Anneliese Lawton is a writer, editor and mother of three.

For nearly two years, moms and dads across Canada have been parenting on the edge of our seats, raising our children with the rise and fall of the pandemic. Two years without knowing if our children will go to school. Two years of social isolation. Two years of “pretty good” parents — which for many of us means tossing Cheerios at our kids like pigeons in the park while we try to squeeze in a few minutes of work. I think I speak for all of us when I say: we can’t take it anymore. We need help.

I’ve been a mom for five years now – and for a third of that time I’ve been mothered on autopilot as a dark, defeated version of the mother I expected to be. But I wasn’t always like that. Two years ago, ice cream was a treat, not a nighttime coping ritual. My two boys and I filled our days with drop-in programs at our local library, caroling at our local cafe, and morning walks at our local mall. We were free. Live your life one day at a time.

This past summer has refreshed us with freedom. A double-dose Justin Trudeau says Canada is on track to fully vaccinate all eligible citizens by the end of the season. COVID-19 numbers were down. I went to my first concert in two years. Life seemed normal.

Now, a few months later, we have been humiliated by Omicron. And just like that, parents start doing “good enough” again. Thus, parents and children are confined to their homes, plunged back into the vagueness of survival mode, shared between conference calls and Cocomelon.

Parents cannot keep up with the ebb and flow of the pandemic. We are more than exhausted. What remains of our sanity is on the brink of death. But many of us cannot ask for help.

I have a five-year-old son with the attention span of a fish who navigates e-learning. I have an 18 month old daughter who is tearing my house apart like a little tornado. And I have a four-year-old son who succumbed to his fate as a middle child. Right now, as I write this, I don’t even know where he is. Raising three young children is difficult. Raising three young children during a pandemic seems impossible – and alas, here I am.

As a middle-class stay-at-home mom (freelancing in her spare time), friends ask me why I don’t hire help. Why not just hire someone to come to my house and take control of what I can’t? I wonder that too. But then I fall back into reality.

For one thing, the current minimum wage in Ontario is $15 an hour. For parents who work nine to five, having someone come into their home to take care of parenting responsibilities (which now includes six hours of kindergarten tech support, in my case), would cost $600 a week — for a total $2,400 per month. The median after-tax income of Canadian families is $5,241 per month. The average monthly cost of living for a family of four is $5,158. Recruiting a carer, whether for eight hours a day or one, would put an average middle-income family into debt.

Then there’s the stigma that comes with hiring help, especially for stay-at-home moms. We are at home with our children. Shouldn’t we just continue with cooking and cleaning and other associated responsibilities? That’s what they signed after all.

But that’s not what we signed up for at all.

Before the pandemic, women in Canada did a greater share of parenting, then the pandemic created a child care crisis. With minimal notice, the children were sequestered at home – and the parents, mostly mothers, thrown into the chaotic demands of parenting and teaching and running a household in one fell swoop.

We can’t just wave our white flag and ask for help – it’s a pandemic. Some of us have neurodiverse children who need special assistance and trained caregivers. Some of us are apprehensive about bringing a stranger into our home while others are immunocompromised and cannot risk exposure. Not just anyone can be a caregiver – and finding a qualified caregiver takes time. For some of us, it just comes down to pride. Our world is hectic enough and we want to show up for our children – even if we show up with the weight of the world on our backs.

During this pandemic, one thing has become abundantly clear: Hired help is earned by those with privilege and those who hire out of necessity. Simply put: High-income families who wanted help or needed help were able to get it. While others, like frontline workers and essential workers, some of whom are low-income, have had to scramble to find childcare. Which can mean anything from unpaid leave to paying ying-yang for last-minute care.

Then there are families like mine. Families who have no choice but to lean on the person who is already at home – but unlike before, there are no visits to the library to interrupt our day. We are single parents, completely alone.

In Ontario, where I live, students are scheduled to return to school on January 17, but parents are holding their breath. Sure, the weight of virtual education will lift us off our shoulders – but a sniffle could send our kids home. Rising and falling case numbers and ever-changing guidelines mean it’s only a matter of time before we’re at the mercy of the virus again. With so much uncertainty and so little reliability, help, no matter how much we need it, is just another stress we have to balance.

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