Yesterday marked Day One, Term Three for my seven year old son, who is in Grade One this year. It was not even COB when I started to write this post, as I was already exasperated. I had a candidate I was assessing (online of course), with my little boy at my side, running between rooms to brief my client whilst keeping an ear open for my son, who is required to navigate between classes on the Zoom platform. We have just started the New Term, and I feel as though I am over it already.
Today I called up the Centre Manager at my work premises. You see, I am looking at reinstating my business lease – the one I had to cancel when the country hit a hard lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic. Speaking to her (a single Mother), I asked how on earth she could be at work (I know she has kids). She replied that through absolutely limited choices, as she has been forced to leave her 10 and 8 year old at home. Alone. She – and I’m sure many, many South Africans – is forced to leave her kids alone because (a) her job won’t allow for her to work from home and (b) she does not have the luxury of recruiting a nanny or au pair to care for her kids.
I understand and deeply appreciate the protocols that we have had to encompass as a country. Not just us, but around the globe. But there appears to be a MAJOR gap that we as South Africa may have neglected to consider when adopting International Best Practices observed from other continents: how do professionals who have children manage to work AND assume the role of teacher?
I have seen a marked change in my boy. The once care-free, athletic, happy, free spirited soul has morphed into a sad, quiet, withdrawn child. Just a few days out of the city this past weekend injected life into my little angel. This lockdown may want to protect us from a catastrophic virus, but the collateral damage is the negative psychological impact it is having on not only my young son – but humankind. According to helplines such as Lifeline and SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group), calls have doubled since lockdown.
As a Registered Health Professional, the depression, anxiety, and apprehension I see in my clients’ eyes, albeit behind the lens of my web-cam, is palatable. I feel it too. How do we, as working professionals, move back into kick-starting our frail economy, when we are at our most frail? How do we, as vital economically active individuals, school our children whilst trying to keep the roof over our heads? How are we expected to support our children in their education AND keep performing in the workspace?
It appears only the rich a.k.a. the minority will be buffered against this, as full time moms, nannies and au-pairs whisk in to save the day.
I personally feel that there was a massive oversight in phasing in various industries, in tandem with phased Grades allowed back into school, WITHOUT offering appropriate support to our working parents.
Yes – Lock-down had to happen.
Yes – we need to encourage working from home.
Yes – we need to protect our children.
But where is the support? How do we adopt what First World countries have done without the support they have? What happens to the single mother whose work is dependent on being client facing (think hairdressers, beauticians, etc.), who happens to have young children at home?
What happens to working professionals who have unsympathetic bosses, who’s kids are only allowed to return to school on alternate days?
What happens to the domestic worker whose employer will not (can’t?) allow her to bring your child to work?
Although the population is at strain, it appears that proportion of hardship once again falls squarely on the shoulders of our women as they will have to sacrifice either their careers, or caring for their children.
We need a strategy that looks at the whole system in South Africa. We simply cannot rely on what has been done overseas and replicate it. A blanket approach is not what we need. It’s not feasible in Africa, our beautiful yet oh-so vulnerable country. We need a strategy that encompasses and provides support to every professional, every job seeker, every father, and yes, every mother.
- Marzenna Almendro
Trying to assess a candidate and home-school simultaneously.
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