In this second instalment of our Quarantine Anecdotes Analysis, we find women and men with children under the age of 12, married or living as a couple, between 31 to 46 years old from Mexico, Colombia, the UK and France.
“After phase 3 was declared, with a badly damaged business, and the family income hanging by a thread, I went out to the communal garden where I live and I saw my daughter playing with other children, all wearing masks, but totally adapted and happy. Covid-19 is not the end” (Anonymous, 34 years old, Mexico)
We see how, in their effort to keep the nest safe in these uncertain and chaotic times, these middle-aged men and women quickly adapt and resolve to survive. They are immersed in the daily organisation of activities in order to resolve immediate needs: work, home, food, childcare, homeschooling, etc. They are jugglers, maintaining constant balance, they have little space for reflection as they are much more focused on dealing with the absolute present.
Additional demands have appeared in their already busy lives and it seems that the rhythm has intensified, marking a significant change from the norm. The spaces inside the house have been completely blurred, the limits are lost, areas are reassigned and shared, all of which can generate a certain feeling of invasion. The personal, the family, and the workplace merge to become one thing under the same roof.
This has resulted in the concession of spaces, territory has been ceded within the home and a restructuring has emerged that implies a resignifying of both space and activities. What was previously used primarily by women is now appropriated by men – unaccustomed to spending time and occupying these places – so that they have the opportunity to explore new skills. This has happened with the kitchen and with the task of shopping.
“Confinement has changed the way I interact in the daily space. My little office space was also invaded. My work at home has been altered, in addition to my nerves. ” (Deisy, 38 years old, Mexico)
“The best thing that has happened to me during quarantine is that my husband has discovered a talent for cooking and has experimented with things that I never have the energy to prepare” (Katri, 41 years old, Mexico)
It seems that, during quarantine, the division of roles and household chores tends to take a more equitable form between men and women, with new dynamics emerging in terms of cleaning, food preparation, childcare and relationships.
“We share everything as we can, we exchange work days with childcare days. Whoever has to be with the kids always ends up more exhausted than the other ”(Katri, 41 years old, Mexico)
But, it is also true that the mental, emotional and even physical load of women has intensified. In the narratives, the constant remains the need to reconcile working life with the demands of childcare and the home, implying increased stress and tension due to the demanding nature of parenthood. Many have had to resolve this through working outside normal office hours – very early or very late – in order to keep up.
“The days start at 4 in the morning and end at 11 at night. They make my muscles completely lose the ability to move and my spirit lose the urge to oblige them.” (Paula, 40 years old, Colombia)
“At what bloody time am I supposed to be able to see some incredible online cultural event that someone has passed me? When I’m sitting on the toilet and there’s a small girl banging on the door and screaming? When I’m in front of the computer at 11 at night trying to finish the job I didn’t manage to do during the day due to interruptions every 3 minutes? ” (Katri, 41 years old, Mexico)
“My son screaming ‘muuuuum’, me working on the computer and the food on the stove … sometimes I feel like a super mum and other times, the worst in the world.” (Anonymous, 31 years old, Mexico)
The role of many women has become even more diversified. Now they also function as teachers and cheerleaders for their children to avoid boredom. This, in addition to causing them stress, takes away time for themselves to disconnect and do what they would like to do.
Mothers resort to strategies to deal with the crisis. They try to keep their spirits up, they appeal to their ability to overcome the circumstances.
“We had to take our old talents out of the closet, grab the savings from under the mattress and have great faith in the resilience that characterises us, as Mexicans, travellers and artists.” (Deisy, 38 years old, Mexico)
Others channel pressure by inventing ways to transform the tedium of the monotony.
“It has to be a different day or we will die of boredom, and no one should die of boredom, it would be so shameful.” (Karolina, 37 years old, Colombia)
They maintain their emotional integrity through socio-emotional ties through technology.
“I never thought that my daughter’s third year of life was going to be celebrated by a video call.” (Gloria, 39 years old, Colombia)
The fathers’ narratives show that their concerns during the pandemic revolve mainly around the economy and future stability, and like the mothers, they must also mediate between work, childcare, and household needs. They reinforce their protective role and the qualities of strength and fortitude in the face of the developing crisis. The pragmatic posture is present and they try to look to the future since there is nothing else to be done.
“You identify and raise awareness that you, and only you can and MUST do what needs to be done. You recognise, you rescue and as my grandmother used to say, “You show your best”. “There is what there is” (another great woman in my life once said) and you act accordingly.” (David, 45 years old, Mexico)
Confinement is also a good opportunity to have more family time with children, which fills them with satisfaction and motivation.
“This experience has made family activities closer. I’ve taken advantage of this time to teach my daughters how to cook and to talk with them more”. (Mauricio, 40 years old, UK)
The anecdotes tell us of an admirable job being done by mothers and fathers, but they also leave latent themes on the table that have become more acute with confinement. It is necessary to question ourselves about the permanence of the changes that have taken place and observe the transformations that will result. When we leave our houses again, will we maintain equity? Will mothers’ burdens be lightened? Will men continue to cook and shop? Will the long-awaited work-home balance finally be achieved? Will the heavy demand on parental performance continue to hold? Will the new order of space and distribution of tasks remain inside the home? Perhaps, with regard to the emerging variables, there is still much more to work to do, however, it has left a seed that should bear fruit.
The Quarantine Anecdotes Collection
During April and May 2020, Alma de Casa put out an open call to the public with a view to creating a small collection of anecdotes about experiences during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Based on the analysis of the narratives received, social psychologist Zulema Moreno identified three trends that stood out in their representation of different feelings, behaviour and reactions to the pandemic. Without a doubt, it’s not the same to go through quarantine alone, as it is with children and/or while continuing to work. No one was prepared for this situation and everyone reacts the best they can within their circumstances. It’s too early to draw definitive conclusions about what we’re all experiencing, however, from the different anecdotes we have an opportunity to reflect, identify and ask ourselves what will follow on from this.
Zulema Moreno is dedicated to developing qualitative analyses of social factors and market research. From her own quarantine in Madrid, where she’s been living for the last 3 years with her husband and two cats, she sent us her observations which consist of a range of different experiences from Almas de Casa between 24 to 73 years old, from Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, UK, Spain and France.
Thank you to Zule for her time and for sharing her concerns, fears and thoughts about how the world will emerge from this situation. We also thank the 38 anecdotes that were sent to us for opening up and making us think once again about everyday domestic life.