How homemakers are coping with extra work and keeping families positive amid coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic, apart from bringing in a time of uncertainty, has saddled homemakers with an additional workload: a working spouse and children at home 24/7. They are rising to the challenge, and how.
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A homemaker’s work never ends. In between cleaning, cooking, mopping, taking care of the children, and sometimes care-giving for elders, her life is an endless whirl of chores to complete and things and people to take care of.

Being a homemaker is a choice for some, and a necessity for many who do not have a support system to fall back upon.

So what happens when a global pandemic like COVID-19 strikes at the very root of families, keeping them in lockdown, and perhaps for the first time, together in the house for a long period of time? 

These homemakers, apart from taking on an additional workload of having a working spouse and children at home, also have the onus of keeping their families positive and in good health as we face uncertainty.

They are also doing all they can to contribute their bit as society grapples with this pandemic. For instance, Puja Das, a homemaker from West Bengal’s South Dinajpur district, has been making masks and distributing them for free among the locals. 

Others are helping the elderly in their communities by shopping for groceries and also providing them food.

Long before multitasking became a norm at the workplace, homemakers have been doing it in their homes, and continue to during the times of coronavirus. 

How are they dealing with the additional responsibilities of having their families at home all day? Of making endless cups of chai for a spouse on con call and keeping their children entertained and busy. 

It’s important to stay positive

“Positivity goes a long way. My husband, who never misses a single day of office, even on weekends, is now restless cooped up at home. Thankfully, he takes over some of the household chores, while cribbing that I should have done better. After 30 years of marriage, I simply laugh it off and he joins in after he’s done complaining,” says Karuna, 52, a homemaker from Mumbai.

“Thankfully, both my children are adults and while things are messy around the house, it’s nice to hear their chatter. Of course, the work is more, as I have to clean up after their cooking experiments, but I don’t mind. My daughter and I pray together in the evenings and my son and I discuss movies. It’s all good so far,” she adds.

Samyuktha and her family

Samyuktha, from Kochi, believes it’s a testing time for all of us, all over the world. “It’s important to stay positive and that keeps anxiety at bay. We stay in the naval area and there is a lot of security around, and we make sure to maintain social distancing. My husband who is at home helps me out with the household chores. I also make sure to factor in a little bit of exercise during the day,” she says.

Debjani Som from North Bengal feels nothing much has changed since the lockdown. 

“The routine is pretty much the same for me. But since the lockdown, although I do not go out that often, I feel a bit irritated and stuck. Normally, after lunch during the day, my husband would be outside for work, but since both of us are both home at all times, it kind of irritates me. I like being by myself and my husband likes digging old stuff around the house. There is no extra workload as such. I like doing the dishes; the housework keeps me occupied and helps the clock move faster,” she says.

Nisha Charles from Chennai believes her workload has reduced and she’s happy to be in a peaceful environment.

“Life is very simple. I think it’s we who have been complicating things in our lives. I see my children sleeping well, with no hectic schedules of the past. Though it’s scary, we should take this time very positively, value humanity, and look out for others. As a family, we now have time to sit together to watch a movie or play cards.”


Despair and lack of time

Kavitha Krishnaraj from Neyveli, Tamil Nadu, lives with her two children; her husband is on transfer to Bhopal.  

“I regret not knowing how to drive a two-wheeler as I am not able to go out even to buy essentials like vegetables. I usually take the bus and now even bus services have been stopped. My son is epileptic and requires constant medications. We were not able to stock up on medicines as the lockdown was announced. His medicines will be over in two days. I am trying to frantically order medicines online but they are not available,” she says in despair. 

Rithanya Sureshkumar, from Chennai, talks of when she used to have time for herself after her husband left for office and the children to school. 

“I used to have a little time to relax after that, but that time is not there. I would go to my chronic healing and meditation classes from 11 am to 3 pm every day. That made me feel good, but is disturbed now,” she says.


Life with children at home

Families with children at home, especially young ones, need to think of creative ways to keep them occupied. In cities like Mumbai, where most families live in one and two-room flats, there’s not much room for privacy.

Revathy with her family

Revathy says she is always thinking of something new to keep her children busy. 

We all play indoor games, and my daughter pretend-plays she is a grocery keeper and tries to identify all the things in the kitchen. I have downloaded Amar Chitra Katha stories for my son that are now available for free. COVID-19, I agree is a huge crisis, but it has also increased the bonding between family members.”

Nusrath Jan from Bengaluru says that the family’s entire routine has been thrown out of gear. 

“We now wake up at around 9.30-10am in the morning, have a late lunch, and watch news on TV all day. My 10-year-old son is always whining and wants to go out while my daughter wears sari, puts on makeup, and keeps herself busy.

Earlier, I used to take tuition classes in the evening but since I can’t do that now, I am cooped up at home.”

Rithanya says her children keep busy with a mix of indoor games and worksheets from school

“I give my six and nine-year-old children the phone for a little while to play. I keep them engaged with indoor games. Their grandmother just taught them a folk game, Pallanguli. Mainly, they just watch cartoons. The worksheets from school are also helping to keep them engaged.”

“With my husband and two boys at home, it is like working 24 hours every day, which is stressful. They won’t get up even to take a glass of water, and I have to look after them and do the rest of the work also,” Rithanya adds.


Keeping anxiety at bay

Not all homemakers have it easy. Some are riddled with anxiety, unsure of what the future holds for them and their families. In this time, it’s important that they take care of themselves, emphasises Meghna Prabhu, psychotherapist at Nowandme.com, a community-based platform that helps people talk about their mental health struggles and find comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

Meghna lists some important tips for homemakers during these trying times.

  • It’s important at this time to ask family members for help and support. If the other family members are healthy and fit, try to divide chores. Get the husband to help with teaching the kids, or washing clothes, washing dishes, sweeping, mopping, or even cooking. Divide chores. Children can help with cutting vegetables or washing dishes. If your child is young they can do fun supervised activities like watering the garden, plucking spinach leaves from stems, etc. This is a time to do things together. If possible cook in bulk and freeze. 

  • Take time out to talk to friends and parents, have a group chat, ask them how they are managing and share your feelings. This type of peer therapy in some ways can be very useful. 
  • If you have time, try yoga. It’s a good way to relax the body and mind. If you have less time, have a hot shower.
  • The biggest challenge is keeping children occupied. One way is to give them chores. You can also encourage them to read. Give them activities and games that will keep them busy. If they have homework, ask your husband or the older sibling to help the younger one.
  • Most importantly make sure to take care of yourself, boost your immunity, and get enough sleep.
  • It’s a time for everyone to develop new skills and work together to come out of this stronger. 

Be thankful for their presence in your lives

While many women may be homemakers out of choice, there are many who have left plum jobs to take care of their families. Some have given up on their careers to help their spouses move cities and follow their dreams; others stay to look after the elderly.

So it’s heartening to note that the National Sample Survey’s Office (NSSO) is all set to undertake a study to estimate the value of unpaid work, especially household chores, by women. This is in fact, the first step towards registering India’s unpaid labour force, a large part of which are homemakers.

It’s also time to raise our voices against the misogyny ruling the internet in the form of forwards denigrating women and the work they do. Do not forward them, even for a laugh.

Homemakers are our superheroes without capes. If you have a superhero in your home, instead of just acknowledging her work, help her in these difficult times. It will be the biggest thank you ever.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)

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