23rd March 2021
It has been a difficult year for healthcare workers across the country and for those with children, the challenge of managing work and home life while schools were closed was particularly challenging. Some of those working in maternity units in Ireland South Women and Infants Directorate outlined their experience:
Mairead O'Sullivan, lactation consultant, University Hospital Kerry, has four children, ranging in ages from eight to 13 years with three in primary and the eldest in secondary. Mairead works 32 hours a week, taking seven hours a week as parental leave. She admits that juggling home-schooling and working was “quite overwhelming”. While my husband, who works in construction could be at home with the children during the first lockdown, he’s been working this year and so it’s been particularly tough. We’ve been able to create a bubble with my parents and we have a first cousin who is currently out of work due to the closure of the hotel industry, so we’ve shared the childcare between us,” she says.
“It’s quite a balancing act. They all have zoom calls at different times of the day so I often needed to be there and so needed to work around those. Home-schooling was usually left to the evening time when I get home, which then took a couple of hours. While they go to the same school, they all used different software from Aladdin to See Saw to Gmail to Hotmail and so it was too much for my parents. We have two laptops but I had to purchase two iPads at the start of the year which was expensive. I also needed to leave the teenager to his own devices online, which is not ideal but unavoidable.”
The glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel will come in mid-April when her eldest returns to secondary. But for five weeks he’ll have to stay at home while the others are in school.
“At 13, he’s too old to have my parents babysit him all day, it’s a little stressful thinking about it.”
Mairead is very grateful for the flexibility that UHK maternity services have offered: “I do my half-day of admin work at home on Tuesdays, and while it may take a full day to actually get it done with the kids around, it still makes things more manageable.”
Maghela Coen, midwife, South Tipperary General Hospital, has five children, three are in university in the UK and two are at home, including a 13-year-old in first year and an almost eight-year-old in second class. Maghela works 30 hours a week with a night shift every five weeks.
“I found this lockdown with home-schooling easier than the first, when the children found it difficult to get into the mindset of actually learning at home. We now have established a good routine during the week. The 13-year-old is more self-directed and has more zoom calls and online classes so mainly need help with her work after those,” she says.
Maghela is lucky as her husband, who also works shifts, is usually able to work opposite shifts to her so can help with the home-schooling too. “Between us we can cover most of the childcare and home-schooling. We’re in a bubble with my brother and sister-in-law so if we’re both working night shifts, one can stay over to mind the children.”
Cathy Cronin, a midwife on the labour ward at Cork University Maternity Hospital, says that, for her, it’s probably been the most stressful and toughest couple of months she can remember.
Cathy has been a midwife for over 15 years and has five children from the ages of two to eight, with one in preschool and three in primary. She works 19.5 hours a week doing the night shift. Cathy has struggled a lot as both her own mother and her mother-in-law are high risk and so can’t help at home. To make things even more challenging, her husband is a farmer and this time of the year is when he’s most busy.
“We do have a young woman in our bubble who minds the children when I return from the night shift and need to sleep from 6.30am until 1pm. Once I get up, I do the home-schooling. As they’re very young and two are learning to read, they need one-to-one support so it can take at least four hours to get through it all.”
Like many others, the reopening of primary schools was a huge relief.
Maeve Murphy, a gynaecology nurse, University Hospital Waterford, can’t wait for the schools to reopen fully so her 13-year-old daughter can return. She also has an eleven-year-old son: “I’m excited for them to get back to school and see their friends and get back to their norm. It’s been very hard on them being stuck indoors with the bad weather, and no outlet to play sport with their friends or anything. It’s been quite intense at home as a result, as they only get to see us, their parents,” says Maeve.
Maeve works 27 hours a week and her husband works on the frontline too as a Garda Detective. As they’re from Wexford, there isn’t the option of family close-by to help with the children. Luckily they’ve been able to work opposite shifts to ensure one of them can oversee the children.
“We’re lucky that our work has been flexible to allow us to change our days and times to ensure we have cover at home,” says Maeve.
“As the children are that little bit older, they don’t need too much handholding with the home-schooling. Getting them up and ensuring they are doing their work is the main focus. The monotony of it all was ultimately getting to them and they really miss their friends.”