How urban Indian parents are dealing with the coronavirus lockdown

Sangeeta Tanwar

The coronavirus outbreak is affecting people across India in different ways. For parents of school-going kids across the country, the experience has been overwhelming and exhausting.

Around mid-March, when several Indian states sprung into action to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, their first step was to shut schools. Initially, the shutdown was meant to be till March 31, but it has now been extended till April 15, when the 21-day national lockdown concludes.

This means that kids, who typically spend between three and seven hours in a structured learning environment away from home, are now stuck indoors for weeks.

“Schools are shut. All out-of-home activities and social interactions have stopped, too. In such times, keeping kids engaged with creative activities that they find interesting is tough,” said Aarti Laxmanan, a corporate communications professional at a Noida-based packaging company. Laxmanan has been working from home while taking care of her daughters aged six and four years.

Quartz spoke with nearly a dozen Indian parents who are in the same boat as Laxmanan to understand how they are managing work-from-home with their kids always around them, sometimes demanding attention subtly and at other times pounding at their laptops to pull them away from work.

The interruption

While kids are idle at home, their parents are not on holiday. Most companies in India have mandated their employees to work from home, which can be jarring to adapt to overnight. This sudden change is beginning to cause stress.

“As kids find their parents at home, they expect us to do things that we do during weekends, like play with them or take them out,” said Zainab Cutlerywala, a human resource professional living in Pune with her five-year-old kid. “Kids don’t understand the urgency of parents attending calls and replying to emails. Stress begins when you have to manage both.”

Manju Menon, a professional and mother to a 10-year old, said her daughter keeps coming to her with demands to prepare different dishes throughout the day, which is hard given her long hours of work from home.

For some others, it’s not even about “special demands,” but just a fight for attention.

“If your kid sees you at home, they want more of your undivided attention. This sometimes comes in between work,” said Dinesh Advani, co-founder of PlayShifu, a Bengaluru-based toy company, who is working from home with his seven-year-old kid.

But with every passing day, parents are innovating and coming up with ways to deal with the situation.

Figuring it out

Several parents who spoke to Quartz said a little planning could go a long way in the current situation. “I let my son know about my daily schedule. He knows when I have a call, when I will be writing, or editing, or having lunch, etc. Our playtime together is still scheduled post-work hours like earlier,” said Tanu Ganguly, founder of Mishry, an online food product reviewing platform.

Divyata Kalhans, a PR professional and mother of a toddler, ensures she finishes most of her work when her child is asleep. She has also planned how her husband and she can split child care responsibilities in a way that their work doesn’t suffer. “I attend to my son during the first half of the day while my husband attends to him during the second half,” said Kalhans.

Here are some other tried and tested tips that might come handy if you’re in the same situation:

Establish a daily routine: Schools may be shut, but that shouldn’t derail the routine that kids are used to, some parents said. “From 9am to 1pm we follow the school schedule for my son Hans (Varde) to match his daily routine on a normal school day,” said actor Sameera Reddy, who is mom to a four-year-old and an eight-month-old. “I engage him with a lot of painting, we read, and we write.”

Lean on online: Parents are tapping the internet to add interesting activities to their kids’ lockdown. Platforms such as BrainPop, Duo Lingo, Khan Academy, and Scholastic are popular among Indian parents for kids to learn a new language, skill, or just pursue a hobby.

“My son has started using this spare time to take drum lessons, and learning music composition and production using YouTube videos,” said Tejal Kanwar, a Mumbai-based gynaecologist.

Involve in chores: Encouraging kids to pitch in with household chores is also helping some parents. “I involve my kids in cleaning their rooms. The first two days they threw tantrums, but when I didn’t give up, they happily took up household work,” said Soundhariya, a public relations professional with two kids.

Dig into your cupboards: Some parents said they’re bringing out all the games that their kids outgrew over the years but might have fun revisiting. “Sticker books, play-doh, puzzles, building toys, and colour supplies provide a few hours of fun,” said Prakriti Poddar, director of Poddar Wellness, a Mumbai-based firm providing mental health and wellness services.

Practice before you preach: Many parents who spoke with Quartz were concerned about their kids spending more screen time than usual. To stop that from happening, parents need to first check how much time they’re spending on their gadgets. “I have stopped watching too many screens at the moment because I don’t want her (my daughter) to imitate my behaviour,” said Deenaz Raisinghani, a doctoral research fellow at Savitribai Phule Pune University. “Instead, I involve her in physical activities such as taking a walk around the campus, or playing hide and seek in the house.”

 

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