The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent national lockdown impacted families across South Africa, forcing many of us to make dramatic and difficult changes to our lives.
This father of one wrote to us to share his experience, from how he at first thought all would be fine, to his eventual breakdown and then recovery.
Read his harrowing tale below:
As a family who has had their lives turned upside down by the lockdown, I wanted to share my thoughts on what it's like to be a working dad in these strange, crazy and often trying times.
Firstly, this is not a piece that attempts to draw sympathy. I realise I am in a very privileged position, where I am still able to earn my full salary, my wife does not have work pressures of her own, and we only have 1 child, our nearly 4 year old daughter.
When lockdown was announced and enforced, our live-in domestic helper was able to stay with us.
This has meant a huge benefit that our house is kept clean and tidy, our washing and ironing get done, and we have an extra pair of hands to help with childcare.
But this doesn't mean life has been all sunshine and rainbows.
One of the fascinating aspects of the worldwide pandemic has been how equal it has made us.
Everyone from the poor to the celebrity world have been going through similar trials and tribulations. Of course lockdown in a 24 room mansion vs lockdown in a shack are two very different things.
My point here is that there are some fundamental challenges that every family is facing.
When the lockdown was announced, my wife and I foolishly thought that this would mean some adjusting and we'd be fine - carry on as usual.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
With a freight load of new challenges rapidly bearing down on our lives, we were ill prepared. Myself, I often work remotely, and work from home.
I have a dedicated office space, desk, chair etc. Work was going to carry on as per usual. My wife shared an initial enthusiasm for home schooling.
It was going to be fun.
A mommy-daughter bonding experience over colouring, drawing and the weekly themes that her nursery school was sending out to the parent WhatsApp group. I could happily do conference calls, demos, internal meetings and life could carry on uninterrupted.
It was a great tale of fiction we told ourselves, but the reality was a far different beast - full of my feelings of guilt, doubt, anxiety, fear and soul-crushing stress. I felt guilt that my wife was picking up the bulk of the childcare, with no help from me.
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Doubt and uncertainty of the future.
Yes, my days were busy and full, but business was drying up. It's tough to find leads, opportunities and try to sell security software, when companies are under threat, peoples’ very livelihood is at stake, and they are not sure if their own company will survive the economic impact of lockdown.
I found myself unable to completely devote my head and time to work, rather I was keeping one ear out to see if my wife needed help, or hearing my daughter refusing to co-operate with schoolwork and feeling like I should step in.
I also craved the human connection.
I liked the Zoom meetings - it gave me other faces to see, other people to talk to, and broke the monotony that everyday life was turning into.
Of course, that meant my wife had no respite.
Life was becoming Groundhog Day.
Adding to this our daughter's worsening behaviour, as she struggled with the same feelings, but unable to comprehend them or put them into words.
Her outbursts became more frequent, her need to control situations and get her way was becoming a lot more apparent, and coupled to that was her sleep was erratic, with her waking up and screaming throughout the night, as if she had had a nightmare.
Of course, this also took a toll on my wife, who dutifully accepted her role as primary caregiver, and would suffer the night after night of broken sleep, making sure our daughter was OK, simply so I could have a good night's rest and ensure I could be on top of my game for work.
But this was the issue.
Over the weeks, my guilt at not being present began to grow and grow. My wife's temper began to fray from the relentless onslaught of dealing with a "Threenager" every day.
We tried to work out a schedule - I asked my boss if I could be contactable by phone, but not be needed at my laptop on Fridays.
I explained the situation.
The company was very understanding, and said that was OK.So I wanted to take over the primary childcare on Fridays.
At the same time, my company also implemented the 12-2 rule. Employees were encouraged to not book any meetings or calls between these hours, to ensure they could be with family and help out.
"Don't worry dear, I'll take over. You can go have a 2 hour break." I felt like a hero and it was great to be able to give my wife some much needed respite.
However, this resulted in a strange new dynamic. When I walked out of my office at lunchtime, often my daughter would already have eaten, after a new tantrum and power struggle of her telling us she is "super hungry".
My wife's nerves were shot, from having a morning filled with the same routine, but ever-increasing pushback and tantrums.
Guilt began to grow.
I should be helping out more, this as one-sided and unfair. Adding to this, the bombardment of WhatsApp groups with their memes of "Life as a working mother", and "Home schooling for Moms" etc.
Images of beyond tired, ragged women cuddling large glasses of alcohol filled every group. As much as I felt duty-bound to earn and provide for my family, I still felt I was failing them.
I couldn't concentrate while at work, I couldn't focus, and as such my anger and resentment grew. I started to rush through meetings, delaying responding to e-mails, and ensure I could come in and rescue my wife - give her the time she so desperately needed.
Make sure she had an opportunity to do whatever she needed to. All the while keeping an eye on my phone, checking E-Mails and WhatsApps. Not being present at all.
Despite constant communication, talks, discussion, things were breaking down.
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Weekends became tough, as we tried to share the burden.
Small home projects were complete, there wasn't much more to do. The walls were closing in and we were all feeling the pressure.
My moods worsened my temper shortened, and my wife and I were having daily discussions in the morning about how best to survive, how we should keep calm as we try to navigate the toddler moods, making sure that she wasn’t feeding off of our anxiety, that she had a stimulating day, that the parenting was a shared responsibility etc etc, all of which eventually turned to ashes as the day progressed and worsened.
Eventually, I had a breakdown.
In the middle of one of my precious morning showers, that were generally few and far between thanks to a variable morning routine, I just broke down into tears. Sobbing to myself as life just seemed to overwhelm me.
I felt like I was failing at everything – unable to focus on my job for worry of how my daughter was, not able to focus on my family because I felt that work needed to get done, losing my patience with my daughter and this cascaded into a feeling of abject failure.
I reached out for help, spoke with GP, and got the help I needed.
Things are much better now.
I mentioned to work how I was feeling, how things were going, and they have been very understanding.
My work schedule has shifted so I can work more in the evenings and help more during the day, guilt free.
I’ve turned off notifications on my smartwatch, so I can be more in the moment and less worried about what I am missing, and most importantly, I’ve been speaking to friends, family and colleagues about how I was feeling, what I was going through, and reminding them that I am always available if they need to chat or vent.
So yes, working moms have it tough, working dads have it tough, non-working moms have it tough, and non-working dads have it tough.
Each of us has our own perspective and trials.
It is not for me to say who has it worse, or who is struggling more – this was merely me sharing my story, in the hope that it may provide some perspective, comfort or insight into new normal that is being established.
This global pandemic and subsequent lockdown has been a real trial for all for us, and it’s no wonder so many people are desperate to be out, violating the 6-9 curfew, not wearing masks, and just tying to change their scenery.
Stay safe, stay sane, and look out for each other South Africa.
It’s helped me so much to see how people are pulling together, helping one another, and trying to make a difference in their fellow South African’s lives – let’s all try to get through this, and help us back on the road to normality.
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