The statistics say that there is no single country where both partners share their housework equally. Even in the Scandinavian countries, famous for their equality, every day women devote an hour more to housework than men. In Poland – almost twice as much time as men. While men spend just over two and a half hours a day cooking, cleaning or taking care of children, women deal with these things for almost five hours every day. It is even worse during epidemics because many people had to bring their professional work home. It’s harder to concentrate at home and separate business and private matters. On top of that a lot of new responsibilities have emerged. Schools and kindergartens no longer help in caring for children and the responsibility of their education and general wellbeing falls to the parents. The parent burdened with these new tasks are women.
Paweł from Warsaw, 36 years old, three children, married for twelve years: - I work for an event company that suspended its operations when all mass events were cancelled. I was sent on compulsory leave overnight. My wife is a promotion and marketing specialist. She’s luckier than me because she can work remotely. She brought home her company computer and set up an office in the bedroom. I realised that it is now her responsibility to support the family. I felt a little strange about it, but I thought I should put my male pride aside. I have to be happy that my wife can work and earn money as normal. I immediately declared that I would take on all the household duties. Before that I had done a lot of housework, too, or so I had thought. But now I would be ashamed if my wife was working and still had to clean or cook, and I was to be useless.
It soon turned out anyway that my wife had no time for any of this. She sits in front of her computer all day long, answering the phone even late at night. The transition to remote working completely blurred the boundaries between working and leisure time. Her boss and contractors are also working from home. They are aware that my wife has access to the company computer and phone day or night, so they are comfortable asking her for different things no matter the hour. And my wife, you know, won’t refuse because she fears for her job like everybody else.
We have three children. Before the epidemic, our four-year-old Janek attended kindergarten, the seven-year-old Kuba and the nine-year-old Julka attended primary school. Now I have to prepare their meals, organise their play and, in the case of the older two, help with their lessons. Children at this age are very active, they make noise, argue, ask questions all the time and want things constantly. “Dad, where’s my Elsa hair-clip?”, “Give me some cornflakes, please”, “Make me a pancake with jam, but not the one from the fridge, strawberry jam”, “Find me some rags because the teacher told me to make a collage with different pieces of cloth.” In response to all of this I ask in despair “Where am I going to get all this stuff from? Where am I supposed to look for it?”. And the kids will say to that: “Mum will know, let’s knock on her door”. I’m ashamed that I don’t really know my own apartment and my wife always managed all of it.
One could say that this is an exceptional situation. Before the epidemic, the children went to school and kindergarten, my wife went to the office. She didn’t have them on her mind all day. But there were weeks when the children were sick – usually all three at once – and my wife took childcare leave to stay with them. And when I came from work, the dinner was ready, and the apartment was tidy. When the children went to school and kindergarten, my wife would usually pick them up because she works closer and could get there faster. On the way there she would do the shopping, then I warmed up the dinner and she would cook something for the next day. I would load the dishwasher, take out the garbage, on Saturday the whole family would do house cleaning, but it was my wife who managed us.
Now I’m trying my best. I do the shopping and cleaning. I really didn’t know that our washing machine has a special delayed start function. I didn’t notice that I had selected it and when the drum didn’t start turning, I thought the washing machine was broken. I am growing up as a husband and the man of the house. If it wasn’t for the epidemic, my wife would probably still have four children to look after, including me: a 36-year-old man.
Tomasz from Katowice, 38 years old, one nine-year-old daughter, married for ten years: - My wife is a high school teacher. People still say that in this profession you work only eighteen hours a week, and then there are winter and summer holidays. When school lessons were suspended, my sister told me: “You’re going to have it nice. Magda will have time off, you’ll have no problem taking care of Helenka.” She had no idea what she was talking about. I’m a clerk. We have a rotating work system which means I have to be in the office every other day. When I’m home, I see how hard my wife works. Before eight o’clock, she turns on the computer and sends students teaching materials and activities to do. She makes our daughter breakfast, prints out the tasks sent by Helenka’s teacher and explains to her how to do them. Then she connects with her students via Skype. My wife teaches English, so she can’t teach lessons just based on e-mails. She tries to have virtual conversations, but it doesn’t work out very well in groups, so she connects with only two or three students at a time. Of course, this takes a lot more time, but my wife says it makes no sense to connect with fifteen students at once because it causes chaos.
In the afternoon, my wife takes a break to prepare dinner. When I’m home, I help; I peel the potatoes, cut the vegetables. I also manage the cleaning. But when I’m not there, my wife handles things by herself. I just do the shopping on the way from work. After lunch, my wife checks Helenka’s work and sends it to her teacher. Then she checks the work her students have sent her and arranges the tasks for the next day.
Apart from that, every day my wife has to report to the headmaster what she has been doing that day – not just with the senior year students but also with the younger ones. She keeps answering phone calls or e-mails from concerned parents.
The real madness began, however, when the Prime Minister announced that classes at school would be suspended until at least 26 April. This means that the senior year students, for whom the school year ends on 24 April, will no longer return to school and my wife has to give them their end of the year grades remotely. Everyone wants the grades to be as high as possible because it is still unclear whether the Matura exams will take place, and if they do, in what form. The Minister of Education said that maybe the oral exams would be cancelled, but more and more universities are declaring that they are ready to recruit even without Matura results, based on the grades from the school leaving certificate. So, senior year students write and call her for the opportunity to do additional tasks or give oral answers via Skype to improve their grades. They are also still preparing for the Matura exam, which, as we know, will take place in the second half of June at the earliest. Everything seems to indicate that my wife will continue to work with them for the weeks to come, although formally they will already be graduates.
But my wife has a huge sense of responsibility. Unfortunately, she hardly has any time for our daughter and Helenka spends her time playing alone and watching cartoons. I wondered how I could make it up to my wife in this difficult time, but during the epidemic I can’t even get them out of the house to have some rest. I recently ordered a pizza so we could eat something cooked outside the house. I also bought my wife a voucher to a beautician. She will use it when the epidemic is over.
Rafał from Mikołów, 28, in a relationship for two years:
My partner is a nurse at a hospital. I got used to her night shifts and to the fact that she comes home exhausted not just physically, but above all mentally. She’s very emotional when someone dies during her shifts or when patients complain that she doesn’t come to them often enough. But she’s got so many patients under her care that she just can’t keep up. But what is happening now is a nightmare. My partner works in a hospital dedicated to dealing with the virus epidemic that only accepts patients infected with the coronavirus. She has decided that she would not be coming home so as not to put me at risk, and moved to a hotel that offers free rooms to the staff working at the infectious diseases hospital. It is also for her to commute to work from there and so she can sleep half an hour longer, and now every quarter of an hour is important to her. We talk on the phone and on Skype. I can see how tired she is. I’m worried that the stress and too much work may affect her health. I admire her for putting the patients’ welfare before her own, but sometimes I feel like I’ve had enough. I’d prefer for her to work in a less destructive profession.
Since she has moved out, I also found out how many things she was doing at home, although until now it seemed to me that we shared our responsibilities fairly. When I’m alone, I don’t cook dinner, but I wanted to warm up some frozen food in the microwave. I open the freezer, and it’s empty. Nobody reminded me to do the shopping. I also forgot to take the car we share for a check up on time. It was always my girlfriend who was keeping an eye on the deadlines. As soon as she comes back, I’ll greet her with a bouquet of flowers and tell her she’s really irreplaceable.
Piotr, 43, Będzin, married for twelve years:
My wife has a job she can do from home. I have to go to the office, but when the schools and kindergartens closed, I decided to use childcare allowance. Fortunately, my son is six years old, so I was entitled to it. Someone might ask: what for if your wife is staying home anyway? Well, she’s not staying home, she’s working. And it’s very hard. All day long in front of the computer, on the phone. Sometimes, when our son was sick and couldn’t go to kindergarten, she managed to reconcile work with taking care of him. And you can live that way for a few days, maybe a week but schools and kindergartens have been closed for a month now and no one knows how much longer this will last.
That’s why it was obvious to me that I would take childcare allowance. It’s an opportunity for me to stay with my son, to tinker around together, to teach him something. Apart from that, by staying home, I protect myself and my family from infection. At work, I had contact with a lot of people from the outside, I took the bus to commute. I can’t imagine going back to my family every day without knowing if I wasn’t bringing the virus to them.
Mirosław from Gliwice, 65 years old, married for 39 years:
We were cut off from the possibility of meeting people, long walks, trips to the cinema. My wife has always been active, she doesn’t like doing nothing. For the first few days she was restless. And then all of a sudden, she announced that she was going to be sewing masks for hospitals. She read about such a campaign on the internet. She found pieces of different fabric in the wardrobe, prepared the sewing machine. She got so into it that when she ran out of fabric and she asked if we could go and get some more. A spot has been opened in the city where volunteers sewing masks can get free fabric funded by sponsors.
I’m impressed with my wife’s enthusiasm. Every day after breakfast she sits in front of the machine and sews. Once a week we take the masks to the café from which they are delivered to hospitals.
I admire my wife for her initiative. During the epidemic, many people sit and complain that they are bored. They become apathetic. With my wife, that’s impossible.
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