Data Discoveries

Date: 12 May, 2020

Covid-19 Emotion Tracking: How do we really feel? An inside look at parents with young children working from home

Lucy Remitz
Janine McBennett

By Lucy Remitz & Janine McBennett

Strategist & Data and Insight Analyst

Welcome back to ‘How Do We Really Feel?’, where we dig deep into the nation’s feelings using our self-taught AI mood tracker along with our weekly focus groups. This week, we spoke to parents heroically juggling working from home and looking after their little ones. What we’ve uncovered tells us a lot about how we’re collectively experiencing so many feelings at once – both positive and negative.

First, let’s take a look at the mood of the nation over the past few days as we begin the initial stages of reopening the country.

For the most part, optimism continues to dominate. Many conversations have been focused on positive actions that people and organisations are taking. The national mentality of ‘being in it together’ is keeping us upbeat. Week after week, users are continuing to call out individuals, charities and organisations who are giving support during this difficult time. For example, we saw a huge rise in optimism on the morning of 9th May, largely as a result of the ‘Darkness Into Light’ sunrise appeal, which utilised the digital sphere to raise funds for Pieta House. Other positive mentions focused on the Navajo and Hopi Families Covid-19 relief fund, with many users encouraging others to give back and donate.

As we can see, there are spikes in positivity almost every day over the past week. A common trend is to offer encouragement on social media, reminding others (and ourselves) that “it’s okay to feel” and that “with the finish line in sight, we can put all our energy into the final dash. We can do this.”

While positivity mostly prevails, negative feelings of annoyance and frustration continue to be present. Some believe “rip off Ireland” has begun, with a handful of people taking to social to shame brands and companies they feel are “taking advantage” of the situation by hiking up prices. This anger is also felt over rent increases. In particular, on 7th May when news broke that Bewley’s cafe was closing because they couldn’t sustain the high rent price. Much of the online conversation was centred around the sadness of losing an iconic part of Irish culture as a result of “landlord greed”.

What’s really interesting here is that we’re feeling like this type of behaviour is a “betrayal” of residents and locals alike at a time when there is so much difficulty. We want to feel like we’re all making an effort to support each other. Similarly, we saw this feeling of betrayal rise again on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, when pictures arose online of people ignoring social distancing in the sunshine. Users expressed annoyance that they themselves are taking the correct measures, while others are blatantly ignoring it, harming the process of flattening the curve. We feel that those who are ignoring the situation “need a wake-up call”.

An inside look at parents with young children working from home

In this week’s report we have findings from a group of multitasking superheroes – parents who are working from home. Almost two months ago, on 13th March, schools and most childcare centres closed, turning parents into sole educators and always-on child minders overnight. While the government’s roadmap for reopening gives parents an end in sight, there are still several weeks of major multitasking to come.

We spoke to many different types of parents with younger children: Single mums and dads, a father whose wife just had their second child, a mum to twin five-year-old boys, and another parent home with their family of eight, including their cocooning grandmother. With our theme of resilience this week, who better to speak with than this group? Read on to see six of the key themes we gleaned from them, how we closed out our conversations, and how this group sees the future.

1. This is not the new normal

A phrase we’ve heard more and more over the past two months is “our new normal”. This is how we kicked off our discussion, with many parents expressing that they very much hope this is not our new normal. In fact, they hated the phrase.

Several people were already occasionally working from home pre-Covid. The difference was they didn’t have everyone else in the house with them. No one in the group was really set up for the type of working environment created by the pandemic. Many expressed sentiments like: “My son is on top of me constantly”. The idea that this is “how it could be for a while” was not sitting well at all.

2. An insane level of multitasking

Working, educating kids, socialising, trying to take a break – all simultaneously from home – has become a mammoth multitasking feat for our parents. One person described her day as: “I’m working the same amount, if not more. But then I start something and then constantly get interrupted throughout it all which is the real issue. I feel like I can never get anything done.”

While being pulled in every direction, there was a strong level of guilt coming from the parents. Not just the ‘mum guilt’ we hear about, but a different level of guilt now. There’s a feeling that our work, parental and personal selves are all suffering. One mum explained: “It’s really frustrating trying to keep the kids entertained and productive”. Just like when we spoke to millennials, the pressure of productivity is there, but for parents, it’s not just for themselves but for their kids too.

This can lead to new habits and shifts in behaviour for parents that are completely understandable, but concerning for them moving forward. One dad explained what he sees happening:

The kids (are) being more demanding entirely. I find I’m saying yes more often than I would have to things like snacks or TV. It’s like I have to appease them so I can get something done. To be completely honest I’m pretty worried about how much this can continue and how confusing it’ll be once it’s yes one minute and then no the next. It’s confusing for them.

3. Are they losing a year of childhood?

This sentiment was debated for a big part of our discussion. A lot of their concern was as expected. How will this affect their children not just now but also in the long run? It truly depended on their children’s age in terms of progression and social interaction. Everyone agreed that it’s amazing to get more time with their children, especially those with the youngest, but there was debate about what this could mean.

Most of the parents with kids over five felt like their kids were going to be missing out on a whole summer. Some parents were considering not sending their kids back to school, even if things reopen in September, erring on the side of caution in light of new information showing that children could be more affected than previously thought.

From an adult’s perspective, the current situation can be recognised as temporary – just a small fraction of our lives. For kids, however, it’s a much bigger portion their lives. There was some grief from parents about how their kids were processing this, with one parent explaining how heartbroken they felt on their son’s seventh birthday: “Virtually, the basics for them are just gone and it makes it hard to watch.”

4. Mixed support from employers and co-workers

The group’s feelings about the support of their employers and co-workers was incredibly mixed. Some companies seemed to have made a seamless transition, with some already having work from home set-ups. But for others, it was a total ‘tossed-in-the-deep-end’ situation.

Overall, people felt companies have responded well, mainly because they didn’t have any other choice. The places offering more work-hour flexibility shined through and those offering clear strategies for getting back into the office seemed to have it together. There was considerable worry about managing childcare upon a return to work, with many companies not addressing how they might support this.

Co-workers were a different story. Several parents felt like co-workers were expecting response times as if they were back in the office, but with kids at home it felt impossible. There was a sense that many co-workers didn’t understand their realities at home.

Some companies were seen to be saying the ‘right things’ at the top, but failing to action them at the employee level.

5. Even with a five-phase plan, there’s still a cloud of uncertainty

Since we spoke to this group after the government phases were announced, we wondered if their feelings of uncertainty would be decreased. Our tracker has shown a level of fear, anger and frustration – so it’s interesting to see this being reflected in our groups.

They felt all of the emotions are going hand-in-hand. One person summed up the unknown by saying: “There’s a huge uncertainty around what it means for basically every industry. Also, just because job loss and pay cuts haven’t happened yet for me, doesn’t mean that they’re not coming.”

This sentiment was widely echoed, with people saying: “Don’t see the half of it yet. I’m definitely more afraid to spend – feel like I need to save not just for a rainy day but for a rainy few months. It’s scary.”

6. Bright spots on the horizon alongside all the worry

With a constant level of uncertainty bubbling below – there were still bright spots that rose up in our conversations. Good-hearted people are shining through and the prospect of taking a break around Ireland in late summer is helping to keep spirits up. “We need to make the most of the year we have left”, said one mum. In addition to this, there’s hope that the positive effects of more flexible working will lead to positive change for parents.

Beyond personal and work life, there’s also a positive outlook on us as a society. One dad explained this by stating: “I think people will be healthier as a result of all of this: home cooked meals, exercising, checking in, politeness overall and minding each other better.

After the February election, it seemed that the country was more divided than ever. But given everything we’ve been through, the feeling is that we’ve come together (as cliché as that sounds now). This is helping us become more unified as a country. How long this will last is definitely unclear – but it gives us positive momentum moving forward.

What’s next? We’ll come back from the fallout together.

That unifying feeling reminded people in the group of the many storms Irish people have weathered and emerged stronger from. While our conversations had many ups and downs (just like our feelings), our chats arrived in a positive place.

To capture this sentiment, we had participants write down what they believed resilience meant to us as Irish people. Below are some of the responses that help paint an optimistic (yet cautious) picture of us as a country, and what could happen next:

We all remember the last recession – we pulled up our socks and got through it. It wasn’t great (we all remember how it felt) but look at where we were. We can do that again.

Irish people are just resilient as a people. That’s one of the things basically in our DNA isn’t it?

How we’ve handled this, and I hate to say it, our government, because normally I’m not a fan, but it’s a testament to us. Compared to everyone else, we’re doing well and I’m confident as a nation that we can do this.

I think we have to be optimistic about what’s to come – having a plan and stages is really helping. Clear and concise direction with dates really helps, it’s something to look forward to and if it’s all going to plan, yes we will be resilient as ever.

I hope that we’ll be able to bounce back. Feels like we have to shoulder a lot of weights and this will be another one. We have no idea what the fall out of this will be, but again I’m hoping that we’ll come back fighting.

Sure listen, the Irish have reacted well to things. We’ll be looking alright for the future.