Diary Pages: Childcare in Lockdown

We asked our diarists:  Can you share any experiences you have had caring for children within or beyond your home during the lockdown?

Caregivers are under pressure during lockdown, and those looking after children are no exception. Diarists expressed a deep desire to protect and nurture children in their care but also the anxiety and stress caused by children’s daily demands for food, time, healthcare and home schooling. Childcare is one of the shared concerns we see echo across all settlement types, from suburbs to informal settlements. However, the nature and severity of the challenges are highly context dependent.

It is important to note that children, too, hold much joy for many diarists. They are often more carefree than the adults around them; they have broadly adapted well to far-reaching change; and there is an appreciation of time that can be spent together when parents or guardians do not have to leave home to work.

The post below looks at several themes around childcare and the lockdown that emerged from our diarists, in their own words.

Children and food

In informal settlements diarists note how they are struggling to feed all family members, but it is the young that cause anxiety. China, from Khayelitsha, finds it ‘heartbreaking and traumatizing‘ that she cannot provide the necessary food for her nieces and nephews who currently live with her. Their parents aren’t working and ‘children eat as many times as they can. Food runs out very fast‘ and it is ‘impossible to go look for food elsewhere even from family and relatives‘.  Patsie, too from Khayelitsha, is concerned as she ‘cannot even provide milk or porridge for my child because I no longer work

In Hout Bay, however, both Warren (from Hangberg) and Nathi (from Imizamo Yethu) note how children are being feed through donation schemes, largely because of their proximity to wealthy neighbourhoods. These donation schemes are only one small part of picture of support but they do highlight the unequal access that children (and adults) can have to external assistance.

“During this lockdown I have seen wonderful things been done for the children by the government and some NGOs…what I have noticed is that the children from primary receives the most food. Our community is in Hout Bay…these white rich people come in our community and give out as much as they can” – Nathi, Imizamo Yethu

Childcare and health

Very few diarists said that their children were sick but many were concerned about how to keep them indoors, and how to make sure they did not get infected through close contact with others. Diarists also spoke of educating their children about Coronavirus and teaching good hygiene habits.

A lot of children are roaming around streets and playing in parks with no one cautioning them or monitoring them, this somehow puts children at risk even as adult you tell them go home, the children would run and as soon you go they come back to play in park or street – Bonga, Khayelitsha

Caring for children…during this lockdown is very difficult. The child does not want to listen to the rules. They just going in and out while it’s time to stay indoors. They cannot stay at home for the whole day. So it is difficult to make them understand the reason – Ziziphio, Philippi

I am taking care of my 3-year-old grandson. It’s a nightmare. I have anxiety. So much is going on in my mind. E.g. What if I contract this virus so my child is not safe and for every little cough it scares me again… have just realised that raising a 3-year-old this time of Corona and lockdown where I have to tell a 3 year old what is virus/ germ that makes people sick. Why we have to wear masks and wash hands regularly. Unfortunately, he is a very energetic 3 year old I have to tell him not to touch surfaces. Even sanitizing him I have to make it more fun. It’s too much. Makes me tired.  – Lindz, Occupation in Seapoint

Childcare and home schooling

Across all settlement types our diarists spoke of the time they put into home schooling. Some felt this was going relatively smoothly, but for most it is very challenging. Access to resources plays an important role in shaping people’s experience of home schooling.
Audioman in suburban Cape Town felt that his children were adapting well to home schooling. Their school has started a formal program of work and his children have adapted well as they have ‘devices they can borrow, uncapped internet access and are quite tech- savvy‘. He notes how friends have to give 2-3 hours of their day to home schooling and that this is stressful if ‘you’re also managing a demanding job plus managing a home‘.

Ayanda in Khayelitsha has to balance his own school work with helping his younger siblings: ‘I try all means to make sure that they are fed and they do their school work‘. Diarists are trying different ways of engaging children in education. Khaya from Khayelitsha,  explains that ‘with the children that I am staying with, I encouraged them to read different novels where I would test their knowledge after three days within the chapters they have read‘.

But for Patsie, home schooling is not an option. It is difficult for her child to continue with her studies: ‘while the school gave us the link to continue online, I do not have money to buy a data.  Life itself is really on lockdown for us‘. 

Children and Space

The stress caused by looking after children in the lockdown was greatly affected by the size of people’s homes and their access to a yard or garden. Many people in townships and informal settlements spoke of children playing in the streets. In part this was due to the difficulty of entertaining children in contexts where space and resources were limited. Efforts to keep children indoors could be tough. As Gassie, in the Woodstock Occupation noted, ‘The kids is very frustrated. Ah the adults are organized but the kids have nothing to do the are very frustrated.’ However, playing outdoors was not always just a question of entertainment. Sometimes, tasks such as cooking in the home made it necessary to send children outdoors.

Their houses are too small with many children. So they cannot breath or move correctly. Some of them they live in a one room, so if they need to cook , they have to take children out before they cook. So it is difficult to people wait until this lockdown ends – Zizipho, Ramaphosa

Childcare and the burden of full-time responsibility

A range of diarists from different settlement types raised the challenge of looking after children full-time. Young children in particular require time and energy which can be challenging when carers’ have other commitments, or indeed are dealing with the consequence of a lockdown which may affect their physical and mental well-being.

In my home there is a new born baby and one 6 year old. Practically speaking, I am feeling overwhelmed. It is demanding, emotional… I have been helping around with making bottled milk. Taking care the 6 year old is a little bit challenging as she has been asking questions on why she cannot go outside and play with her friends. I came up with games, and drawings just to keep her occupied.  I noticed that managing the threat of the virus is adding a new and significant dose of domestic and emotional labor to our lives – Siphenathi, Khayelitsha

At this stage [the children] both still need hands-on assistance every step of the way so it is taking up the better part of every day – Judy, Newlands

 Childcare and work

Those that work from home struggle to balance competing demands. As Judy from Newlands explains, ‘I usually do consulting work from home but I am finding it impossible to manage school work and my own work, so I am turning away new consulting work. I hope my clients are still there when lockdown ends‘. 

Not all parents are able to spend time with their children, and this is particularly telling for essential workers.

As an essential worker I had to leave my two children with their father every day to go to work. I am very cautious in what I do as protecting myself from the virus means protecting them too – Thando, Khayelitsha

I do not have enough time to spend with my own children as I leave the house early morning only to return in the evening – Zukiswa, Khayelitsha

The Joy of Childcare

While childcare is challenging many of our diarists also highlight the joy children bring in times of crisis, including how many adaptable children have been and the benefits of having more time together as families. For Bonga, childcare can be stressful, but ‘they are also joyful at times‘. Patsie explains how, ‘at the beginning it was good and adorable to take have more time with my child‘ and Natalie notes, ‘The children are much more independent now than before lockdown. They make their own breakfast and lunch and are more helpful tidying up the house. They also play together a lot‘. 

These quotes from our diaries on childcare raise a series of questions:

  • How can schools work differently to overcome the challenges of the digital divide?
  • Can home schooling be structured in ways that does not reinforce the structural inequalities that exist across the country?
  • How will those who need to work (essential workers, stage four workers) cope with childcare during lockdown?
  • Are there ways of meaningfully adapting lockdown strategies in areas where home space is limited?

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