A former professor at QF partner university recounts his struggles, during the pandemic, as a parent to three.
It was unfamiliar for Andrew Mills and his wife, Noha Aboueldahab, to sleep-in after months of keeping up with an overwhelming routine. As parents to three children, all younger than the age of 10, resting was a luxury they could not afford, especially now, during the pandemic.
Since the nationwide closure of schools in Qatar in March, things had been quite busy in the Mills household. Spending the days caring for the kids and then working past midnight had become the norm.
It was when Mills, a consultant and former professor at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), a partner university of QF, and his wife, Aboueldahab, who works in research and policy, tested positive for novel coronavirus that the two were forced into isolation. And with that diagnosis came a multitude of worries.
Since early March, Aboueldahab and Mills had been responsible for educating and providing round-the-clock care to their three children while maintaining their full-time jobs. And the challenges of trying to do so had proved to be exceptionally hard.
We are fortunate to have somewhat flexible jobs, but when you have kids of different ages, it is a challenge to involve them in the same activity at the same time
“We are fortunate to have somewhat flexible jobs, but when you have kids of different ages, it is a challenge to involve them in the same activity at the same time,” said Mills.
Their solution to this problem had been to ask the nanny to take care of their youngest child while one of them taught the elder two, so at least the other parent was free to work. And then they’d switch. But with them in quarantine and only a nanny around, how were they going to keep the children occupied?
“Our children all tested negative, so it became really difficult in terms of trying to be in the house with them when they knew we were there. I’d use Zoom with them when they would be downstairs and I would be up in my bed,” said Mills.
To his surprise, their children did a wonderful job at following the rules laid out for them. According to him, “their newly found sense of independence meant they were better off” without his and Aboueldahab’s prying eyes. Eating ice-cream to their heart’s content and occasionally performing dances in the garden for Mills and Aboueldahab to watch through the bedroom window were just some of the perks of having their parents in quarantine.
Nonetheless, it was another difficult transition the Mills had to overcome as a family in the last few months. Though the parents were “lucky to avoid the direst symptoms [of Covid-19],” the uncertainty of how the sickness would progress was terrifying to them.
“What’s really scary is that thinking: is it going to get worse? When am I going to know if it’s going to get worse?” he said.
A sustainable plan for parenting
Mills and Aboueldahab are out of quarantine now and the family has finally fallen into a clearly defined routine that is helping both the parents and children deal better with the upheavals of the pandemic.
The kids were disappointed when my wife and I had to take some time off doing things with them to do our jobs because it meant that we weren't kind of focusing on them as much as we were before
According to Mills, the past few months have been like running “a marathon.” When the school’s first shutdown, “the kids were more or less enjoying [staying at home] because it was a bit of a novelty…. a vacation” A few weeks in, it became clear that this was not going to be just a couple weeks.
That’s when it became really important that Mills and Aboueldahab come up with a sustainable plan to not only find time to work from home, but also ensure their kids are learning during their time off from school.
“The kids were disappointed when my wife and I had to take some time off doing things with them to do our jobs because it meant that we weren't kind of focusing on them as much as we were before,” he said.
However, what has helped manage that disappointment for their kids is for Mills and Aboueldahab to sit down with them every morning and explain what they will be doing throughout the day.
“We found it to be really important to do this so they're [kids] are not just kind of going from one thing to the next, not understanding what's coming down the line later in the day… knowing that they will watch an hour of TV, for example, helps them manage other tasks that they don’t like as much,” said Mills.
With the reopening of schools in Qatar and the beginning of the academic year, Mills and Aboueldahab are trying to “manage their [kids] expectations and preparing them for the fact that there are still a lot of unknowns in this situation.” Nonetheless, they are looking forward to the sense of normalcy this promises.