Pressures of homeschooling during pandemic reveal gender imbalances: study

Dalhousie researchers looked at the impact of homeschooling during the pandemic and a gender imbalance and increased drinking were among the findings.

The researchers behind this study wanted to explore the effect of pandemic lockdowns on parents and caregivers who suddenly found themselves homeschooling.

What they found illustrates how the response to COVID-19 highlighted social challenges around long before the virus.

As a parent in the midst of a pandemic, who also counts herself sober for almost three years now, Allison Garber isn't surprised to hear the survey's results.

Out of couples who had to homeschool their kids, the responsibility fell on women more and those women reached for alcohol more often.

"We live in a culture that really celebrates and embraces alcohol as kind of a cure for all," Garber said.

Garber is very open about her own journey to sobriety and challenges that culture, one she says many women have come face to face with in the pandemic.

"I spoke to a number of women, a number of friends who said, 'I'm leaning on this a little too much, I need to shift to exercise, to yoga, and meditation.'"

Sherry Stewart is clinical psychologist who says the stressful circumstances of the pandemic "seemed like really a natural experiment that was happening to all us."

That's why researchers in addiction teamed up with those in education, surveying more than 750 couples across Canada last April.

Some were homeschooling their kids and some who were not.

"We actually found that women were experiencing more family interference with work, so their family duties including homeschooling was interfering more with their work than with men," said Danika Desroches, a Dalhousie university graduate student

The more homeschooling hours women put in, the more both partners in the relationship drank.

But when men did more homeschooling, their female partners drank less.

"So, this shows that equal division of labour in homeschooling is really important," Desroches said.

Author and psychotherapist Ann Dowsett Johnston believes the pressures of the pandemic exacerbated a pre-existing problem when it comes to women, and alcohol.

'WOMEN DRINK FOR REASONS OF STRESS MUCH MORE THAN MEN DO'

"Women drink for reasons of stress much more than men do, and this has been a stressful, anxious time," Dowsett Johnston said.

She says while a glass of wine may be marketed to women as a way to unwind, increased drinking is dangerous.

"This is a drug, this can catch up on your and catch up on women much faster than men, be aware," Dowsett Johnston said.

The study's authors say their goal is exactly that to find ways to offer better support to families faced with at-home learning.

"This study really allows for us to take a deeper dive into how women are coping with managing this work-life balance," Garber said.

The authors want to encourage conversation about couples sharing household responsibilities.

This past April, they did another survey looking at the same issues -- a year later -- to see if the effects of homeschooling changed during the course of the pandemic.

Those results are expected later this year.