Emotional Labour In The Time of Covid

I am a mom as well as a business owner. It often falls uniquely on me to maintain and support the emotional well being of my family. It’s not that my husband doesn’t try or doesn’t care - it’s just that women have been conditioned to take on this work and it is nearly second nature to us.

I have been thinking this week about the grind of the responsibility of emotional labour in the era of covid19 and the extra burden that many of us feel like we wearing at the moment. 

But first, what is “emotional labour”? 

Most simply - it is the work women do keeping others happy or content. It is the process of managing others feelings and expressions by regulating our own emotions so as to elicit  a certain response from others. 

For example, when your family is exhausted after a long day of work or school - it is often mom who puts her own emotions and exhaustion aside and strives to uplift those she loves through positive expressions of love and support.  It may be unconscious and yes - it is an expression of love. But make no mistake it is also a reason why so many women are fundamentally exhausted. Especially in this moment in time. 

As the global pandemic grinds along we are starting to see more cracks in the emotional well being of even the strongest among us.  I am not convinced that there is anyone who hasn’t been impacted in one way or another by this slow form of torture. What started nearly 6 months ago has resulted in fundamental changes to how we work, go to school, socialize and love each other. Summer offered us a small reprieve with the ability to dine and gather outside. God it was lovely.

Now we are looking at returns to work and school.
But it's different. We don't want it to be different. But it is. 
And it all comes with certain degrees of risk. 

For many (parents and children!) there is relief that school is back. My son is 16 and he could not be happier to see his classmates in person. I’ve noticed a definite shift in his mood and demeanour since he started back last week. He is also a realist though and shares with me memes that joke about the inevitability of school shutdowns.But for the time being he is enjoying what small semblance of normalcy is offered to him. 

My daughter’s return to University has been more of an isolating experience with little opportunity to build new connections with online only programming.

For families managing ageing parents or other co-morbidities the decisions about whether to go back to school or not are much more fraught. As we look to governments for direction and support we are all also filtering that information through our own personal set of circumstances and continuously adapting and creating systems that work with our personal risk tolerance and our responsibilities to our communities.  And this is A LOT OF EMOTIONAL WORK!!! Its draining and at the moment it doesn’t appear that things will abate much until at least the spring. 

Yesterday I listened to a fantastic podcast that really dug into this issue of managing our personal risks with our responsibilities to our communities.  Ezra Klein hosted Harvard Medical School epidemiologist Julia Marcus to discuss managing risk during the pandemic. 

Here is the link to the episode on Spotify - 

https://open.spotify.com/episode/3gTyFFqfujMv8RT6NUuD76?si=_IjMQeZ5RaCy76gO2c1Jbg

What I appreciated about this discussion was the acceptance that shame is a terrible public health strategy and that risk is non-binary. 

Most importantly though, be kind to yourself in this time and make sure you are consciously aware of the extra emotional burden you are carrying. It is a time of crushing expectations. We are all hustling to return to normal with the awareness that in this moment normal is unachievable. So we are doing our best.  And that is good enough right now.  Sending a virtual hug to all of your carrying the weight of your family’s peace of mind. And a hug to those of you who are continuing to function in more isolation than you want. 


Emma 

Find me on twitter at @emmamaymma or email me at emma@sophiegrace.ca