Gender Roles of Work From Home Parents

The Kelly and Kim family

We all remember the incredible viral video of BBC commentator Professor Robert Kelly broadcasting from his home office in South Korea and being hilariously interrupted by his adorable children live on air. The moment was a nightmare come true for every work-from-home parent who joins video and/or conference calls while children are home. The BBC checked in on the Kelly family to see how they’ve been coping with working from home during the recent Coronavirus stay home order in South Korea. In the interview, Kelly apologized for his squirmy kids, and the interviewer quipped, “No, that’s one thing you can never apologize for.”

With a majority of the workforce in the U.S. and other countries now working from home while their school-aged children also finish the school year from home, we must be sure to forgive working moms as well as working dads for what are now all-too-familiar interruptions during our new workdays.

With his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, in isolation after testing positive for Coronavirus, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau found himself responsible for running a country and a household with three young children. The New York Times wrote about Trudeau juggling his responsibilities as a G7 leader and dad, noting that while he has received prepared meals and toys for his children (dropped at his door), he is solo parenting while working in self-isolation. He has been late to meetings, his children have been heard in the background of calls, and he’s even been heard saying, “Daddy’s on an important call right now. I can’t do that.” The Times goes on to say that Trudeau’s family is finding the silver lining in the situation with the prime minister able to spend more time with his children and his children able to see their dad in action as a world leader. The prime minister’s office announced over the weekend that Sophie Trudeau has recovered from the virus.

There’s a tendency in the media to celebrate working fathers for enduring embarrassing interruptions and assuming the demands of solo parenting, especially during a global pandemic. As our founder, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, noted in Glamour last year, “it’s time to stop treating parenting as a mom’s burden and a dad’s adorable hobby.” In the article, she shared the reaction to her young son interrupting her husband, California Governor Gavin Newsom, as he delivered his inaugural address, saying “The media hailed Gavin as ‘Governor Dad.’ I, on the other hand, was asked by too many people to count—in that half-joking but in fact quite serious tone—how could I have possibly let him get up on that stage, and also, why did he still use a pacifier?!”

In the past couple of weeks, the internet has exploded with articles listing the dos and don’ts of video calls alongside countless examples of video call fails. But as Jeva Lange writes in The Week, they’re all wrong. “Videoconferencing has allowed for me to beam my crazy and scary life into the living room of someone else’s crazy and scary life, and whatever resulting chaos ensues while that encounter is taking place, well, we should embrace it.” For those of us lucky enough to have jobs with an option to work from home, we should accept and celebrate all of our colleagues—along with their children, parents, roommates, pets, and untidy homes— who are juggling more than ever during these times.

Take Action! Once this is over and things go back to “normal,” let’s agree to judge less harshly occasional and unfortunate workplace interruptions, regardless of the gender of our colleagues who experience them.