Every morning since the coronavirus whirlwind began, I’ve been congratulating myself on not having had any children.
It’s been enough to see the bleary eyes of my friends on Zoom, who, over the past month, have had to develop Olympic-grade multitasking skills in order to entertain bored children, work under the new restrictions, manage their households, try to find a minute for themselves and get more than five consecutive hours of sleep. I had never particularly envied the challenge they’d taken on, but nowadays I certainly don’t.
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More than any other Western country, Israel pressures us to get pregnant and teaches us from infancy that motherhood is what makes women’s lives meaningful. Then it turns out that maternity leave is a bad joke, and that we are expected to somehow survive as a family in this destructive economy and brutal political climate, in which nationalism, religious coercion and militarism are instilled in us from preschool. There’s also impossible pressure on women to be thin, have a great career and cook and clean for the whole family. What a pleasure.
But during these times it is truly not clear why we have to continue to sacrifice ourselves and our wombs on the altar of the commandment to be fruitful and multiply when the state treats young mothers like some excess baggage whose only role is to shut up and raise children. How else to explain the new regulations, under which some workplaces can increase their workforce to 30 percent of normal, but the preschools and schools remain closed? Who’s supposed to keep the children busy – holograms of Youtube stars Ben Zini & Taylor? And now that one is allowed to hire a babysitter, how the heck are parents supposed to pay her in the current situation?
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The Education Ministry, meanwhile, has issued an outline for remote learning that is so divorced from reality that it is spurring exhausted parents to call for a civil revolt. Parents are reporting that they are so busy trying to manage the distance learning program for their children that they’d prefer to forget the whole thing. This is not even taking into account the fact that around a quarter of Israeli households don’t have a computer at home or an internet connection.
It really doesn’t have to be this way. Britain's Education Ministry is planning to distribute laptops and routers to pupils to reduce the pressure on parents, for example. In Denmark, elementary schools have reopened, with desks positioned at a distance from one another and recesses scattered throughout the day so that the children go out in small groups. In Taiwan, they didn’t even close schools; instead, they made sure to take everyone’s temperature at the entrance and put up plastic dividers between desks.
In Israel the burden falls on the shoulders of mothers, who are already getting hit disproportionately by the economic toll of the coronavirus crisis. As a friend wrote to me: “Total helplessness. There’s no one to turn to, no one to talk to.” When the all-male committees of experts advise governments headed by other men, it leads to decisions that – surprise! – don’t take women into account.
I suggest that until they treat women in general and young mothers in particular like an important part of society whose needs must be met, we should close up shop and not have any more kids. Let’s see you manage on your own.