Commentary: I tried ‘quiet quitting’ at home. This is how it went
Is it possible for overwhelmed stay-at-home parents to “quiet quit”? What would that workplace trend look like at home? Mother-of-two Yong Qiao Qing tried it out.
SINGAPORE: You would probably have heard of the term “quiet quitting” by now.
An employment trend that rose to fame from a TikTok video, quiet quitting refers to the act of an unhappy employee cutting back on the time and effort spent at work so that he performs as per his job description and nothing beyond that. Often, it is the result of being unappreciated and exhausted after putting in best efforts.
What about those who work for their own household? After all, stay-at-home parents – who care for their children and make sure a household runs smoothly – work very hard. Some might argue a full-time homemaker is harder than a corporate job.
If being a stay-at-home mum was a profession, her annual salary would be about US$184,820 (S$254,460), according to Salary.com in its 2021 annual Mom Salary Survey.
This is not surprising. After all, stay-home parents wear multiple hats, playing the role of chef, teacher, nurse, chauffeur, cleaner, accountant and more.
According to the Salary.com survey, stay-at-home mums work an average of 106 hours per week. This breaks down to 15 hours a day, seven days a week. Let that sink in for a bit.
BURNING BOTH ENDS OF THE CANDLE
When I chanced upon this concept of quiet quitting, I was reeling from the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion of looking after the family during my trusted helper’s two-week home leave.
I have two young daughters who require round-the-clock care because of severe eczema and allergies.
For those two weeks, the responsibility of ensuring the family survived with one less in manpower fell almost entirely upon me.
I was burning both ends of the candle by making sure the kids were clean and fed during the day, their intense eczema itch soothed at night and that they didn’t scratch themselves bloody during their sleep.
Oftentimes, I would feel my stomach growl at midday and remember that I had not eaten despite having already prepared two meals for the children. I became a zombie mum – exhausted, angry and hungry. My husband, on the other hand, took leave from work and managed to exercise every day.
I was brewing in vile resentment and decided on a whim that since I obviously cannot resign from my role as a doer-of-all-things-at-home, I should quietly quit.
Parental burnout is a real thing. I’ve experienced it firsthand, and it’s nothing like normal parenting stress.
A study of nearly 1,300 parents released by Ohio State University in May 2022 showed that 66 per cent of parents feel burnt out. Their symptoms included being easily irritated by children, waking up exhausted, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like a failure as a parent, and being emotionally detached from their little ones.
Females were more likely than males to report parental burnout, and this likelihood increased with the number of children in the family, according to the study.
Perhaps this has to do with gender roles. While fewer married couples (40 per cent in 2021 versus 56 per cent in 2016) in the recently released 2021 Marriage and Parenthood Survey said that mothers should ideally be the ones to take care of children full-time, in reality, women still spend more time on childcare duties.
During weekdays, women in Singapore spent on average of six hours each day on childcare duties, compared with 3.6 hours for men. On weekends, women spent an average of 10 hours versus 7.7 hours for men.
LEARNING TO LET THINGS GO
I decided that something would have to change to make me feel like me again.
The first step: I tried to define my job description as a mum. My JD went along the lines of “to strategise, plan, budget, procure, oversee and execute all matters regarding the home and children”.
It already felt impossible.
So, I decided instead to focus on behaviours instead of actual responsibilities.
I realised that I was exhausted because I had been anticipating problems and jumping into situations that I had originally delegated.
I was also redoing tasks that had not been performed to my expectations. Essentially, I had been working all the time but not getting tasks completed because my attention had been all over the place.
So, I decided that if my husband were to bring one child out of the house, I would not drop everything on hand to pack for them. This meant that if they were to forget to bring anything, they’d just have to handle the consequences.
Also, I stopped myself from re-washing milk bottles with dried crusts in crevices because the effort to do that could be spent on other important tasks.
SETTING UP BOUNDARIES TO REDUCE MUM RAGE
Next up was to put in place boundaries. Loud noises and children running about during meals were the main reasons for me to launch into mum rage every evening.
I told the children that in order for our dinners to be more enjoyable, we would turn off the TV and sit around the table to eat as a family. This way, Mama would not have to get up 20 times in between bites of food to make them finish their meals. Surprisingly, they agreed without much fuss. It was life-changing to be able to consume a hot meal while seated beside young children.
Finally, I worked on guilt and self-care. One of the main objectives for quiet quitting is to bring balance back into the life of an overworked person.
Previously, I could never care for myself because whenever the children were out of the house, I would jump at the opportunity to work on my online business, cook or clean the house (often all three tasks at the same time). Even if I were sick, I would be too wracked with guilt to take a nap.
But last week, I picked up a book and for the first time in months, sat down in the middle of the day to read while my husband brought the children out to play. The silence was precious. I have never been able to appreciate the true beauty of silence until I become a parent.
It has been a few weeks since my impulse to “resign”.
I can’t say that my quiet quitting tactics have made me a better parent, but it did bring to my awareness that I can let go of things around the house and my children will still be alive.
I have not finished reading the book I started because yet again, the children and the house needed me.
But I did set aside time in the middle of several days to write this piece and that in itself, is my form of self-care and balance in my role as a doer-of-all-things-at-home.
Yong Qiao Qing is a mother-of-two and founder of Little Warriors, an online business that specialises in clothes for children with eczema.