Working moms have been sacrificed at the altar of COVID. They are stressed, burnt out, anxious, and tired of the non-stop juggling act of the past year plus.
Millions of working moms have had to scale back on their work hours, work off hours, cut back their ambitions in their career, went part time, downshifted their hours or responsibilities, or quit altogether due to the lack of support of working parents and of children during the pandemic.
They feel they’ve been forgotten. They’re ready to scream. Forty five percent of working moms were not in the workforce in April 2020. This is when the shutdowns of schools and daycares first forced families to make hard choices. Someone had to take care of the kids. Whenever it comes to “someone” and “caring for the kids” – that someone is almost always mom. Even now over 4.5 million childcare slots could be lost. And many schools remain shut down, in hybrid mode, or just randomly close for weeks at a time.
And the burden of this disruption of normal working life usually falls squarely on the shoulders of working moms.
From February 2020 and 2021, 3 million women have left the labor force according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. And there are two million more unemployed women than at this time last year. This means that five million less women are working than at this time last year. And Black and Hispanic women have been disproportionately impacted, with nearly double the unemployment rate of white women. Time out of the workforce is expensive – even a few years of lost income compounds hugely when combined with lost retirement benefits and lost social security. Not to mention that women often need to re-enter the workforce at a lower place than they left it. Women face a potential permanent reduction in income.
What about remote work? Surely moms who can work remotely are doing better than their counterparts. Those who have to be either physically at work or choose unemployment. In fact, 22.7% of people worked remotely in February. Meaning this option is open to less than a quarter of people. Also, working remotely sounds like it would be a great flexible option for working moms! But in reality, it’s a great flexible option for working moms of older children. You know, ones who can dress themselves. And read. And use a computer, tell time, and stay focused on tasks for long periods of time without parental supervision.
Today I’m going to share a nice looking but quite depressing infographic to show just how large the impact on working moms has been. I’ll tell you more about my families personal experiences with juggling work and kids at home. Then I’ll talk about ways individuals, employers, and society can support working parents. I’d also like to hear more about your experience or the experiences of women you know, and your ideas to help, here in the comments, or over on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Working Moms and COVID – The Sad Statistics
Working women have been borne the brunt of the impact pandemic disruptions have had on our nations children. And it feels as if no one cares. Women are expected to suck it up and figure it out,. Accused of only caring about schools closing because they want a “babysitter”. Or if they’re feeling stressed, anxious, and alone, they are reminded that other people have it so much worse than they do. So they should stop complaining, pull on those bootstraps, and lose their job with a smile on their face.
Frankly – the situation is objectively bad for everyone. It is certainly worse for some than for others. But it’s bad across the board.
Note: All sources for the infographic are linked in the introduction to this article
Our Experiences With Work and Kids During The Pandemic
In the CMO househole, we have three boys. One is a 17 year old high school senior, very responsible, and none of us need to watch him during remote school. His biggest challenge is he hates remote school. He’s fine at it – just hates it. Our middle son is a bright 13 year old who loved remote school last year. Why? Because it lasted only about an hour before he finished all his work. Then he could get into playing video games. And one is now five, going through kindergarten during a pandemic.
My work has been fully remote since March of last year. I have quite a demanding job, requiring long hours, many conference calls, and focused work. Back when the pandemic started, my husband worked part time evenings and weekends doing recreation at the nursing home. We were fortunate since he was able to care for the preschooler all day while I worked. At the same time, the older two started to figure out what it meant to go to “remote school”.
Then April struck, COVID hit the nursing home where he worked. Suddenly he was working more than full time to help out. This meant I was working remotely from home with a four year old running around. Somehow we made it through – although it was sheer will and determination coupled with the fact that the older kids “remote school” hardly took up any of their day. Our older kids were able to help entertain the little guy so I could work. Eventually my husband returned to his part-time evening and weekend work, after COVID finished its deadly march through the home.
Once back to school time came around, we were fortunate in a way. Schools in Connecticut were open for in-person attendance. The older two boys headed off to school, eager to see friends once more. We tried remote kindergarten, with my husband supervising, but it didn’t work out. Only a few weeks later the now-five year old went to in-person kindergarden. Since all kids were now in full time school, and the nursing home could really use extra help during a pandemic, my husband went to work full time. He arranged to work a split shift once my work travel resumes. For now he’s working 8:30-4:30 and picking up the oldest from his bus at 5.
Everything Was Great! Until It Wasn’t
What we didn’t realize at first was that COVID would continue to disrupt school in sudden and unexpected ways. We got a call one afternoon that our oldest son was coming home NOW. He would be home for two weeks due to a COVID exposure that meant he had to quarantine. That would happen twice during the school year.
Our middle son fortunately didn’t have any COVID exposures (knock on wood). But his school would suddenly, randomly shut down for days or weeks at a time. Usually because COVID exposure hit so many teachers that they had to shut the school down and go remote. This same thing would also happen at my older sons school multiple times.
And then it happened at the kindergarteners school. In early December they shut down and went remote with no notice. Remote kindergarten was different now. This remote kindergarten meant a workbook of 15 slides with videos and worksheets to be completed “whenever”. Side note – “whenever” often before class started at around 9:30 AM. Also, there were 4 to 5 separate half hour Zoom style meetings he had to attend. Gathering time, reading, writing, special, math – all separate half hour zoom calls at times that would change every day.
Kindergarteners can’t read well, and they can’t tell time. They certainly can’t self-navigate a 15 page workbook of slides, printing them out, filling them out correctly, watching the right videos and completing exercises. They are still learning the basics of using a computer. Navigating to a specific website at just the right time, to click on the right link to get to class is impossible.
So during this time, my husband would help make sure the little guy got up early to do his workbook, and make a packed lunch for the little guy. Then I would set 4-5 alarms on the Alexa in my room to tell me when it was time to run downstairs and help the little guy into his class meetings. These alarms of course would often go off during meetings, meaning I would have to mute and tell Alexa to stop, then run downstairs and hit refresh a dozen times until the Zoom class actually started up.
My husband took a few days off to help supervise while I had meetings I needed to host on video. I told my boss I would need some flexibility for a few days. I was grateful for my planned Christmas vacation, which would overlap these “remote kindergarten days” a little bit. And so again we muddled through the best we could, sighing with relief when his school reopened.
The schools randomly shutting down continues to this year. Also “remote snow days” are a thing now too. And – despite the stress and anxiety this whole situation causes…
I Know I Am One of The Very Lucky Working Moms
My husband was home during the day to care for the kids for most of the first 7 months of this pandemic. I can work from home, don’t need to go into an office, and my work stopped all travel. My kids schools have been mostly open during the past seven months. Even though my husband works during the day now, he remains a big champion of my career. He’s dedicated to helping with chores/pandemic school/kids lunches/etc. however he can.
I know women at work who live in states where the schools have been closed over a year. I know women who can’t find childcare, and try to work with toddlers running around. Women who can’t risk sending their kids to in person school because of a multi-generational household. Or an immunocompromised family member. Or the child themselves has a medical condition and they need to stay home.
Whose older children are not as self sufficient, who do require constant attention to make sure they’re not skipping zoom class. Who have lost their jobs and can’t look for another one because they have no child care. Or because their kids aren’t in school. Women who don’t have spouses who are as supportive, and they are on their own to juggle all the complexities COVID brings to childcare and schooling.
Those who work in companies and industries that have shut down and still are not open again. Whose businesses have taken a hit, or been shuttered. Who have had to go part time, or downshift their career ambitions, to accommodate their families. Single parents who face impossible decisions with no partner or family support.
Some employers who may once have been understanding back when the world first shut down are losing patience with people who can’t work, or can’t work effectively, because of this juggling act. Coworkers without children are resentful of the flexibility provided to those trying to make it work with kids in the house. Women at those companies may need to take a leave of absence, move to a less demanding job, or leave work altogether.
So What Can We Do to Help Ourselves?
There are no easy answers to the question of what can we do about the fact that working moms have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. But there are some things we can do individually while we also push for collective, society level actions as we wait for the pandemic to reach its eventual conclusion.
- First – let go of the guilt. Many working moms I know feel guilty about how they’re feeling, and don’t want to discuss just how bad things are. When they talk about their stress, anxiety, or burnout, they immediately and reflexively say “well, I know others have it worse”. But it’s OK to not be OK during a pandemic. Just because others have it worse than you do, doesn’t mean we aren’t stuck in an objectively bad and difficult situation for everyone
- Second – accept (and demand) whatever help you can. This may mean accepting unemployment and food assistance, even if you would never have considered it before COVID struck. It may mean a sit down talk with your spouse or partner about a better division of labor when it comes to remote school. Perhaps you need to have a discussion with your childs teacher about a different way to structure schoolwork that works for your work schedule. Or you might need to take a leave of absence from work or shift temporarily to a different schedule. See a therapist to help you through your stress and anxiety. If you wait too long to accept or demand help, you risk total burnout. And while things are looking up, the pandemic isn’t over yet.
- Third – make things easier on yourself. Look for, and experiment with, tips and tricks to make things as easy on yourself as possible. This might mean heading to Amazon to pick up some supplies – like an Alexa to help announce when it’s time for Zoom class, or a whiteboard to write your older childs daily schedule. It may mean everyone gets a cold lunch they can grab off the table for themselves. Just because you’re working at home doesn’t mean you can’t still use techniques like meal planning and batch cooking to make your life easier. Maybe your kid will need to take a day off instead of a remote school day when you’re planning a big meeting. Perhaps you do need to leave the workforce or downshift because working is impossible. Or perhaps you need to stop writing on your award winning blog for a while so you have the mental space to do everything else (that one might just be me). Remember – we are surviving a pandemic. Do what you can to make it as easy on yourself as possible, and don’t hold yourself to pre-pandemic standards that don’t work for the reality of life today.
- Fourth, keep your skills fresh – and hustle where you can. If you’ve had to leave your job, or downshift, move to a different role, or go part time, the last thing you probably want to do is work on keeping your skills fresh, or hustling for extra money. And it’s OK to not do those things for a while – to mourn, to de-stress, and to just take care of things at home. But eventually you’ll want to make sure you’re positioned to go back into the workforce – meaning you should keep in touch with former co-workers, take some training on LinkedIn learning or through edX, freshen up your resume, and make sure to read up on your industry. And check out the many resources that will help you earn money in a more flexible way – things like Doordash, Instacart, and other “gig economy” companies.
- Last – take care of yourself. Women are well known for putting themselves last during normal times. But in these times, taking care of yourself and your health (both physical and mental) is absolutely key to making it out the other side of this in one piece. Get a good amount of sleep. Get outside. Take walks. Try and eat mostly healthy. Take a bath, preferably without kids trying to barge down the door. Have your spouse/partner (where applicable) and your kids chip in to help with chores. You know how in the airplane they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others? This also applies to pandemics.
What Can Employers and Society Do To Help?
This problem is felt deeply on an individual level, but is a society wide issue. Although we as individuals should do what we can to help ourselves and our families, more help is needed than we could ever provide ourselves.
I have some ideas but would love to hear other ones in the comments or on social media. I’m by no means an expert in working moms and in fixing societal issues – just a passionate participant.
- Allow for workers to take time off for pandemic-related emergencies, including child care and juggling remote school (but not limited to these)
- Where feasible, allow for employees to work split shifts, come in late/leave late, work off hours, and work weekends to allow them
- Permit remote work wherever possible. Yes, it’s not a perfect solution as I talked about above, but it certainly allows for more flexibility than going to an office every day
- Ensure they have an Employee Assistance Program that is ready to help women find childcare, deal with anxiety and stress, and generally support their employees through the pandemic
- Create employee groups that meet virtually where parents can talk with others in a similar situation, and share tips and tricks that have helped them
- Pull together and share resources to help working parents
- Create (or reinforce/expand) programs that allow working parents to temporarily shift to part-time work, take an extended leave of absence, or resign, with a well defined way to ramp back into the workforce when it becomes possible
- Help normalize parents of both genders – as well as those who aren’t parents – taking time away from work/adjusting schedules ,while still being seen as a success by the employer. How? By sharing their stories with other employees.
- Expand resources for family medical leave in the face of pandemic school closures. Currently the Families First Coronavirus Response Act allowed for ten weeks of leave due to child care/school closures. Unfortunately these have gone on much longer than ten weeks.
- Ensure that unemployment is (and remains) available to working moms who have had to leave due to COVID related childcare/school issues
- Create local and state level resources to help parents find alternative childcare, or care for their children while schools are closed/in remote mode.
- Normalize parents of both genders taking time away, downshifting, and splitting child care/remote school duties
- Create programs that will eventually help those who had to downshift/reduce hours/leave their jobs to find new employment once the realities of the pandemic allow for that
- Incentivize employers to create programs to bring back those who have had to leave due to childcare/remote school issues
Tell Me Your Story
How have you dealt with lack of childcare, and remote school? Have you seen any great ideas for how individuals, employers, or society can help with the current reality? Tell me your story – and ideas – in the comments or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.