Working Mom Hacks to Survive the Pandemic
It seems the pandemic has brought increased workload for the majority of American parents, either at home, at work – or both. Many of us have been doing double-duty as professionals and as homeschool teachers and/or daycare providers, but the burden on working moms has been particularly exaggerated.
With social activities truncated, we’re also serving as our kids’ playmate and defacto social outlet. Some of us have been trying to meet our needs for kids’ physical activity ourselves, much to the chagrin of our backs, knees and hamstrings. Have you ever seen a middle-aged amputee take up soccer to keep her kids busy? It ain’t pretty.
You know me: shining example of a healthy work-life balance for working mothers. I juggle the responsibilities of household management, tender child-raising and professional competency without breaking a sweat. And I even fit in daily workouts.
OK, not really. Not even close. If you don’t know my situation, here’s a summary:
• Two preschoolers
• Part-time childcare
• Work from home freelance writer
And that was pre-pandemic. COVID-19 became the wind to my wildfire. While we all know the saying “Misery loves company,” I’m still not sure how true it is. But, regardless of whether I find consolation in it, the facts show that I’m not alone in feeling like the two-headed Janus with a bad neck ache. (There’s a reason he’s mythological, by the way.)
Working Mothers in the Pandemic
When the pandemic hit, working mothers became an indirect casualty. According to the department of labor, women make up 47% of the workforce, including powering 10 million woman-owned businesses. And 2/3 of the workforce in the US are working mothers. Meanwhile, studies have shown that working mothers suffer what’s known as the “motherhood penalty” by people who study this kind of thing.
“This “motherhood penalty” results in mothers getting paid less and being passed over in hiring and promotion decisions,” writes Marianne Cooper in a recent article in The Atlantic.
Then, along came coronavirus.
When my county shut down for two months in the spring, my already-involved husband did step up, but he has a fast-paced fulltime job that pays more than mine. So, I put my career on hold, we lived off his income, stuck a firehose in our savings and now we break into a sweat when we look at our bills.
But that’s not unusual. According to the Women in the Workplace study, 1 in 3 mothers were forced to scale back their work or leave their careers entirely.
Other working mothers were forced to do a “double shift,” being “1.5 times more likely than fathers to be spending an extra three or more hours a day on housework and childcare—equivalent to 20 hours a week, or half a full-time job,” according to the same study.
OK, you get it. You’re probably suffering through it personally and know the hellish feeling of piling inadequacy on top of inadequacy. As one study participant put it: “I feel like I am failing at everything. I’m failing at work. I’m failing at my duties as a mom. I’m failing in every single way, because I think what we’re being asked to do is nearly impossible. How can you continue to perform at the same level as in the office when you had no distractions, plus being asked to basically become a teacher for kids and everything else with online learning? I’m doing it all, but at the same time I’m feeling like I’m not doing any of it very well.”
Note to fathers: This article is not meant to condemn or criticize your contributions. For some fathers, you may find some insight into your partner’s experience. Some fathers actually perform the duties I’m ascribing to working mothers, especially single fathers, but with even less public acknowledgement than mothers.
So, what’s the solution? First and foremost, we need to get the virus under control. But everyone knows that, right? And we do need to break down expectations of gender roles within our own families so that we can tackle them at a societal level. However, to be effective, solutions will have to be broader, supported by employers, government and community childcare programs.
Tips to Simplify and Speed Up for Double-Shifting
- Dishes piling up in the sink? Put a towel over them. Be honest: you’ve got more in your cupboard.
- Any time you cook, make a double batch and freeze it. It’s only slightly more work, and you’ll have meals ready for those days when work and kids have sucked every molecule of energy from your being.
- No time to mop? Get a dog for cleaning up household spills. Dogs are also helpful for item #1: have them prewash the dishes. While dogs do add the extra cleaning burden of hair shedding, if you put booties on their feet, they’ll collect some of the hair themselves.
- Air freshener. Plugins, sink deodorizers, toilet bowl tablets. Who gives a shit? No one’s coming over anyway!
- Spray Windex in every room and it’ll make you think you cleaned.
Become More Efficient and Productive at Work
- Connect your phone to your Bluetooth for hands-free phone meetings and video conference (BUT REMEMBER TO MUTE AND TURN OFF VIDEO – you can blame it on poor internet connection). Laundry, mopping, cooking – all done by the time your team finishes discussing the pros and cons of the logo color.
- Got older kids? Have them answer your calls and do all your internet research and – if you really, really trust them – your social media posts. You can call it a “Marketing Internship,” and they can list it on their resume.
- Remember, showering is pretty gratuitous if no one can smell you.
- Limit social media consumption and news (this blog excepted, of course). Being an informed voter can wait til next year, right? Reading up for professional development and positive parenting skills can wait too. So can your workouts.
- Oh, never mind.
The fact is, there’s no quick or easy fix to the double-bind that working parents find themselves in with an existing childcare crisis compounded by the coronavirus. There’s no miracle trick that will make you successful at simultaneously working and parenting.
Just this: whatever you’re doing, do it with excellence and all your heart. What’s known in Buddhism as dharma, your personal truth.
Now, be gentle with yourself. Adjust your expectations for the most challenging global predicament in modern history. You’ve been dealt an unwinnable hand. So, don’t try to win. Try to love. That’s the most important thing your kids need (not a spotless house). And it’s the main thing you need to be successful, whether at work or home. Or both.