From the start of quarantine, working mothers were ready to go on the offensive. They didn’t fool themselves with delusions of their children going right back to school and peace returning to the house; instead, they made schedules, set up offices in living rooms, wrangled kids into Zoom classes, planned meals, and managed a job on top of it all. How did they survive it?
To tell the truth, they barely did. While quarantine meant a break from school for some children and an easy commute to work for some adults, these benefits came at a heavy cost- one that mainly fell on the shoulders of the 35 million working mothers in America. “I’d simply hoped to be able to get [my kids] settled at the start of each day- dressed, fed, teeth brushed, shoes tied, lunches and bottles packed, car seats buckled and then unbuckled, daycare and school drop offs completed- and then to take a deep breath before I walked into work,” English teacher Mrs. Alee Cotton said of her usual in-person school routine. “Instead, when I work from home, the juggling act lasts all day.”
According to the last Network survey, 31% of Marian students with parents working from home believe their mother is required to work harder than their father, while only 3% see their father putting in extra effort. 42% of students believe that their parents equally share the workload, and a final 24% are uncertain either way. Of course, each situation varies depending on occupations; some parents cannot do their job remotely, and subsequently leave most of the homeschooling and housekeeping work to their spouse.
Science teacher Mr. Tim Barth found a balance while working from home with his wife, whose hours as a nurse allowed them to switch off childcare duties during the week. “We basically set up our schedules so that when one of us is working, the other is watching the kids,” Barth said. However, women are often the ones being left behind to do the heavy lifting.
As hard as it is to admit, the division of labor in the remote workforce today is looking eerily like the uneven gender roles normalized in the 50’s and 60’s, back when men went off to work and their wives tidied up after them. Yet, some families have found ways to avoid this harmful pattern. “My husband and I have both made sacrifices over the last year to make this work, and it’s fair to say that is true for every parent living through this experience,” Cotton said. “While my husband might not deal with as many interruptions during the work day, he is infinitely more likely to plan a dinner that takes more than 20 minutes to prep and serve, play a board game that involves tiny pieces, and build the giant Mario Kart racetrack that I can’t find the patience for.”
Even before the pandemic, workplace burnout was a serious issue for parents, so serious that in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) put it on the International Classification of Diseases, defining it as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Stress management has become an even more crucial skill in the remote workplace today, and most parents lack the proper training or resources needed to balance mental health with their job.
The solution to this issue isn’t to usher parents back into their “normal working lives,” where long hours and the thought of cooking triggers a fight-or-flight response. The pandemic has brought to light the unconscious tendency to place the responsibility of family on mothers. Now, the work falls to the rest of the family and workforce to find a balance between genders and work-family responsibilities.