Just when working parents thought they couldn’t possibly juggle anything else, the pandemic hit. After more than a year of charting a new course, parents are finding themselves in unknown territory yet again: the supposed return to normal.
The return to work this fall is once again challenging families — women in particular — and proving that this new normal might be anything but. Some moms are headed back to the office, resuming their careers as close to pre-pandemic life as possible. Others, though, are seizing this opportunity to reimagine their work. Still, many moms were deemed essential workers, never leaving the physical workplace.
No matter their role, all moms have at least one thing in common: They have to figure out how to navigate this fall.
Mothers Were Balancing An Already Full Plate
Before we can understand what this new normal of working motherhood might look like, it’s important to understand how we got here. It’s no secret that many childcare responsibilities and household duties fall onto mothers.
The pandemic only amplified that by forcing daycares and schools to shut their doors as they made the shift to operating remotely.
A Record-Breaking Exodus From the Workforce
Statistics show that by and large, it was mothers who bridged the gap. While many families tried to make it work with remote work and remote school happening simultaneously, ultimately workplaces across the United States saw a watershed of women exiting the workforce.
The numbers do ebb and flow some from month to month, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that nearly two million women left their jobs throughout the pandemic. Exactly how staggering is that number? According to NPR, we haven’t seen this level of women absent from the workforce since 1988.
Read More: How Finances Factor into the Pandemic ‘Great Resignation’
A Look at the New Normal
With a vaccine rollout well underway in the United States and our collective hopes set on normalcy, moms across the country are asking themselves what the fall will look like for themselves and their families.
Remote Work Continues for Some
Brittney, a 38-year-old marketing executive from Pennsylvania, says that she and her husband are continuing to work remotely indefinitely. This summer, Brittney and her spouse enjoyed the fact that they did not have to find childcare for their oldest daughter.
Though their infant attended regular full-time daycare, they were able to schedule camps for their older daughter and arrange for visits with friends and grandparents. Brittney says, “This is a huge cost savings for us that I hadn’t anticipated.”
Fighting For More Flexibility
Brittney and her family aren’t the only family that learned to make the most of remote work. In fact, many moms have long supported the idea of working remotely. A 29-year-old copywriter from Chicago, Illinois, Choncé Maddox says, “I didn’t think I could be any more supportive of companies offering flexible remote-friendly options — but then the pandemic happened.”
Even in pre-pandemic life, Choncé found herself grateful for flexibility. While she and her partner view themselves as equally responsible for childcare and household responsibilities, she notes, “I often bear the burden of scheduling things like the plumber coming to our home for a service call to fix a leak, making doctor’s appointments, and answering calls from the kids’ school about various matters.” Because of that, she long ago learned to value the flexibility that comes with remote work.
The pandemic only compounded the pressure that many mothers feel. Choncé asserts, “I think the truth that no one wants to admit is that working 40 hours per week on-site may not be realistic or optimal for someone’s mental health right now.”
The numbers certainly support her hypothesis. With what some news reporters and economists are now dubbing the Great Resignation well underway, more than 40% of Americans are contemplating leaving their jobs and only 1 in 4 Americans want to return to in-person work full time.
Making It Work As An Essential Worker
While the majority of Americans may favor remote or hybrid work situations, many moms have been working in-person throughout the entirety of the pandemic and will continue to do so. Brianna Lara, a 39-year-old production manager from Canton, Michigan, was dubbed an essential employee.
She had very limited time at home during the height of the pandemic, and her husband never left the front lines. As a COVID-19 ICU nurse, her husband actually left their home when COVID was at its most deadly. Brianna says, “We visited him through [a dormitory] window during that time.”
The sacrifices that she and her family made don’t stop there. For fear of exposure, Brianna put her children in virtual school. “While I was full of indecision at that time, I am so happy I made that decision now. Virtual school provided the kids stability in learning without the risk and they both thrived with virtual school,” says Brianna.
Her children’s grandparents also took on more childcare responsibilities as Brianna and her husband worked to mitigate her family’s risk. Brianna notes, “By the end of summer, I will have missed 6 months with my children in efforts to keep them safe from COVID-19. I am so grateful for my family to allow us this safe option and pleased that my kids will have some great memories with their grandparents, but I missed some precious time with my children.”
The Frontlines of Motherhood
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns upended lives around the globe. All mothers made tremendous sacrifices. For some, it looked like more time away from their families and for others it was much, much, much more time together. Some worked longer hours, and others paused their careers entirely.
Now, these same parents have to decide what school and daycare will look like for their families and what work will look like for themselves. Some will continue their in-person essential work, while others are carving out opportunities to explore remote and hybrid options.
All of these decisions are happening against the backdrop of ever-evolving guidance and insight about the coronavirus and its impact on children. While no one can say with certainty what the fall and our return to normal will ultimately look like, mothers will face it head on from the frontlines.
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