Are Moms People Too?
That's the soundtrack of a working mom's day during COVID.
And let me state up-front that I am grateful to have a job, to be working during this economic uncertainty. I am grateful that I am healthy, my family is healthy, and we have a safe home and enough food.
But, I'm completely stressed out too.
And it's no wonder. Since March 14, I have been home full-time with my two school-aged kids, working from home, running for office, volunteering with several organizations, homeschooling, and managing the household while my husband works as a front-line Public Health employee facing even crazier COVID situations than mine.
Our society is in uproar. Vast swaths of people staying home, children home from school, death lurking in every handshake and grocery store run, patience running out in our streets as Black people are killed for being Black, tear gas, tropical storms, locusts, and every other stressor that hits us seemingly hourly.
And then we have the uncertainty of an economy that might or might not come crashing down on our heads.
And in this milieu, I am trying to parent--not something that's easy in the most normal of circumstances.
The biggest disruptor to productivity at home isn't procrastination. Fifteen years ago, when I was working full-time from home by choice, people remarked to me that there was no way they could remain motivated to work outside of an office. They asked me for my secret.
My secret was that I liked what I did for a living and enjoyed doing it to fill up my days. This was pre-kids. Only the short, furry co-workers and I were knocking around the house together.
Today, my dog will lie under my desk for hours at a time as long as I don't get up myself. He just wants to be close. But he doesn't need me to help him build a fort or fix his iPad issues or chase after him to turn off that LIGHT (for the 1 millionth time).
Interruptions have long been bemoaned by employees in cubicle farms--phone calls, emails, co-workers stopping by. None of these distractions bothered me. I could turn down the hum of adult conversation to white noise in the background. No problem.
But that MOM! is a totally different story.
For over eleven years, I have tuned my ears to every little sound made by these two. I can be asleep; I can be two rooms away (though that rarely happens); I can be in a store without them and hear another child. I cannot ignore.
And they know it too. They have this ability to choose the exact right tone between 'bleeding out' and 'boredom' that says, "If you don't intervene, that's your choice, but you might need new furniture soon."
And refocusing onto work takes time. Studies have shown that it can take up to 20 minutes to refocus and be productive again after an interruption. And if you are interrupted 15 times an hour, your brain turns to mush (that's my non-scientific term).
I have experienced a physical sensation of my brain functioning more productively during the simple act of driving away from my home for a 30-minute break facilitated by my husband. I got more work done during that 30 minutes on my smart phone than I had on my laptop in hours.
I could think!
Our Discomfort with Moms Who Want to Be People
A friend remarked to me years ago that her life wasn't over just because she became a mom. And I seized on that mantra.
Yes, I am still a person with ambitions and plans. I am not 'done' being me.
The best thing a woman can aspire to be is herself. Whoever that is. Kids, no kids. Career, homemaker. Married, single.
And our culture is uncomfortable with that idea. That a woman wants to be a mom and more. The idea that being a mom is the best thing a woman can aspire to be still permeates our culture--even if it's not blatant.
Remember The Cosby Show? Such a groundbreaking look at an upper-middle class Black family with two educated professionals as parents. But how many times did we see the mom at work? I can remember very few if any at all. Are our pop culture role models better now (I ask because I officially ceded control over the television programming to my kids years ago)?
Read any interview with a woman politician, CEO, or celebrity. The question of taking care of family always arises: How do you do it? What do your kids think? Is your husband/partner supportive? Why would you do this when you have kids?
Men don't have to answer these kinds of questions. It's assumed that they have it all under control because there's someone else to do so. And if they do remark on such mundane things as cooking, cleaning, or childrearing, they experience 'dadulation'--a particular brand of adulation reserved for men who do their fair share.
The way it worked out, I am the parent who was able to work from home. And as things like doctor and dentist appointments, haircuts, and fall schooling ramp back up, I am juggling appointments and car rides, zoom meetings and homework assignments.
Mothering the Economy
And, still, I am one of the lucky moms during this pandemic. I do not work for minimum wage. I do not have to work multiple jobs. I am not parenting alone. For too many Americans, the following is reality:
Talking about “parenting” under COVID is a bit of a dodge. What we’re talking about, most of the time, is mothering. The amount of mothering being asked of women under coronavirus is triggering a generational reset in gender roles, one which reveals that much of our 20th-century “progress” was an illusion. (Source)
And just like the disparities we are seeing in health, environment, housing, minority populations of Black and Latina mothers are being hardest hit. Childcare is notoriously expensive, but the lack of childcare is proving costly as well.
We are learning about this 'great economy' of ours and how it is sustained not by the Amazons and the Googles but by the corner restaurants, the tourist shops, and the childcare industry:
“We have not understood and appreciated what care work is in our society, what it means for our economy and what it means for our future,” [Shana Bartley, who directs community partnerships and program development in income security, child care and early education at the National Women’s Law Center] said. “This is the workforce behind the workforce. They power the economy.” (Source)
How has the United States been able to grow such a large and unprecedented economy over the past century? Because of the strata, or layers, it has. Not everyone was a doctor. Not everyone worked in the service industry. We had the population to diversify the economy, to shift childcare to other institutions, and free up mothers to contribute to the GDP.
But those layers are critical to holding up the whole system. Just as the shortage in skilled labor that the US is seeing on the horizon, as fewer and fewer people go into trades, we see that taking any segment of the economy for granted--regardless of what the stock market says--is foolish.
I have to end now because someone needs more milk
There have been fun moments during our time in quarantine. I've recorded lots of funny sayings, taken lots of photos, and snuggled over lots of movies and books. But those are proving to be the exception rather than the rule the longer we go on.
Rationally, I know that this too will pass. We will emerge from this crisis, stronger by being forged in these fires. But the long-view is sometimes hard to see in the moment.
My kids will grow and change. And so will I. We will reminisce as the bad stuff becomes more muted and the good stuff is relived. We have each other. And that's enough to help me practice gratitude daily and ask, "what's next?" with hope.