The World Is Not Set Up for Working Mothers

If the pandemic has reinforced anything to me, it’s that the world is not set up for working mothers. The New York Times recently ran an article with a headline titled, “In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both.” Rarely do national trends play themselves out in my life, but this time, they are. I have friends questioning their choice to go back to work now that virtual learning seems a permanent fixture of our children’s educational lives. Long-term childcare is expensive. So is private school. Most families I know purposely chose where they live in order to use public schools. Closing public schools means, at minimum, parents have no childcare. Closing public schools while dual working households figure out how their kids are going to learn enough to progress to the next grade is a whole other issue. And these are families with resources and some options, some flexibility to work from home, some ability to manage around the situation, to hire a tutor if really needed.

But as it drags on and drags on, as camp becomes an, I have to send them despite the virus because they’re bored and unhappy, and I have to get some work done, dilemma, as our kids now have been out of school for six months, it’s becoming more and more clear to me the world is not set up for working mothers. For many of my friends, their husband makes more than they do. They work to have health insurance, to help pay for special needs, to be able to retire, to save for college. Often this means less “powerful” jobs and more flexible ones so they can be there for the kids because they were never the main breadwinner and over time this is how their marriage evolved for the betterment of their family. There’s a lot of families where this is the reverse — I should really say the world is not set up for dual working families — but in many cases, it is the mom whose career isn’t the one bringing in the majority of the money. All this works fine until your kids are home 24/7 and need to be taught.

While my husband and I were both working from home this spring there was a lot of trade-offs around meetings and Zoom face-to-face sessions with our kids’ teachers. But when the kids didn’t have to be online, honestly, our house was a free for all. We kept an ear on the squabbling while we hid upstairs in our room with our laptops. We glanced out the window to make sure they stayed in the backyard and weren’t in the street and worked on the deck while they were using the hose or our baby pool so no one drowned, but for the most part, it was chaos. There was nothing wrong with this in the short term. Everyone made it out alive and I was glad of the free playing time they had with nowhere to be and nothing to do. But long term? Not a good solution.

Working remotely was amazing, and I was so thankful to be able to do it. (Did my kids learn anything this spring other than what they were able to teach themselves? Probably not.) I was also really, really glad to get back to my office and my colleagues. Some offices, like my husband’s, still don’t have a back-in-office date until October. Which is a safe and wise decision. Unless you’ve got kids at home. Kids who need instruction. We are not teachers. That is not what we went to school for. My kid won’t even brush his teeth when I ask, let alone sit down and do iReady. The parent dynamic doesn’t work with the teacher dynamic unless that is what you have purposely chosen and arranged your life around for homeschooling purposes.

Eventually, companies will need workers back in the office. Companies will be patient, but not forever (gawd, this pandemic feels like forever already), sick days and PTO will get all used up, vacation days will be taken just to keep the kids from being home alone, and eventually, there will be no days left to take. The virus will drag on until there’s a widely available vaccine. Some days I feel like schools will open and shut, open and shut, until we have no idea whether we are coming or going or what days our kids are actually supposed to be there. Should operating schools be done safely? Absolutely. Do I have all the answers as to how to do that? Absolutely not, and I’d never tell a teacher what is best for them.

I just know, in the end, it’s the working moms who will end up paying long term. They’ll choose to stay home again because there is no other choice when your child needs to learn and there’s no one else to teach them or care for them but you. It’s our children who will get the short end of care and education, despite our best efforts. And when your child is hurt despite everything you can do for them as a mom, that’s when we feel we have failed the most.

Meg Sacks
Meg is a working mom of four and an avid community volunteer. She has worked in corporate communications and media relations for more than 18 years, for a Fortunate 500 company as well as a non-profit. She took some time off to enjoy life as a stay at home mom after the birth of her first child in 2008. Her sweet, introverted daughter, was excited to welcome her baby brother in 2013, and then boy/girl twins joined the family in 2016. Meg finds being an “office mama” a constant balancing act and never-ending challenge but enjoys the opportunities it offers her for personal growth. A Virginia girl at heart, she loves Florida’s warm weather, the great quality of life Jacksonville offers her family.

3 COMMENTS

  1. The working moms will suffer! We are not set up for this and it makes me upset. I was definitely let go from my breadwinner job during the pandemic because I couldn’t hack it with 2 kids at home. It’s definitely something that I think women are going to need to solve in the coming years. Thanks for your insight!

  2. The moms who MUST work in order to help supply basic needs for the family are the ones I feel most for. They have no choice and those are the families suffering most. For families though where the mom CHOOSES to work, well…they made their choice and these are the unfortunate consequences in an extreme time. I don’t think if those moms “had” to stay home again that those children would get the “short end of care and education” necessarily. Those moms likely have enough (sometimes more) education than a teacher does and could probably do a pretty good job if they focused 100% on education and being present at home with the kids instead of hiding with laptops trying to get other work done. Kids love their moms, who wouldn’t want their mom home with them? For whatever reason (I’m sure there are many reasons) those moms chose to work full time in a position that is completely expendable, while letting someone else be the “mom” all day – a position that is irreplaceable. These moms chose to work. I chose to stay home and for many years have forgone a six-figure salary so that I can be with my kids, all the while living more modestly, when if I had used daycare all this time we would be millionaires many times over. We all make choices and sometimes those choices have unforseen consequences. It’s not easy for any of us in this pandemic, including the at-home moms who now will never even get 30 minutes alone this school year (and haven’t had any alone time for the longest summer ever!). So yes, the world is not set up for us to have it all and it shouldn’t be. We have to choose. Or should I say, some of us GET to choose. Other moms unfortunately HAVE to choose. But from my viewpoint it might be a blessing in disguise to “have” to stay home with the kids again for these moms who don’t really need to earn an income right now. We all need to make the best of it, no matter what choices we have made and what this pandemic has in store for the next year. In the end our kids will be ok as long as we are in tune with their needs…but they will remember this pandemic and I would want my kids to feel like I want to be with them, not that I “have” to be.

  3. Of course we are all our childrens first teacher, but that doesn’t mean we are what’s best for them in the long run. I am a college educated, working Mom that has continued to work away from home through this pandemic. I have no desire to be in charge of my children’s formal education. I leave that to the experts. My husband and I are responsible for raising productive memebers of society that have common sense, compassion, and the motivation to be successful. With that said, no the world is not set up for working moms. But as with MOST moms, working or not, we still find a way to get past tough situations…..and that’s why we are MOMS!!

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