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.