A month or so ago, I received a survey from the New York City Department of Education. In the absence of a decision on whether or not to re-open public schools in the fall, the NYC DOE sent public school parents a slew of questions to better assess the needs of students and their caregivers for the upcoming school year. “These answers will help guide our space assessment,” the survey read. Our options were half-days, alternating day schedules, alternating week schedules, or a full-time, at-home e-learning schedule. As I perused my “options,” like so many working parents all I could think was:
But, what about child care? What are working parents supposed to do?
All 50 states have re-opened in some capacity, though many have stalled or are re-closing in response to a rise in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases — the beginnings of what experts fear will result in a second wave. Nearly 50 million people have now filed for first-time unemployment benefits over the last 16 weeks. A reported 32% of Americans missed their housing payments in June alone. And the United States is officially in a recession that could rival The Great Depression.
The ailing country — and more specifically, the economy — need working moms now more than ever. We’ve long contributed to this country’s economic prosperity; propping up financial institutions that lay the foundations for long-term prosperity in the United States. In 2013, collectively we earned $960 billion dollars for our families, contributed nearly 40% of our families’ income, and made up two-thirds of the country’s labor force. Historically, we’re more productive than our child-free counterparts. And currently, we make up the majority of essential workers risking exposure to COVID-19, and in 40% of U.S. households with kids under the age of 18, we are the sole or primary financial provider for our family.
But the possibility of working moms reinvigorating the economy and aiding the nation in surviving another recession rely on systemic support that, frankly, this country has never provided mothers, especially Black moms and moms of color. We need access to affordable child care, flexible work hours, accommodating employers, and understanding coworkers. What we need is real, tangible support — from our family members, our employers, and our communities — both at the local and national level. And we needed it yesterday.
HeyMama, in conjunction with InHerSight, a company ratings platform for women, surveyed 1,000+ moms to better understand the challenges they’re facing as a result of COVID-19, and the support and resources they require from their employers, partners, and families in order to continue to provide for their families and communities. The results, to any working mom, are hardly surprising, but serve as another reminder that we, as a culture, must provide mothers more than lip service and one-day-a-year public displays of gratitude if we’re to continue to benefit from their many societal contributions.
Of the 1,000+ women surveyed, 40% said they are doing more work now that they’re working-from-home in lockdown. And this is in addition to facilitating e-learning for their children, maintaining their homes during lockdown, cooking, cleaning, and supporting their partners. It is no wonder, then, that anxiety and depression is increasing among moms in the era of COVID-19. It is also no surprise that 48% said they were less satisfied with their job, and 59% reported being less productive. In 2014, a study led by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom found that those who worked from home were 13% more productive than office workers. But that was pre-COVID-19, and should now serve as a reminder that what so many of us are doing in this unparalleled moment is not simply working from home, but working from home while enduring long periods of stress, anxiety, and elongated trauma.
But perhaps what is most upsetting about the results of our survey is the unequal division of labor within the home, and how little our respondents were surprised by it. Of the women we surveyed, 25% said they needed more help with child care from their partners, and 18% said they needed more help with household work and errands. A devastating 78% of women said they were not surprised by the distribution of unpaid work in their homes, and 72% said that they do not believe the pandemic will change how unpaid work is distributed in their homes in the future.
Women aren’t surprised because, sadly, this is nothing new. In 2015, 54% of households where both the mother and the father worked outside the home reported that it was mom who managed the children’s schedules and activities, according to a Pew Research Center study. Sixty-four percent of moms in two-parent homes, per the same study, do the bulk of the parenting responsibilities, and 53% of fathers admit that their partners do more than they do.
At some point, we must all stop and admit that we aren’t asking moms to “have it all”: we’re demanding that they “do it all” and calling it empowerment, feminism, and success.
This does not have to be our reality. And as we, as a nation, consider how we will emerge from this unparalleled global pandemic, it simply cannot be. And if those in positions of power, from the president on down, simply listened to moms, a path towards economic empowerment that benefits us all is undeniably clear.
Forty-eight percent of the women we surveyed said they need more “flexibility in work hours due to other demands on my time” from their employer and as they continue to work during the pandemic, while 11% said they needed more flexible deadlines. Forty-two percent said they needed their coworkers to understand the amount of work on their plate, and 25% of the business owners we surveyed said they needed their employees to anticipate their needs and be “proactive about acting upon them.”
What we need is for everyone in our lives to ditch the “super mom” rhetoric, acknowledge our needs as working parents, then act to meet those needs in a way that is beneficial for all involved. As working moms, our job is to not become martyrs for our businesses, our families, or our communities. We have long needed mandatory paid family leave, affordable childcare, and equal pay for equal work — needs that have been made painfully obvious and dire during a time of so much loss and uncertainty.
For over five years — as a business owner and mother who works from home, and as the co-founder of HeyMama, an online community of other entrepreneurial, working mothers who have built businesses that meet their needs and the needs of their families (and not the other way around) — I have had the privilege of conversing with working moms, entrepreneurial moms, business-minded moms, moms of all walks of life with a number of unique circumstances. And I have seen, firsthand, the joy of working while parenting; of creating your own business and designing your own life; of opening up opportunities for other women to thrive in a work environment of their making.
Just because we can and, against all odds, often do become successful without institutionalized support and a more equal division of labor inside the home, doesn’t mean we should. As the era of COVID ushers in a “new normal,” we should all demand that that normal include a true foundation of support moms can rely on. If it takes a village, it’s time we do the work to create that village for us all.