If work-life balance was a challenge for moms everywhere pre-pandemic, it comes as no surprise that seven months into the pandemic, a staggering 800,000 women dropped out of the workforce from August to September. The labor department published data that four times as many women dropped out compared to the 216,000 men. With children in full distance or hybrid learning and wanting to limit after-school activity to reduce exposure, parents are pressed for childcare. In such households, it makes sense that the lower earner be the one to leave their job. Unfortunately the majority of the time, it is the woman who earns less than her male partner. This number however, doesn’t even address the number of women scaling back on their careers, working part-time or putting business ideas/entrepreneurship on the back burner.
As a mom of young kids and founder of an even younger company, stepping away from Verima is not an option, but the balancing act has me constantly wrestling between bringing less than 100% to either my family or to my company. Literally as I typed that last sentence, my daughter banged her knee on the table and when I didn’t look up right away she became irate at my lack of a reaction. I heard her bump and saw it peripherally and my mom-instinct knew she was not physically hurt. But clearly her mom’s-attention-bucket is running on empty for her (an extraordinarily easy-going child) to get angry at what she perceived as my not caring. Additionally, today my son had to scrounge for supplies to build a homemade catapult because I didn’t have time and then later forgot to swing by his school to pick up the science supply pack. All these seemingly inconsequential moments add up and are slowly breaking my heart.
I spoke with other moms who are similarly balancing careers and children in midst of the pandemic and asked how they were managing, coping and making it work. Answers ranged from one mom’s, “I’m just trying to do enough to not get fired”, to another’s, “I work from 4am-7am, then 9am-noon and then again from 8-10pm. Whatever doesn’t get done is pushed to the weekend. “ A third friend sent her eldest to his grandparent’s in Michigan so that her mother-in-law could handle all the distance learning.
The luck(ier) moms have family nearby to help out or the funds to hire pod-teachers/tutors/nannies. But still others have had no choice but to leave the workforce altogether. This pandemic induced exit from the workforce has more far-reaching ramifications than a year of lost income. As one mom confessed to me, “At my age (40’s) leaving the work force in my industry means saying goodbye to your career. No one will hire you after a year. “
These were not the conversations I was hoping to have. I wanted to hear from someone who was slaying it. . . or at the very least felt she had a handle on things. If you find her, or even better: If you ARE her, I would love to buy you a socially-distanced cup of coffee and pick your brain. In what perhaps is never a good idea, I looked to my Facebook and Instagram feeds to try and find some uplifting articles or examples of other moms doing great. Instead I found endless columns of memes and quotes in colorful fonts telling moms “we’re blessed because we opened our eyes today” or “eliminate stress by loving what you do. “ Yes, all very true, and anyone who knows me, or who has read any of my blogs knows I am big on gratitude. I know that folks are just trying to put a *positive spin* on things. However, to the moms who feel like they are drowning, telling them “Yes, but you’re doing great!” is not helpful.
There is something called toxic positivity, and yes, it is a real thing. I recently read Allyson Chiu’s article in the Washington Post on toxic positivity. In her article, she quotes Professor Debra Kaysen from Stanford University, “There’s nothing wrong with trying to make the best of it, but making the best of it is different from toxic positivity. Making the best of it is accepting the situation as it is and doing the best you can with it, whereas toxic positivity is avoidance of the fact that we’re in a really bad situation. Using the appropriate language is equally critical to steering clear of toxic positivity, especially when trying to be supportive of others. ”
And so moms, here I am telling you that this is hard. It’s okay to not be okay. And it’s even more important to acknowledge that, because it’s the only way we can move forward.