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The current reality for America’s working mothers, and what we can do about it

America’s mothers are at a breaking point Ok world, listen up. In case you haven’t seen this plastered across the headlines yet – America’s mothers are at a breaking point. After nearly a year of lockdowns, working remotely, some version of remote schooling and closed childcare, we’re at our wit’s end.  I’ve seen varying statistics, […]

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America’s mothers are at a breaking point

Ok world, listen up. In case you haven’t seen this plastered across the headlines yet – America’s mothers are at a breaking point. After nearly a year of lockdowns, working remotely, some version of remote schooling and closed childcare, we’re at our wit’s end. 

I’ve seen varying statistics, but the most recent was the four times as many women as men dropped out of the workforce to take care of their children during the pandemic. Over 25% of unemployed women during the pandemic cited the cause as lack of childcare. This is setting back women’s progress in the workforce exponentially.

There are devastating economic and social consequences that I can’t begin to understand right now. And this isn’t even considering the impact on the women who have continued working. The economic losses of so many women dropping out of the workforce are stark. So much so that we haven’t been thinking about what this situation is doing to women who have tried to do three jobs for months on end. 

Yes, I’m talking about the women who kept their day job, with a semblance of day job hours. They then added on the role of primary caregiver AND teacher. All with everyone in the household home all the time, with more meals to prep and spaces to clean. These working women have been doing three separate jobs. For almost a year. 

It’s unsustainable, and burnout among American employees is at an all-time high. It’s time we paid attention to this crisis before we lose another huge sector of working moms, because by then it’s going to be too late. 

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The challenges of new motherhood in a pandemic

If things could get even more challenging, millions of women have also had a new baby amidst a global health crisis. Facing birth and postpartum in a pandemic isn’t for the faint of heart. For the approximately 4M mothers who gave birth this year, there has been the real fear of protecting a newborn from a deadly virus. 

In the pandemic world, many moms are faced with the reality of new motherhood alone. As a second-time-mom early in the pandemic, I had an onslaught of emotions that occurred while I was home with my newborn. There were so many unknowns about the virus and what was happening in the world.

I navigated the challenges of new motherhood combined with postpartum hormones basically in isolation, with only my immediate family. 

For new moms in the pandemic, the worry is endless. 

For the first few months of my daughter’s life, I spent nearly every day worried about her getting sick. First with the flu that our older daughter brought home, and then with COVID-19, a virus that seems to make the flu look fun. Postpartum hormones combined with the first weeks of the pandemic gave me a dose of almost debilitating anxiety.

I worried about my milk supply alone, afraid to go to the lactation consultant at the pediatrician since my baby was gaining weight. Our doula (and other lactation support) were all in quarantine. Leaving the house for anything other than a dire emergency just wasn’t going to happen during the early days of the pandemic with a newborn. 

I worried about our doctor’s appointments. I canceled a one-month well check last March because I was afraid we’d pick up something else at the doctor. I didn’t want to risk ending up in the hospital with a fever. {Who knew at that point that the onslaught at the hospitals was still months away?}

Even now, I struggle with fears over what would happen if I get sick. Would I need to be separated from my breastfeeding baby? Could a virus end our nursing journey? 

Now that we’re close to a year in, the anxiety is no longer crippling. We know that newborns and little kids just aren’t getting the virus at the same rate that adults are. But, that doesn’t mean that new moms are feeling anything less than panicked about the thought of their babies getting sick. 

Once they make it through the newborn phase, many women are still returning to work, which comes with an entirely different set of challenges. Maternity leave is never restful but combined with a global pandemic it’s an even bigger bundle of anxiety. 

Add in the challenge of making the switch back to work while breastfeeding, and many moms just don’t know how they’ll make it work. If you’re planning to continue breastfeeding but will now be away from your baby, check out more tips for continuing to breastfeed when you return to work. 

Making the transition back to work from maternity leave has never been easy, but it’s been even more challenging as new moms balance care of their infants with a job if local childcare isn’t open. 

Employer support for working moms

I’d like to applaud all the companies that have implemented flexible time and made other accommodations for the incredible shift that’s occurred in working moms’ lives. As companies make it possible for women to be home supporting their families AND getting their work done, it’s more and more reasonable to see how working moms of the future will succeed.

What’s also still unfortunately common, are rigid deliverables and meetings that can’t be moved. While colleagues may be more open to seeing a kid or two in the background, the “deliver at all costs” attitude does still have its place in corporate America. 

Rather than drastically reduce the number of meetings and clearly prioritize what must be done to keep things running in challenging times, it’s almost like many employees were just given the “opportunity” to bring their entire workload home. And then do it while homeschooling, child-rearing, and keeping a household running.

Corporate cultural shifts that will better support a working mother

If you’re reading this and nodding your head, you’re probably thinking that yes, this is unsustainable. And we as a collective society need to do something. We’re obviously in agreement. But the question then becomes, ‘how can we support working moms while keeping businesses running?’

The answer is in fact quite simple. 

Ruthlessly prioritize

Give clear deliverables and deadlines. 

And then give as much autonomy and flexibility as humanly possible. 

Need something done by Friday? Remove all the extra meetings from the calendar that aren’t directly relevant to anything critically related to that project. 

Don’t micromanage and ask for two progress updates and rounds of revisions per day. 

Schedule a check in to review progress and provide feedback at a designated time (with time to implement changes) and then let your employee work. 

The cultural shift that needs to occur in America is trusting employees to get their work done on time, on their own schedules. Scheduling and time challenges are the two biggest enemies of the working mother.

I know many people are still under the false assumption that working moms are less productive than their childless colleagues. 

I’d like to counter this by asserting that working moms may be in the office less, but they’re likely far more efficient — because they have to be. 

Trust me. If you need something done, give it to a mom. She’s used to the complicated dance of balancing four balls in the air. It’s more than likely she’s able to participate in a conference call, fix a snack, and scan her email all at the same time. 

Give her a deadline. She’ll meet it.

What moms can do when there is no village

To all the moms out there reading this, know that you’re not alone. Even though it feels like it most of the time. Even if life feels like it may come crashing down without the social support you’ve come to rely on. 

You’re not doing this alone. There are hundreds of thousands of others out there doing the exact same thing you are. Just keeping their heads above water and trying to make sure there are groceries in the refrigerator. 

This isn’t the time to try and achieve your lifelong personal goal. Or write the novel you’ve been dreaming about. This IS the time to practice surviving. To binge watch your favorite show after the kids are in bed. To have lazy Saturdays where the kids stay in PJs all day. 

You might not be able to have the childcare you’ve come to rely on, but you can prioritize your own mental wellbeing. If you’re struggling, ask your partner for help. Take an hour or two for a zoom wine night with your girlfriends (they’re amazing).

Practicing self-care isn’t optional anymore. It’s a requirement for your family’s well being.

How working mothers can succeed in the long term

The pandemic has shown the world exactly how hard working moms have it. The constant mental load of juggling the household, children, and a job have been put on full display. 

As corporate culture shifts to better accommodate the reality of life for working moms, women can continue to push their own careers forward. 

One of the most important things women can do to promote this change is to support other women, and demonstrate behaviors of support and change themselves. 

Need to sign off at 4:00 p.m. for a doctor’s appointment? Do it. No apologies or promises to log back on at 5:30 p.m. and check back in. 

Have a sick kid that needs extra cuddle time? Put a sick day on your calendar and don’t take any non-urgent meetings. 

Stop trying to fit your life in around your job. Work hard to ensure your job fits into your life. 

Final thoughts for the working moms out there

Do whatever you need to do in order to make it through this incredible time. It’s been a grind on all of us. 

But I see you.

I know you fall into bed exhausted at the end of every night with the thoughts of the 12,497 things you need to accomplish the next day on your mind. 

We’ve been celebrating healthcare heroes a lot this year. But what you’re doing isn’t going unnoticed by your family. You are also a hero. To your partner and your kids, you’re what’s holding them all together. And you can do this. You ARE doing this. Just hang in there a little while longer. 

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