The circumstances of the Covid-19 Pandemic pushed Americans to limits they never thought they’d have to experience in their lifetime, and yet here we are a year later attempting to make sense of the muck we’ve trudged through the last year just to survive. Quarantine brought uncertainty for families; what will school look like, who will stay home with the kids, how will we pay our bills? So many unknowns haunted us this past year, and as women we struggled to make sense of what our roles were within this “new normal” we were living in.
Covid-19 caused anticipated vacations to be cancelled, re-scheduled or cancelled wedding ceremonies, and an overall shift in how the fabric of our society functioned daily. The changes in the working environment has impacted women exponentially, the stress of acquiring childcare during working hours for mothers who are essential workers has been overwhelming. Conversely, mothers who have the option to telework struggle with managing their children and work responsibilities simultaneously.
According to Brookings, “COVID-19 has also increased the pressure on working mothers, low-wage and otherwise. In a survey from May and June, one out of four women who became unemployed during the pandemic reported the job loss was due to a lack of childcare, twice the rate of men surveyed. A more recent survey shows the losses have not slowed down: between February and August mothers of children 12 years old and younger lost 2.2 million jobs compared to 870,000 jobs lost among fathers.”
Conversations on Covid-19 impact on Working Mothers
Through conversations with women who were forced to switch between the roles of Mom, telecommuting professional, and teacher we were able to understand how deeply the pressures of Covid-19 impacted working mothers and their ability to effectively fulfill their work potential due to newly added external stressors.
Jennifer R. is a 41-year-old Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, and mother of twin boys. She was asked about her experiences working from home, and if there were additional stresses that were created by the circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Jennifer shared, “having to facilitate remote learning while working has impacted our family in many ways. Financially, I have been unable to work as much as I usually do and limit the frequency I see clients while my sons are in school. Also, in the interactions with the kids, it is hard to switch roles from Mom to worker to teacher. There’s been more fighting and pushback from the kids, showing that learning from home has many challenges.”
According to an article in Yale News by Mike Cummings in July of 2020, “researchers found that moms working from home spend 49 minutes more per day on housework compared to telecommuting dads. They determined that mothers who telecommute one day a week lose $660 a year in potential earnings due to time spent on housework. This translates to more than $2,600 per year for those who telecommute four days a week, according to the study.”
Jennifer isn’t the only woman experiencing challenges related to the pandemic and the changing work environment, others I spoke with also have experienced a shift in their daily routines which have caused stress and frustration at home and work. Elizabeth G. has felt the impact of the pandemic most acutely as it pertains to the invasion of her space, time management, and ability to conduct her daily responsibilities without questioning from external sources.
According to Elizabeth G., “what has been stressful for me, an occasional freelancer and mostly stay-at-home mom and house manager, is to have what feels like an invasion of MY workspace for the last ten months…it has been stressful having my job at home completely revolve around accommodating their needs for workspaces, totally quiet, and getting snacks and drinks during the day. They’re generally showing up where I am, and unintentionally wondering what I am doing and how efficiently I am using my time has led to much less getting done.”
Through social media I have observed many mothers have felt this way, they never have enough time to do everything that’s expected of them within the workday as it is – the pandemic brought a novel set of challenges that compounded the pressures experienced by both working and stay-at-home moms.
According to the Washington Post article, “Working Moms are not okay”, “Even before the pandemic, our social safety net for families in the U.S. was so weak and broken,” says Jessica McCrory Calarco, a sociologist at Indiana University who has been studying the impact of the pandemic on mothers. “And moms are the ones who’ve been left holding the threads. And eventually, they just can’t hold on any longer.”
So what are mothers doing to maintain their sanity, and manage stress during this tumultuous time?
Jennifer shared that what has been her saving grace has been her community of women around her, “for me, stress management has just honestly been talking with friends in similar situations and with similar feelings.” While women attempting to juggle their careers and parenthood continue to lean on each other for support, the conversations occurring in neighborhoods and homes across our nation are focusing on when will life go back to normal and give women a reprieve from these added stressors.
Elizabeth acknowledged that she felt her challenges were not as detrimental as those of a working parent who was forced to coordinate childcare, but also wanted to note that many have not considered the unique stressors imposed on stay-at-home mothers.
Her final thoughts that she shared were, “the working moms and dads have had it far worse, I know, but there has been this specific stress for a stay-at-home parent and housewife like myself.” This pandemic has impacted everyone in irrevocable ways, and we need to remember that our frustrations and stressors are valid.
I spoke with a young single woman named Laura K., she is a professional in the financial industry where she manages a team in a high-stress sales environment and was considered an essential employee. Laura’s job was not taken away from her during the pandemic, however, the psychological and emotional impact of continuous social isolation took its toll on her ability to navigate her daily routine.
Social isolation affects our ability to function fully and live a healthy life because we as humans thrive off strong relationships. In her article, Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection Dr. Emma Seppalla writes, “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression…they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative…social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”
Women often carry the brunt of their families’ domestic responsibilities as well as providing unconditional emotional support to their members, the ability to sit with one another and appreciate shared frustrations and experiences is as valuable as therapy. Despite the ability to create social connections through Zoom, Google Meets, and other forms of video media lacking the opportunity to occupy the same physical space and exchange an encouraging hug was detrimental to the mental health of so many women.
According to Professor Ralph Nickel, “Touch and a sense of closeness usually helps create a sense of comfort and well-being. It helps increase the level of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which is called the “happiness hormone”, and oxytocin, a hormone involved in human bonding.”
As we march into this new world we have been thrust into, we see the hope for more human contact glimmering at the end of the dark and dismal tunnel we have been walking through. We know that the women of our country have struggled in isolation while filling multiple roles within their homes, and having their traditional communities back will be a fixture in their lives that restores a feeling of normalcy and comfort.
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