The Pandemic Created a Major Change for Working Moms
Eighty percent of those who left the workforce since the pandemic began were women, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report from March 2021. Furthermore, a McKinsey study found that “one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to COVID-19.” I am one of them. Chances are you might be, too.
I cut way back on work to care for my children as schools closed during the pandemic. I did this with a profound mix of emotions. I was eternally grateful to be able to do so without worrying too much about keeping the roof over our heads because my husband continued to work; grateful for the time with my children that I otherwise wouldn't have had; grateful for the front-row seat to first grade and watching my son become a confident reader right before my eyes.
But I also worried about what would happen to my career, that I would fall behind and never catch back up. The days were hard, sometimes soul-crushing. I didn’t know what I was doing or who I was anymore. I was part mom, part preschool teacher, part first grade teacher’s assistant, part study hall monitor, part lunch lady, part housekeeper, part fading career woman trying to squeeze in little bits of my former identity where I could. I was seemingly all of those things at the same time every day. Burned out and exhausted, I truly lost my sense of self.
Right before the pandemic, I had attained my years-long goal of building a manageable middle ground between motherhood and career. After years in corporate America, I had already learned the lesson that this wasn’t sustainable for me as a mom. I needed more time with my kids and I knew I wanted the flexibility of being my own boss. But just as valuable, I had also already learned that I wasn’t cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted something in between that barely existed when I started looking for it. In the year or so leading up to the pandemic, I had finally worked my way to it: the right amount of work on my terms that also allowed me to be there to pick my kids up from school and to drop everything to deal with the endless unexpecteds that any parent knows all too well.
"Many of us have had epiphanies about our careers and ourselves during this time. Many of us, myself included, have found new passions or the drive to pursue old ones. Many of us see more glaringly than ever before the problems with the former status quo."
I felt so lucky to have carved out this niche. But why is it a niche? I can’t help but wonder if a lot of working moms wouldn’t thrive with some version of this model.
As school is set to reopen full time in the fall and both of my children will be out of the house again, I'm faced with the question of “where do I go from here?” I don’t have all the answers yet, but I know I will fight my way back to some form of the flexible-yet-fulfilling work reality I briefly had before. And I know that we can’t let this moment of profound transformation go to waste, both on a personal level and at the workplace.
Many of us have had epiphanies about our careers and ourselves during this time. Many of us, myself included, have found new passions or the drive to pursue old ones. Many of us see more glaringly than ever before the problems with the former status quo.
Since March 13, 2020, workplace culture has been upended. Parents and non-parents alike have proven that we can get the job done from home. We have proven ourselves worthy of flexibility and support as we strive to “have it all.”
The pandemic forced unimaginable changes to the way we do things. Ironically, modern working motherhood has actually cried out — largely unanswered — for some of those very same changes for a long time. This is the time to make sure we keep moving forward on all fronts and not fall back into our old ways. Let’s fight for each other and forge a brighter future in which we aren’t forced to choose between motherhood and a career.