Women are often in the hot seat when it comes to working through COVID
Flexibility. Creativity. Deep breaths. Fresh air and exercise. Family support. In-home care.
These are among the keys to weathering COVID-19 restrictions that several working mothers have found over the past year-plus.
“It’s constantly, every day, ‘How do I manage this today?’” says YVETTE FERREIRA, the mother of two elementary-school-aged children.
Ferreira is used to working from home: She’s an independent contractor who provides business consulting worldwide. But, a situation with both kids and husband home around the clock was new – and challenging.
“I try to make sure they can stay on their schedules,” she says of her fifth- and second-graders. “It’s a balancing act.”
LISA LEATH understands that quest for balance. The owner of Leath HR Group, she hears from both employers and employees who are trying to navigate a world made unpredictable by COVID-19. She’s also the mother of a four- and a six-year-old. The pandemic’s effect on working parents – especially women – has brought critical workforce issues to the fore, she notes.
“White-collar organizations in Wilmington typically are taking care of working moms,” she says. “They typically have policies in place that allow for some type of flexibility and support for working moms. Blue-collar jobs is where we need to focus.”
At issue is how to support the companies with a blue-collar workforce so they, in turn, can support their workers, she says.
“What would be helpful if (coronavirus restrictions) last longer is that companies who employ minimum wage and under $15-per-hour workers would do what they can for moms. They could provide time flexibility,” Leath says. “Under $15 per hour, there is no flexibility for women. The government is not going to do anything for them right away. Industries that employ folks in that vulnerable population need to be taking a hard look and asking ‘Could I afford to do something?’ It wouldn’t necessarily be financial.”
Leath worries about the ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) that might result from month after month of COVID: the family pressures, the inconsistent schooling, the financial uncertainties, and the children left alone by parents who must show up for work.
A February 15 story on NPR’s All Things Considered news program pointed to the pandemic’s dire impacts on working mothers, especially African American and Latina women.
“More than 2 million women left the labor force in 2020,” the story stated. “Women are now at the lowest workforce participation level since 1988. Job losses in female-dominated industries like hospitality have forced many women out of work, and others, faced with the difficulty of balancing childcare with paid work, have quit.”
DEENA BELL, a dental hygienist who has juggled work and the needs of her two school-aged children throughout the pandemic, counts herself among the lucky ones. She and her husband each have one day off per week, have hired a friend to take care of the kids one day a week, and have relied on family to cover the other two days when their fourth- and fifth-graders were learning virtually full time. But, she knows others who are really struggling.
“I have a friend who is a single mom,” Bell says.
“She’s a beautician, and when the pandemic hit, the salon where she worked closed down. When it reopened, she lost her job because she had to stay home with her son. She has no family here to help her.”
Even though professional women know there are many working mothers in much more difficult circumstances, that doesn’t change the fact that every day can be a challenge for them.
On a personal front, Leath worries about the amount of time she spends on electronic devices when she’s around her children.
“You are on around the clock, especially if you are in a managerial position, and especially if you span time zones,” she says. “Your kids see you on your computer, on your cell phone, and they think, ‘Mom’s not paying attention to me.’ My kindergartner is on her laptop a lot because I need her to be quiet. You start re-evaluating your priorities in life.”
PARKER WILSON, owner of a small business consulting firm (click here for more on Wilson’s work), says with a laugh that it’s been hard to be an adult in a year-plus of coronavirus. Both she and her husband – a PPD manager working with Moderna vaccine trials – have been working from home, an intense experience with a three-year-old daughter and infant twin boys, one born with respiratory problems.
The Wilsons tried a variety of preschool and in-home care arrangements. A few months into the pandemic, as Wilson’s client load ballooned, and her husband was swamped with work, they pulled their daughter out of preschool, took a “big gulp,” and decided to pay for full-time, in-home care for their brood. Even with full-time help, life has been a challenge.
“We work hard, and there’s no letup,” she says. “At the end of the day, we walk downstairs to crying children. Our house is a wreck; there is never a moment to breathe. We wonder, when is this going to end? But, then we feel guilty: He’s employed, I’m employed; our kids are doing well.”
There are silver linings.
Wilson says she and her husband are “wildly grateful” for what they have, and they are learning to navigate the more challenging aspects of their lives. Ferreira, who in normal times is also a fitness instructor, uses exercise and fresh air as an antidote to restlessness and crankiness. On days when school is in-person, she and her kids bike to and from school, even in cold weather.
Bell says she and her husband have “actually enjoyed” their children’s remote learning experience because they could see what and how their children learn and can better guide them in the future.
Leath is celebrating her six-year-old’s return to something like normal.
“It’s the best thing ever,” she says, “K-5 going back to school full time.”
The New Normal
Lisa Leath, one of the speakers at the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s upcoming Power Breakfast on post-COVID trends, will talk more about workplace shifts. The event, starting at 8 a.m. April 13, will be broadcast on Facebook.com/WilmingtonBiz.
To view more of illustrator Brianne Wright’s work, go to briannewright.com.
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