How the Pandemic Has Rapidly Turned Working Mothers into Unpaid Caregivers


If we don't act quickly, our careers might never recover.

Children are being homeschooled while mothers struggle to juggle household care and their dreams of professional growth fall further and further out of reach—is this the 1950s? Nope, it’s life post-pandemic.

It probably comes as no surprise that mothers disproportionately take on unpaid caregiving responsibilities when quality childcare is not available. A 2018 survey by the Center for American Progress showed that mothers were 40 percent more likely than fathers to have felt the negative impact of childcare issues on their careers. Now, with the complete lack of childcare available, mothers are forced to make all decisions based on the survival of their children and family, leaving no choices to be made in the interest of their career advancement.

COVID-19 feels like a tidal wave. A wave that we saw coming but were naive to the mass destruction it would have on the advancement of women in the workforce. As the water recedes, the landscape has me thinking, “Are we going back in time?”

What are the factors contributing to this attack on working moms?

COVID layoffs have provided a legal loophole for firing new moms, changemakers and whistleblowers.

In an interview with a prominent HR consultant, it was explained to me how dozens of companies in California are using COVID as an excuse to fire “pain-in-the-ass” female employees and new moms currently or fresh off of maternity leave. These are women pushing for pay equality, extended maternity leave, part-time positions, flexible schedules and paid time off. Some “P.I.T.A.” women were advocates for their female peers—bringing discrimination and harassment issues to upper management, and now they’re getting illegally terminated and permanently silenced. Pre-COVID, women were protected by labor laws—laws that forced employers to prove causation in order to terminate. All of that legal protection is getting washed away by this pandemic and working moms are unprecedentedly vulnerable.

We’ve reverted back to traditional gender roles within our households, further deepening the expectation for moms to “do it all.”

I spoke to countless mothers in two-parent households and everyone said they are doing almost all of the cooking, cleaning and childrearing. Maybe it’s our maternal instincts convincing us to de-prioritize our careers in return for bathed children and an A+ grade on homeschooling, but I feel it’s that there are far fewer expectations on dads to take on those responsibilities. When I asked working moms why they’re pulling double duty, they responded that dads have a “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to their children’s schoolwork and daily activities. They set the kid in front of the laptop, pull up a learning app, and forget them for a few hours while they tend to their work obligations. Moms have an inability to check out when it comes to their kids. They’re diligently watching the clock to ensure children stick to their schedules, have healthy snacks and attend Google Hangouts with teachers. All that monitoring leaves less time for mom to be undistracted and focused on her work, which can lead to increased stress and potential for burnout. The COVID pandemic has put women further and further away from an egalitarian household.

What can we do to overcome the COVID tidal wave?

Furloughed or unemployed women need to go back to work as soon as childcare becomes available.

The fear is that a large percentage of women who were forced to tap out of the workforce will stay out. Will anxiety about the possibility of future pandemics keep them on the sidelines permanently? They might hear from spouses that it’s best for them to become stay-at-home-moms just in case. But, if we have any hopes around someday closing the wage gap, playing a larger role in our government, or having true financial freedom, we have to go back to work. We need to avoid being influenced by a short-term situation like COVID and focus on our long-term goal of creating a fertile professional landscape for our daughters.

We need to “send the elevator back down.”

To all the working moms of teenagers and grown children, we’re counting on you to be vigilant in your efforts to hire and promote mothers. Prepare to see resumes with employment gaps of six months to a year—and realize that those women probably had to step away from their careers to care for their families during the pandemic. Their value is the same. They are sharper and more dedicated than ever and they deserve to get “their spot back in line.”

If we don’t embrace working moms with open arms by promoting them, or hiring them back at the same level they were at prior to COVID, their lifetime earnings will never recover and we will have widened the wage gap and undone all the progress that’s been made over the decades.

If moms and women can band together, we can rebuild—we can show the world, and the younger generation, that it’s going to take something a lot bigger than a COVID tidal wave to take us out.

Written by Elizabeth Pearson for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.


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