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Mom’s have always been our unsung superheroes, and the pandemic only brought to light just how hard they work.
Over the last fifty years, striking a balance between work and motherhood has posed a problem for families across the United States. While both parents may work, the burden of childcare almost always falls on the mother.
A recent study from the American Association of University Women reveals that mothers are 40% more likely to report that child care issues harmed their career. An additional 23% claim they have been treated “as if they aren’t committed” to their jobs because of their children.
How Do You Make the Work-Life Balance Work?
“Know how to set boundaries,” says working mom Julie Cameron. The owner of Family Trips and Travels has three children, ages 3, 5, and soon to be 7. Before the pandemic Julie commuted from her home in Westchester to New York City. “It was about an hour-and-a-half commute and I was doing that about three or four days a week,” says Julie. Since the pandemic, she’s been fully remote. “The commute definitely took a toll,” she admits.
Switching to full-time remote work means Julie works out of her bedroom. “I had just set up a workspace in my bedroom and I’m still doing that now. That definitely gets hard,” she says.
With her children downstairs, it can sometimes be challenging to separate her work life from her family. “I do have a lot of times when I’m on Zoom calls and they come barging in either excited or crying,” says Julie. “All my coworkers know my children at this point.”
Julie knows that it’s almost impossible to strike a perfect balance, but setting boundaries is the most important step to her success.
Still, the pandemic disproportionately affected working moms. 43% of women had at least one year with no earnings, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a number which amounts to twice the rate of men.
For moms like Alice Wu, the timing couldn’t have been worse. She has two children: 4 and 6 years old. “My plan was always to restart my career when the older one was in full-time school and my youngest could be in full-time care.” She started applying for jobs in December 2019.
“I wanted to start looking for a job, but the uncertainty of the pandemic, layoffs, kids at home doing e-learning, extra competition for child care spots, fear of contracting Covid, stay at home orders – all these factors delayed my ability to look for a job by two years,” says Alice.
When she found a job in public relations in January 2022, she encountered a new problem: a child care shortage. She wasn’t able to find any after school child care for her youngest. “There were no spots for him,” she says, “and every day I pick him up from the bus stop and feel an immense sense of guilt that in order for me to continue pursuing a career, I need to rely on screens to do it.” Alice believes this lack of child care means her youngest loses out on important socialization, creativity, and growth.
Alice admits that sometimes she feels like a failure as a mom. “Remote work is great for schedules, but for the mental state of a parent – especially a mom who’s been home with her kids so long – full time work leads to feelings of guilt, dread, and inadequacy,” she says.
Alice is not alone. 58% of mothers felt that worry or stress related to the pandemic had negatively affected their mental health, according to a report from the Department of Labor.
Never Compromise, Never Worry
Between 2020 and 2021, the Department of Labor reports a 6.5% decline in working moms, amounting to 1.6 million fewer moms in the workforce. Like Alice, many of the women surveyed cite lack of adequate childcare as one of the main reasons why they left the workforce.
For moms like Heather Welch, the pandemic was when she became a mom. She gave birth to twin baby girls during the height of Covid. For her the biggest impact of the pandemic was how it shifted her work life. “It brought along with it the privilege of working in a hybrid set-up, which means I get to spend more time at home than ever before in my professional life.”
Heather strikes a balance between her work for Ukulele-Tabs and her mom duties. Like Julie, Heather is all about setting a boundary. “All of the work must be done within work hours and never compromise your time for family to squeeze in more hours,” says Heather.
With the burden of childcare often placed on mothers even if they are working, it can be harder than ever to pursue your career aspirations and raise a family, but with the right boundaries and resiliency, striking a work-life balance can be a reality.