Moms Are Stressed to the Max in This Pandemic

moms are taking it on the chin

Let’s face it: Moms are stressed out in this pandemic. With remote school, no camps, and no childcare, we are adding all kinds of jobs to our plate: teacher’s aide, therapist, cruise director. Yes, children NEED these services (and their mental health is worth of its own article) but so do moms. Because having their kids cared for somewhere else means they have time to do all the things they need to do–work, take care of themselves, manage the household, et cetera, et cetera.

Now that kids are home pretty much all the time, there’s been a lot of coverage in the media about how women are bearing the brunt of taking care of kids while schools, daycares, and now camps are shut down. Sheryl Sandberg, she of Facebook and the book Lean In calls it the double double shift. I want to take a look at the reality of this, and not just what the headlines say. 

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Moms Are Stressed

In my household, some things about our division of labor haven’t changed all that much. I still walk the dog during the day and my husband walks her at night, for example. I cook and he does the dishes. But I am definitely helping out with homeschooling more–he says the kids can figure stuff out for themselves. I know that without either being in line of sight or checking a couple times during the day, there will be hours up hours of leisure screens and not outside time or exercise.

In essence, I care more about how they spend their time, so by default more ‘looking after’ falls to me. I also invite them more on dog walks with me so that they get exercise, and I’m getting basically no alone time, which is tough for an introvert. It makes parenting harder. Also, with Covid in general my mental bandwidth feels fairly substantially reduced, and I’m lucky to be able to say that my workload hasn’t changed. It’s a good problem to have, but it feels like bad math — same work + more kid care – brain capacity – restorative time = well, to be honest, some days it feels like a real shit show. I know I’m not alone. Like I said: Moms are stressed out!

Rachael, help!

Today I’m talking with Rachael Ellison, co-host of The BreadWinners podcast and executive coach. Rachael’s an expert at expert on work-life policy and practice and I’m excited to hear her insights on how moms can free themselves from the extra burdens they’re facing in the pandemic. 

What are some ways the pandemic has changed being a mom? Why is it the case that moms are stressed more than ever?

I mean, first of all,  we’re not just parents anymore. At the same time, and you were alluding to this at the same time, we’re homemakers. We’re paid workers. We’re therapists, for our kids who are dealing with this horrifying reality that we’ve never in our lives had to think about or endure. But we’re trying to guide them through the very confusing and terrifying time. And answering the questions that they have about this, right? 

So we are playing multiple different roles. More so than I think we ever had. But you know, we were already a generation, and I know there’s a couple of different generations of moms that are probably in your listener base. But as the mom of two kids, 10 and 7, my contemporaries and I, we’re spending more time in the labor force than other generations did.  And more time on childcare that was already true before.

So in 2016, we spent 25 hours a week on average on paid work, which is up from nine hours in 1965. We also spent 14 more hours a week on childcare, which is up 10 hours a week. And I think we have this pressure that we’ve always felt to be both perfect parent and perfect worker. And now we’ve just got 12 other jobs.

You know, there’s a concept of flow. And you were talking about really having this limited bandwidth to do these kind of deep thought projects, which you are privileged to be able to still have. And, you know, it’s wonderful to be able to work in this day and age and have things to be working on. But where do we get the time to be focused and present and really get lost in a task and be as creative as we can be?

We don’t have that time anymore, we don’t have the support of the childcare services of schools, of camps. We don’t have that anymore. And we are just trying to be all things to all people, I think moms and dads. But I certainly think this has really hit moms very hard. This kind of feeling like we have to do, not only do we have to do what we were doing before and which was more than a previous generation did, but now we have to do four other jobs at the same time.

What hasn’t  changed? Is there more consistency here than maybe we’re seeing, because we’re feeling the overwhelm?

So I think what hasn’t changed is the reality that the pandemic has been able to expose even more starkly, that we have a systemic problem facing us as working parents before. Like, we work from nine to five, if we’re lucky, and our schools go from eight to 2:30, right? Childcare is an insanely expensive proposition in most of the country. It’s much more expensive than it’s ever been. All of these things that we’ve kind of been piecing together are sort of exposed for what they are. Which is just like, it really is this bandaid that we’ve been able to cobble together.

That piece hasn’t changed. I think if anything, we’re just seeing it for what it is. Like we don’t have the support systems and it’s all been kind of revealed to us so we can see, you know, without these different pieces while we’re doing multiple jobs at once. It hasn’t changed. We were doing that before. We’re still doing it. I think what’s really interesting is we’re seeing what  this pattern is, you know, we’re seeing it very clearly now, right?

I think you’re absolutely right. This is what I was talking about in my intro. We have to acknowledge what’s not going well, right? At the same time, I also want to ask you because I just can’t help myself because there’s always good and bad in everything. Is there anything good happening now?


Absolutely. So one of the things that really excites me as someone who’s worked on work-life for over a decade, and who’s advised on flexible policy and parental leave policy, is this: We as a society, as a culture, are starting to understand how to integrate work and life in a way that we never have in the past. We’re seeing them as inextricably linked now. We had a culture where, you know,  there was an idea of the ideal worker. So we had someone who would go in and give their all to work and leave home at home and somehow figure out a way to get all of their home stuff done without talking about it with people in the office, right. It was like, we separate as best we can. We separate whether it’s with the commute or just compartmentalize our work and life right.

Now there’s been a lot of people working from home. Those of us who are working are working remotely. And so it’s this equalizer, right? Of all of us sort of understanding, we’re all having the same experience in the sense that we’re all learning how to work together while we’re not together. And it’s changing the culture of the workforce. You know, we’re not going to all jump back to our desks in a month.

Those of us who work in offices. It’s going to be a new reality for all of us. And I think that’s great. I think that’s great for us as working parents.  You know, one of the things that I’ve seen with clients and with colleagues is that you’ll see a cat walking by in a zoom call or you’ll see a kid come over and pull on a parent’s sleeve and say, can you make me a sack in the middle of a Zoom call.

I think, you know, about six months ago, there are certainly workplaces where that would just be absolutely unacceptable and horribly embarrassing. But now we’re in a time that, that’s just the reality. We’re all accepting that we are vulnerable, that we are in this kind of imperfect reality. And that I think is going to continue. I don’t think we’re going to go back and fully compartmentalize again. And compartmentalizing and separating work and life has never worked for working families truly. So I think i that’s going to be fantastic. And I think also, you know, one of the things that we’re seeing is exposing the failures of the system.

Like we’re really lacking these supports. There are companies who are saying, we’re really getting this, you know, we’re really understanding that parents need more support and time. So Microsoft, which had already paid leave,  they gave paid parental leave for all of their parents, all the parents on staff. So it’s your companies who are seeing, if we want our employees to be happy and healthy and not burned out, we have to offer these extra supports. And honestly, however we get it is great. I’m really, really happy about that. So I think that’s fantastic news for us. It’s a good place to start.

Absolutely. Well, it also helps with  just putting into perspective. We’re going through this, but we’re going to get something better on the other side, which is really helpful. So, for the moms listening out there, do you have like a quick takeaway for us?

I have four kind of basic ideas that I would suggest. And I will say, you know, I know a lot about work, life integration and this field, but it’s so hard to really take care of ourselves at this time. I think it’s like an impossible proposition. So,  I want to encourage people. Number one, to just let it go. Like as Elsa says, right? Like just let the expectations go. I think one of the things that has been so challenging for us is that, you know, while we had this imperfect system that we were piecing together with Band Aids, we were pretending on social media. There’s a lot of like, look at this, like, you know, everything’s perfect. I’m managing this perfectly. And I think there’s a lot of kind of jealousy and fostering that sometimes people do.

It’s time to just put that aside. Like one of the things that I’m struggling with, this wonderful person who I love, who is doing amazing work for the world. And I’m so grateful. She also has been able to bake something literally every day, like every day it looks like she’s baking a new something and it’s perfect. And at first, I was like, why am I reacting to this post this way?

But I think it’s, you know, it’s important to say like, everybody’s got their own reality and try not to compare yourself to others, try not to worry about your, you know, your standards and are they matching up to other people’s standards? We’re all facing a very unique situation. I would say, second of all, there are many challenges here, as you said, right? Like this is a shit show as I’m repeating, but there are opportunities to challenge ourselves in positive ways.

I think there’s inspiration to be found in desperation. So, you know, I think even if you’re walking the dog around the block or you’re taking a shower and you have like a really interesting creative idea, let yourself go there. We think that in these times of crisis that it’s really hard to, you know, generate anything new and to invest in new and exciting visions or ideas for where we want to go. And I would challenge that. I think this is actually a great time to do that because kind of like all bets are off, like all of the plans that we had, you know, everything is changed so drastically. So,  give yourself permission to think outside the box.

I think another piece is to your point about kind of division of labor at home. If you have a partner at home who you were working with, really think about how to be intentional about how you’re dividing up housework, childcare, all of that stuff.  Try to think about maybe we could do it differently. So maybe, you know, maybe you’re trading off more on the homeschooling front, or maybe, you know, one of you take turns making dinners one week and the other one doesn’t, but try to play around with those and make sure that it’s fitting correctly for your households, right? Whatever you’re doing, like really take time to sort of experiment and adjust.

The last thing that I’ll say is for introverts or extroverts, one of the biggest challenges here is that we are so isolated, right? And we need, even if we think we’re, we’re, you know, we’re good in isolation and it’s a comfortable place. I still point all of us introverts and extroverts hit a limit where it’s just really not great. So I would encourage people to look for opportunities to, to connect with others.

And it doesn’t have to be, it doesn’t have to be like a dance class or like a, you know, a high pressure zoom call. I went to a shiva online. So a work friend colleague of mine, her mom passed away and, and I was on the Zoom where were 95 people talking about this one person’s life and how impactful she had been. It just this sharing of stories. So even though I really wasn’t as connected to this person’s mom, as all of these people in the call were, there was just something so beautiful about feeling connected to this group of people for that one hour.

So, whatever opportunities you can find to connect, spend the time on it. It’s important. So I would say, let it go, see opportunities with the challenges of the pandemic. Think about  dividing your work at home and connect with others. That’s my takeaway.

Where can folks who want to know more about you connect with you?

You could go to my website, which is rachaelellison.com. So you can learn more about the kind of work that I do. You should listen to subscribe and to my podcast. Thebreadwinnerspodcast.com is where you find us online. And you can find me online, also @reworkingparent on Twitter.

Calm The Eff Down

If you need help quieting your nervous system in the midst of all that’s happening, I pulled all the tips from my 21 Day Calm the Eff Down Challenge (that I ran at the end of April beginning of May here on the podcast) into a pretty mini e-book that can be yours for FREE.

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