The Privilege of Being a Working Mom During the Pandemic

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In 2018, I attended a work meeting where we were all asked to share a work accomplishment of which we were most proud. I was one of the only mothers on my team at the time. People talked about projects that had completed and clients who had made progress. When it was my turn I said, “everyday that I drop my two children off at two different locations and then get to work on time, I feel like I should be given an award before I even open my laptop.”

Fast forward to March of 2020. As I settled into my new reality of working full time while home alone with two young children, I found myself thinking two contradictory things simultaneously: 1) this is impossible 2) this is no different from the last six years of my life.

I have always been good at multitasking. But being a working mom has brought my multitasking skills to a new level.  I spend most of my waking hours doing at least two things at once. Usually, I’m doing two things while wondering if I can add in a third thing without dropping any balls. Attending a Zoom training while folding laundry…can I also respond to this text chain with my college friends? I eat 99% of my meals either standing in the kitchen (making kids lunches and filling the dishwasher) or in front of my computer (answering emails.)

The realization in mid-March that my juggling would now have to reach new levels was shocking…but not altogether unwelcome. Sending off a quick email while the kids were distracted. Sneaking in an hour of work after putting them to bed. These are the things I have always done. Suddenly, the news was filled with stories about working parents balancing it all. Sympathetic news articles about parents on Zoom meetings with children yelling in the background. Pictures of working parents on the conference calls while children ravaged the house in the background. Suddenly, everyone felt bad for us. The juggling act I had done for five years became socially acceptable! Pre-COVID, if your children were heard in the background of Zoom meetings it looked bad, like you were pretending to be on the clock when you were really hanging out with your kids.  After the pandemic started, and working parents quite literally had NO other options, the background noise of children screaming at each other finally became socially acceptable.

The reality of the past six years of my life has been this: I have two full time jobs and I get paid for one. The first few months of quarantine were challenging because my husband and I were alone, without the support of friends and family we usually rely on. In other significant ways, it made the work/life balance easier. I was able to work from home all the time. I had the flexibility I always dreamed of.

Working from home is what keeps my ship afloat. It allows me to drop my daughter off at school at 8:00 and start my first meeting at 8:05. For people without children, showing up in person at a meeting versus doing one remotely may not make a big difference. For working moms, it is everything. I can easily spend nine hours a day working. But those nine hours might look like:

6:00-7:00: Work

7:00-8:00: Wake up children, drive them to school

8:00-3:00: Work (laundry, dishes, furious cleaning during phone calls)

3:00-8:00: Pick up children/be with children/put children to bed

8:00-9:00: Work

The pandemic has forced me to see my working-mom life in a whole new light. My ability to multitask isn’t just an ability. It is also a privilege. I have a job that I can do remotely. I have tasks that can be accomplished alone, in the wee hours of the morning, with nothing but a laptop and an internet connection. I have this job because I was lucky enough to be able to afford an education, as well as unpaid internship opportunities and many other privileges that are invisible to me.

When I was without childcare earlier this year, I wasn’t forced out of the workforce. I had to change my hours. I had to figure out how I could work late, work early, work when my kids were in the bath. It has been exhausting and frustrating and oftentimes, enraging. In March and April of 2020 when my Facebook friends were learning how to make sourdough, I was hiding in my closet trying to finish an email to my boss while my son attacked his sister with a lightsaber. But beyond exhaustion and frustration and rage, I have felt gratitude. For my job, for my boss, for my education and for all the opportunities that brought me to this place in my career.

It would be naïve for me to think that I’m making it through this nightmare when others are not because I have some innate ability to multitask. I am good at multitasking. But also, I have been afforded opportunities that many others have not. So many mothers have had to choose between work and their kids. You cannot bring your children to work as a cashier. If you have to clock in at 8:00, you can’t drop your kids off at 7:55. I’m grateful to still be working. I’m grateful that I have managed to find safe, quality care for my children this year. This year especially, this is no small thing.

Yes, we are all in the same storm. But we aren’t all in the same boat.

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Michelle
Michelle Kaye is a licensed clinical social worker and mother of two young children. She holds a post-graduate certificate in infant-parent mental health and wants to hold every baby who crosses her path. She works as Clinical Director of Child, Youth, and Family at a nonprofit in San Francisco. Michelle lives in Pacifica and spends her weekends at the beach and dragging her children for hikes along the foggy coast. She is working on a book about parenting and you can follow her (exhausting/exhilarating) parenting journey on her Instagram @okayparent

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