The memories of my days as a single mother working out of the home with a small child are long and deep and often make me tear up, even to this day. I had no family, no real support network that I could call upon in a last-minute crisis, and the hustle was high. Too high. Days that began at 4:30am and ended close to midnight. Every day. For years. Always falling short at home, always falling short at work. Guilt was the only consistent companion I had. I was guilty about being too exhausted to make brownies and blanket forts at night. I was guilty about missing important school functions during the day because I had to work. I was guilty about not being able to stay late for the extra project or to win points with my boss. Because 45-minutes away there was a chubby, little hand waiting, every day, to be walked out of daycare at 5pm sharp (lest they charge me $5/minute for being late). I was guilty about the family and friends I was losing touch with. And guilty about how little I was able to take care of myself. A slow decline of mental and physical health that eventually led me to the darkest days of my drinking.
And that’s why I’m so concerned about the moms in the U.S. right now who were *literally me* just 5 years ago, except that moms of young children today seem to have it even worse (which seems impossible, yet it’s true).
5-8 years ago, my child getting sick sent me into an immediate panic. I can’t tell you the number of sick days I had to call into work. How many days I’d take unpaid because I’d run out of PTO. How I’d come into work the following day with my head down, not wanting to make eye contact with the people who had to pick up my slack while I was home caring for a vomiting 6-year-old. The resentment and anger became pervasive. Not at my child. But at my life. And everything. Why was this so hard? And why was it fair? How can I be expected to choose between caring for a human – my human! – and keeping my job? Yet I had to. Every day. For years. And it nearly broke me. I truly don’t know how I survived those days. It makes me shudder even now.
Yet here we are, in the midst of a pandemic where women are having to choose between their jobs and their children every single day! And as we continue these shut-downs and the virus rears its head again and again, I sit and I wonder – what the HELL are these mothers doing? How are they managing this? Coping? I mean honestly.
And if they were drinking before, how much are they drinking now?
There are several scenarios that I see bubbling up.
- Mommy has to work from home.
- Mommy has to leave for work.
- Mommy lost her job.
Mommy Has to Work From Home
Remember when working from home seemed so glamourous?
One day, when we’d “arrived”, we’d be able to glide into our home office, refreshed from a morning of outdoor yoga and matcha, slide into our ergonomic desk chair, chirp “Alexa, play me some old school Whitney” and hit the keyboard. Sun shining through the breezy Wayfair curtains, orange spice tea warming our Crate & Barrel mugs. Ah, the creativity! Oh, the things we’d get done! We’d make our own hours. Block off a “meeting” to get the occasional manicure (because, you know… self-care), eat better, workout more (duh), be there for our kids at 5pm…it’d be the perfect situation. We’d finally have more time to be the mom we always dreamed of – the mom who has it all because she works from home.
Now let me introduce you to the ACTUAL home office – Corona-style.
There’s a 9am Zoom meeting at work. You have to make yourself presentable – at least from the boobs up. The kids won’t stop talking, the dog won’t stop barking, the cat just threw up his thyroid meds. Apparently, you have a virtual meeting with your son’s Engineering Tech teacher at 9:30 (wait, he’s taking Engineering Tech?) and there’s a make-up math quiz you need to proctor (how did you miss the first one?). You’re curling your hair in the kitchen next to the sad bagel you’re “preparing” as breakfast. “I hope that’s not moldy. I need to go food shopping.” But you just got a text this morning that your gym bestie’s actual bestie just tested positive for Covid-19. So, do you need to quarantine? God, why didn’t you look into InstaCart when you had the time? Your phone will NOT stop dinging. Shit. Another email about the report you promised to get back to last night when instead you fell asleep in your clothes from exhaustion. And bonus – the thermostat is not working, so everyone in this house is freezing. And now crying. “What is happening?? And WHERE is the GD deodorant. And will everyone PLEASE just be quiet? For 30 minutes. So I can pretend on this call that I’m halfway professional enough to deserve this job? Is it too early for a glass of wine?”
Mommy Has to Leave for Work
It’s 5am. Your shift starts at 7. There’s just enough time to get ready, get the kids up, cobble together a breakfast, and pack sanitized lunches. Maybe enough time to throw in a few words of wisdom or create a quick memory that will stick with them throughout the day (a girl can hope). You pray that this new learning environment will work. Or at least won’t scar them. Up until this week, they were back at school, which helped. Now the school board decided in-school learning isn’t safe and the kids have to go virtual – almost overnight. You didn’t have time to create a well-thought-out plan. Your friend had a mom friend with just enough extra dining room space and moderate enough political views to take the kids and monitor their schooling until you get back home. It’s a whack-a-mole reaction at best. Until you can figure out the next plan.
Inevitably, someone whimpers, “Why can’t you just stay home with us? Maggie’s mom works from home.” It pierces your heart. And the anger and resentment rise up. Not at your children. But at this life. And this pandemic. How is this fair? And why is it so goddamned hard?
As you pull up to the curb, they disembark. Little cloth-masked, obedient, lunch-toting soldiers, they turn back with a half-hearted wave and a sad pleading in their eyes. Your heart breaks just a little bit more as you grip the steering wheel and head off to your shift, eyes burning with salty guilt. And you think, “I wish it wasn’t too early for a glass of wine.”
Mommy Lost Her Job
Life was good before and you didn’t even know it. Sure, you were stressed out and overworked, likely underpaid and never knew how you were going to get it all done, but you did. Because you’re you. And you thrive in the thick of get-it-doneness.
“Is today my last day?” You had asked, staring straight into the eyes of the man you know has the power to decide otherwise if he really wanted to. “Yes.”
“Covid”, they chorused. They just “couldn’t afford” to keep enough people on staff. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe it’s just a convenient excuse to clear the decks. Trim the fat. Start fresh.
Or maybe you’re just bitter.
Nonetheless, it’s 6 months into this pandemic and jobs are few and far between. You’ve never been unemployed your whole life and now you’re applying for jobs well below your skill level and not getting so much as a response. On the rare occasion you do, they’ve always “gone in another direction.”
At first, it wasn’t so bad. You were hopeful. Unemployment wasn’t quite enough, but it helped and you were grateful. But the rejections kept on coming and the money’s all but dried up. Now what? You’ve lived paycheck-to-paycheck your whole adult life, like 80% of Americans, so there’s no savings left and no assets to liquidate.
Just kids needing your love and comfort and the reassurance that everything is going to be ok. But is it? If so, how? If so, when? The rent is past due and Christmas is breathing down your neck.
You plaster on a smile, chant “Who wants mac and cheese for lunch?”, shoot another job application into the black cyber-abyss and think, “Thank God it’s not too early for a glass of wine.”
If any of this sounds familiar, please don’t suffer your stress alone.
I, and many other women just like you, are here.
My heart goes out to every single woman who is surviving this pandemic.
You are not alone.
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