As the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on life as we know it, many are feeling desperate for a return to normalcy—but the problem is that normal is not good enough.
This pandemic has exacerbated everything that is wrong in our society. It has brought to the surface the very real problems that people live with on a daily basis—and now that we have seen them, there is no going back. Mothers, in particular, are finding that many of the struggles they contend with daily are beginning to be recognized by those who previously turned a blind eye, intentionally or otherwise.
So yes, of course, we want this pandemic to end—but we refuse to return to a normal that has never been okay.
We will no longer act like we do not have children when we go to work.
Amy Westervelt said it best: “We still ask women to work like they don’t have kids and parent like they don’t work.” We feel guilty when we have to say no to late meetings in order to pick our kids up from daycare. We feel guilty when we can’t make it to every school function because we have to go to work. Our culture has made the blending of career and parenthood incredibly difficult.
But the overnight disappearance of daycares, schools, nannies and family members who can help take care of children has forced us to acknowledge that both aspects of our lives happen simultaneously—and we don’t have to feel guilty about it.
While we’re on the subject, can we please stop saying that flexible work schedules or working from home aren’t options? We’ve proven that they are options—and good ones. Allowing employees to have all facets of their lives matter should not just be a pandemic thing—it should be a way of life.
We will no longer pretend that caregiving doesn’t matter.
Whether it’s taking care of children, elderly parents or the sick, we are experiencing first hand how time-consuming and important that act of taking care of people is. We will never again say, “I am just a stay-at-home mom.”
Caregiving is an incredibly needed role in our society—we all need to do a better job of recognizing its importance and taking care of the people that take care of people.
We will no longer accept that a person’s right to healthcare is dependent on their type of employment.
Facing a pandemic is scary. Facing it without health insurance is a nightmare. There are roughly 27 million people in the United States who do not have health insurance. What happens when they get coronavirus? The economic repercussions of this shortcoming will be felt for generations.
More importantly, people will die because they cannot afford care—in one of the richest countries in the world. It’s embarrassing and unacceptable.
We will no longer ignore the plight of suffering women.
In the United States, approximately 24 people per minute are the victims of rape, stalking or physical violence by an intimate partner; four out of five of them are female.
And most of them are trapped at home with the aggressor right now.
We failed to protect them, and now we can’t do anything about it.
We will no longer tolerate the assumption that some jobs are more important than others.
We seem to have accepted that some jobs are seen as more valuable than others—we show this by offering people in those jobs things like consistent salaries and access to severance pay, health insurance and paid time off.
But what really makes the people in those jobs more deserving than people in other jobs?
As this pandemic has helped us see, every job out there is essential—especially the ones that are not even recognized as jobs (like caretaking—review the third item on this list again).
And this impacts women more than men. According to António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, “Nearly 60% of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty. As markets fall and businesses close, millions of women’s jobs have disappeared.”
How one devotes their occupational energy should not determine how well we take care of them during a crisis.
We will no longer ignore that systemic racism impacts people in every possible corner of existence.
Racial disparities are woven into the fabric of our society—the pandemic is making it so much worse.
Black women, who are already disproportionately impacted by maternal morbidity and mortality, are now facing the possibility that they will have to give birth alone—without an advocate or support person.
People of color need to choose which fear they are most willing to take on: The fear of not wearing a face mask in public and getting COVID-19, or the fear of wearing a face mask in public and being treated as a threat.
Reports are also starting to come in that black people are dying at higher rates from the virus.
Racism in this country has always been deadly. The pandemic means it’s happening even faster.
We will no longer dismiss the importance of caring for mothers.
We started this pandemic at a deficit. I’d argue that this is true for most people in the world, but since moms are my specialty, I’ll focus there: 85% of mothers do not believe that our society does a good job supporting them—and that statistic is from when we were just living normal life.
Mothers entered this pandemic burnt out, and now we are asking them to give even more. We will see the repercussions of this for years to come. Perhaps moving forward, we can do (a lot) more to support mothers so that they can be healthy enough to do the work we ask of them.
We will no longer take for granted the helpers.
The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of so many people and job roles that are taken for granted regularly. Of course, we are incredibly grateful to the medical and hospital workers right now. And we also realize how many other helpers there are in our day-to-day lives: sanitation workers, retailer and restaurant employees, mail and package deliverers, and so many others.
We owe them our appreciation always, not just during a pandemic.
We will no longer disregard the vulnerable.
When the pandemic started, how many times did we attempt to comfort ourselves by saying, “It’s just going to affect the old and immunocompromised—the rest of us will be just fine”?
Well, first of all, that is not the case; young and healthy people are impacted by the virus, too. We see that vulnerability is a commonality we share, not something that separates us into tiers of societal importance. We are all in this together, and that prevailing “us vs. them” mentality is over.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” We did a bad job of this when the pandemic started—and that ends now.
So no, we will not return to normal.
When this ends—and it will—we will move forward, not backward.
We will remember.
We will help.
We will respect.
And we will love.
We are better than this. Let’s fix it, before it’s too late.