When someone asks me how I'm doing, my typical response is "great… and busy!" Now, this seems almost ridiculous looking back. Yes, I've always had a lot on my plate, but wow, I cannot even find the plate right now (it's somewhere under a pile of school worksheets I printed, laundry and dishes, Amazon packages of random things to entertain kids, face masks and my work to-do list). This challenging pandemic time has taken our responsibilities as moms to next-level-status. Can you relate?
Moms are used to stretching. Your heart—and possibly belly and definitely your budget and the quantity of what you can fit into 24 hours—stretches when you become a mom and to your astonishment, stretches again and again as you add more children. We're used to this role. We are the masters of this role.
But, mamas, we are stretched right now during this pandemic to do all the things, and to do them simultaneously.
Raise your hand if you've been homeschooling, activities researching, Zoom facilitating and Google Classroom checking.
Raise your other hand if you've added a new level of supervising, entertaining, feeding, cleaning, shuffling plans without in-person school or consistent childcare support.
Stand on your tippy-toes if you've been working during all this or headed back in after maternity leave.
Jump up and down if you've been in an essential job, keeping our communities safe.
Indeed, we are stretched to a high degree of intensity right now. Once again, we prove that our stamina, commitment and power as moms is beyond incredible. Many of us are doing more now than we could have possibly believed we could or would a year ago (back then, I would bet many of us thought we were maxed out).
Mamas, we are incredible.
But, there is something stirring in my head and heart that I'm really worried about. Just because moms can stretch to this extent, does not mean we should long-term.
It's a pandemic emergency and we all have to do what we can to keep our families and communities safe. We've shown up for the stretch, as moms always do. But eventually, we hope, life will return to a more normal state. And when that does, and as plans for the future of school, childcare and workplaces are formed, I want to remind our employers and community leaders:
Moms need time and space and support to do the mothering.
Moms need time and space and support to do professional work.
I've been increasingly worried for us stretched-like-Gumby mamas,not only for our mental health right now (that is indeed a concern) but also the future of our work-life balance (or journey towards finding it).
Flexibility is exactly what many moms need more of from employers—it can help support breastfeeding goals, enable moms to participate in kids milestones, allow us to coordinate with the schedule of a partner or other support system and improve mental health, all of which amount to happier, more productive, employees. I work with an entirely remote team of women and it's an awesome setup for my company, but I have to be conscious as an employer not to keep my team on a virtual leash. I will say this is hard when the boundaries become less clear and the hours are not 9 am to 5 pm, but it's possible to create space for the different roles we have in our lives.
So, bosses, when a mom says her child is sick, that does not mean you let her go home but expect to see her on Zoom at 2 pm.
When winter rolls around and there is a snow day and school and childcare are closed, moms will still need to mother their young kids.
The new definition of work-life balance is not work and family life at the exact same time into perpetuity.
We knew before COVID-19 that one of the many reasons moms make great employees is because they are dynamic and masters of the stretch. And now, this chapter of our lives has shown us that moms can navigate a global pandemic while keeping up their end of the professional work and all while having eyes-on their kid 24/7, not to mention teaching them at home and navigating a complete family life pivot.
Moms are starring as the ultimate multitaskers. Under these emergency circumstances, the bar has been set to an unbelievable new height. And moms have sailed right over the high jump. Actually, I propose the Olympic gold medal in stretching for every mom out there right now. But I truly hope we can work together to let moms retract a bit and gain the support and space they deserve.
Maybe this could be the moment where the work of mothers is respected more than it ever was before? Please engage and celebrate our amazing stretchy abilities—but don't break us.