We knew from the beginning that the pandemic would hit moms the hardest. On March 16, Motherly ran a piece predicting the reality we’re all struggling through now. The headline read: The mental load of motherhood is about to get so much worse.
I wrote about how I was “crying for myself and all the other mothers who just found out school is closed. All the moms who are making frantic phone calls right now, trying to rearrange their lives while people tell them to ‘relax.'”
And now, on October 15, I just typed a different headline, one that has me crying, again. A new survey finds 74.38% of working moms have considered quitting their jobs during the pandemic.
The survey by Milk Stork was small—completed by just 320 moms—but data from the Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve suggests this small survey isn’t far from the bigger picture, statistically speaking. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women between the ages of ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working right now due to childcare demands. And a recent survey 40,000 people by McKinsey & Co. (in partnership with LeanIn.org) found 1 in 4 women are considering leaving the workforce in 2020.
We don’t need surveys and studies to tell us why, but we have them. A recent survey of 2,500 working parents by FlexJobs sees the picture get sharper: That one found 80% of working mothers said they were responsible for kids’ remote learning, compared to 31% of working fathers. Cleo, an employee benefits platform, did two surveys—one in April and another in June. In the first survey only 7% of parents thought they would have to quit their job because of the pandemic. Two months later it was up to 27%.
So on the one hand, we have a significant population of mothers who are being laid off and are facing financial crisis because of it, and on the other hand we have mothers who are being forced out of the workforce by mounting domestic responsibilities.
This, in a society where it is nearly impossible to make it on a single income, and where women have struggled for generations to become educated (to the point that women now make up 50.2% of the college-educated labor force, according to Pew). This is what happens when women are underpaid and undervalued.
And it’s not just going to hurt women, it’s going to hurt the economy.
America isn’t the only nation that needs to face this. It’s happening in the UK and in Canada, too, where a third of working moms are thinking about quitting and women’s participation in workforce has fallen to a level not seen since the 1980s.
This is a crisis the U.S. and the world should have seen coming—but people don’t listen to moms. Something happens when a woman has a baby. Internally, she’s the same person, but externally she’s sidelined, condescended to and ignored. But she doesn’t dare stop showing up for her family, even as the labor demanded of her sands her internal self away, layer by layer.
Until she’s too tired to say “don’t condescend me.”
Until she’s too tired to demand equal pay.
Until she’s too tired to even demand a job at all.
In our culture mothers are both infantilized and used as infrastructure. We’re looked down on while holding everything up and they pretend not to hear us, even when we scream. Even we spell it out. As Sarah Mekendick wrote for the Los Angels Times back in 2017, women who write about motherhood are not taken seriously. And in 2020 I learned that applies even when they’re writing about something as serious as a pandemic.
The next year, 2018, happened to be the first year of Motherly’s annual State of Motherhood Survey. We asked 5,700 moms if society does a good job of understanding and supporting mothers and 74% said ‘no’, with 49% suggesting stronger government policies around paid family leave and childcare would be a great place to start, and 20% noting a shift toward flexible work culture would be the best way for society to support moms.
The following year, in 2019, a full 85% of moms told us they didn’t think society understands or supports the women who are supporting the next generation, up more than 10% over the year earlier.
In early 2020, Motherly’s third annual State of Motherhood survey found 89% of moms said “no” when asked if society is sufficiently supporting mothers.
We, at Motherly, saw this coming. Not because we can predict the future but because we listen to mothers. Society hasn’t been listening to moms. And now we’re facing the history-making consequences of this selective hearing. This is a disaster for the finances and freedom of a generation of women. It’s a disaster for the economy and for equality.
Everyone should have been outraged in March. But no one listened to mothers. If they did none of this would be a surprise. It wouldn’t even be happening.
So where do we go from here? Mama, don’t stop rising your voice. They can’t ignore us anymore because everything will fall down if they do. Use your voice at the polls, contact your local lawmakers, have conversations with your partner and at work about what you need to really balance it all. We need our lawmakers, employers and partners to hear us when we say we’ve had enough.