It's impossible for parents, employers and lawmakers to ignore the impact of COVID-19 at this point. The pandemic is disrupting everyday life—and it's highlighting how a work culture that fails to recognize the humanity of employees makes humanity vulnerable.
The Centres for Disease Control doesn't want parents to panic, and we at Motherly don't want parents to panic either. Right now there is no reason for panic but there are plenty of reasons to examine why COVID-19 is so disruptive. There are holes in our social fabric, holes that mothers fall through every day—and these are the holes that could let COVID-19 though.
Right now, 85% of mothers don't feel society supports or understands them, and the pandemic is highlighting exactly where our weak spots are.
COVID-19 is highlighting the problem with out-of-school days
In our society working mothers are often expected to parent as if they don't work and work as if they don't have the responsibilities of a parent, but when schools close mothers shoulder the burden of society's impossible standards.
Worldwide, almost 300 million kids are out of school due to COVID-19 precautions. Parents are stressed, especially moms, who are 10 times more likely than dads to miss work in situations like these. "I was shocked by the news of the school closures, and thought, 'what should I do?'" Keiko Kobayashi, a mother and senior manager at a multinational staffing service provider in Japan told the Japan Times. She ended up bringing her 7-year-old to work with her, but the solution was less than ideal. "There was no explanation of how this is going to work," she says.
An ocean away, mothers in California had the same thoughts when Governor. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency this week, and unlike Kobayashi, many moms in California don't have the option of bringing kids to the office.
Ruth Pérez is the Superintendent of Paramount Unified School District in Southeast L.A. and she told the Los Angeles Times she's worried about what would happen to families who have limited childcare options if schools close. "There are parents who work and leaving a third- or fourth-grader at home by themselves is something we would want to avoid," Pérez said.
The pandemic is forcing the world to look at a problem mothers face every day. A sick child or a professional development day at school forces mothers to make these decisions every day. And we need to be thinking about solutions to this everyday, not just during the pandemic.
COVID-19 is highlighting the problem with a lack of paid sick leave
Paid sick leave is needed to avoid the scenario Pérez is afraid of and to avoid the spread of the virus, but about 25% of working Americans don't have paid sick leave, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but this isn't a uniquely American problem. Many workers worldwide, many of them mothers, cannot afford to stay home from work if they feel a sore throat coming on. They simply can't afford to take the precautions the World Health Organization and local health authorities are asking people to take.
Few companies offer employees benefits like backup childcare, which could be extremely helpful in situations like this but in the age of the gig-economy, amid rising childcare costs, many parents are finding flexibility in working as contractors or freelancers. These people don't have paid time off, let alone childcare benefits. The precarious nature of these jobs makes families very vulnerable during a pandemic—and that makes society vulnerable.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada is one of the most expensive cities in North America, and a single mother of two (who spoke on the condition of anonymity) told CBC News this week that, as a contractor, she would "have to be half dead to not go to work." She suggests that proactive recommendations from the local health authority to stay home when sick are talking to "a different class of people," not to mothers like her who spend 60% of their income on rent. The nameless Vancouver mom is hardly alone in her struggles.
COVID-19 is highlighting how remote work can be a solution
Parents who work as cashiers, cooks, home health care aides, Uber drivers and the like can't possibly do their jobs remotely (that's why they need paid leave) but many jobs in our society can be done from a home and health authorities are recommending that employees who can work from home do.
Here at Motherly that requires no change. Motherly is thriving with a fully remote workforce and more companies are following Motherly's lead during the COVID-19 crisis.
As Buzzfeed News reports, companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Twitter are asking employees to work from home and Twitter's head of human resources, Jennifer Christie predicts that remote work will continue after the pandemic is over. "We'll never probably be the same," Christie told BuzzFeed News. "People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way. Managers who didn't think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won't go back."
Not going back will have a ripple effect, making it easier for parents to manage the demands of work-life balance. If it's possible for a pandemic to have a silver lining, this may be it.
COVID-19 is highlighting inequality in society
Having a job you can do remotely is a privilege not every working parent has, just as paid leave is something not every parent has. That's why groups like Family Values at Work are calling on lawmakers and employers to expand paid leave programs during the pandemic, because society will only be as healthy as its most vulnerable families are during this time.
Parents shouldn't have to choose between following the advice of health authorities or getting evicted, and paid sick and family leave programs could change that—and make a post-pandemic world a better place. During the #yearofthemother we can patch the holes not only for the sake of mothers, but as COVID-19 proves, for the sake of everyone.
What you can do:
- If you can work from home, talk to your boss about implementing remote work in case schools close or there is an outbreak in your area.
- If you can't work from home, talk to your co-parent if you have one and others in your support system about plans for childcare in case of school closures or illness.
- If you want change, write to your reps and let them know how important paid leave policies are for mothers and for the health of the nation.