By: Jessica Grose | February 4th, 2021
"In early September, as the school year inched closer, a group of mothers in New Jersey decided they would gather in a park, at a safe social distance, and scream their lungs out. For months, as the pandemic disrupted work and home life, these moms, like so many parents, had been stretched thin — acting as caregivers, teachers and earners at once. They were breaking.
As are mothers all over the United States.
By now, you have read the headlines, repeating like a depressing drum beat:
“Working moms are not okay.” “Pandemic Triples Anxiety And Depression Symptoms In New Mothers.” “Working Moms Are Reaching The Breaking Point.”
You can also see the problem in numbers: Almost 1 million mothers have left the workforce — with Black mothers, Hispanic mothers and single mothers among the hardest hit. Almost one in four children experienced food insecurity in 2020, which is intimately related to the loss of maternal income. And more than three quarters of parents with children ages 8 to 12 say the uncertainty around the current school year is causing them stress.
Despite these alarm bells clanging, signaling a financial and emotional disaster among America’s mothers, who are doing most of the increased amount of child care and domestic work during this pandemic, the cultural and policy response enacted at this point has been nearly nonexistent.
The pandemic has touched every group of Americans, and millions are suffering, hungry and grieving. But many mothers in particular get no space or time to recover.
The impact is not just about mothers’ fate as workers, though the economic fallout of these pandemic years might have lifelong consequences. The pandemic is also a mental health crisis for mothers that fervently needs to be addressed, or at the very least acknowledged.
“Just before the pandemic hit, for the first time ever, for a couple months, we had more women employed than men,” said Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress. “And now we are back to late 1980s levels of women in the labor force.” The long-term ramifications for mothers leaving work entirely or cutting back on work during this time include: a broken pipeline for higher-level jobs and a loss of Social Security and other potential retirement income.
“Covid took a crowbar into gender gaps and pried them open,” said Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Michigan. Her long-term concerns are even more fundamental: Will watching a generation of mothers go through this difficult time with little support turn the next generation of women off from parenthood altogether?
The economic disaster of the pandemic is directly related to maternal stress levels, and by extension, the stress levels of American children. Philip Fisher, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon who runs an ongoing nationally representative survey on the impact of the pandemic on families with young children, points out that the stressors on mothers are magnified by a number of intersecting issues, including poverty, race, having special needs children and being a single parent.
“People are having a hard time making ends meet, that’s making parents stressed out, and that’s causing kids to be stressed out,” Dr. Fisher said. This buildup can lead to toxic stress, “And we know from all the science, that level of stress has a lasting impact on brain development, learning and physical health.” Almost 70 percent of mothers say that worry and stress from the pandemic have damaged their health.
The statistics on stress levels are shocking, but they are sterile; they don’t begin to expose the frayed lives of American mothers and their children during this pandemic. A young mother who self-identified as American Indian/Alaska Native summed up her situation in response to Dr. Fisher’s survey: “We are requesting government help for food. Relationship between partner and I are tense. I am personally struggling more now with depression and anxiety. My toddler has become more anxious as well and shown aggressive behavior. She seems overwhelmed most of the time.”
Times editor-at-large Jessica Bennett spent months communicating with three women, who kept detailed diaries of their days, for a look at just how much American mothers are doing every waking second."
"Health care workers are still fighting to keep their homes and communities safe."
By: Jessica Grose | December 23, 2020
"When I spoke to Dr. Stephanie Whitener, 41, an anesthesia critical care physician and mother of two, the parent-teacher organization at her son’s elementary school was planning an in-person happy hour for teachers. “I spent yesterday trying to rally all the parents I knew in health care to stop it, because of the risk to them, and also to in-person learning,” said Dr. Whitener, who lives in Charleston, S.C.
Though they did end up canceling the happy hour, “it feels like I live in two different realities,” she said, one where people take the virus seriously, and another where they don’t. That dichotomy can make the emotional and psychological toll of treating Covid-19 patients even harder to bear.
As this strange and difficult year draws to a close, I wanted to highlight the experiences of parents who are medical workers — and thank them for their service. Like so many other essential workers, they have put their physical and mental well-being on the line in 2020 to do their jobs. These frontline workers are at greater risk for burnout and PTSD than the general population. Some have been separated from their children for weeks at a time, communicating only on Zoom.
Like all parents, they’re worried about their own kids, socially, academically and emotionally — while also fretting about the children who are falling behind in school because of the barriers to remote learning, and who may be grieving over family members lost to the virus. And even after more than 300,000 deaths in the United States alone, some health care workers are still trying to convince their communities that the virus is a real threat.
“Some of the first deaths I experienced were people only 5 to 10 years older than me, not 70-year-olds,” said Brianna Tremblay, a 36-year-old I.C.U. nurse practitioner in northern New Jersey. She is also the mom of a 3-year-old and pregnant with a baby due in January. Her distress was especially overwhelming in March and April, when the first surge of the virus was hitting the New York City region. “I came home from work every single night and cried with my husband,” Tremblay said.
“When a patient would crash, we would spend hours in the room trying to save them, and then have to call the family,” to give them the bad news, Tremblay said. Her I.C.U. had a mortality rate of 80 to 90 percent in March and April for Covid-19 patients. “It truly was a war zone.”
Several of the workers I spoke with caught the virus themselves. Cecilia Duran, a 38-year-old midwife in New York City, fell ill in March, when she was 10 weeks pregnant. In addition to fairly intense symptoms — “worse than the flu,” she said — she was also dealing with the nausea and fatigue of early pregnancy. “I was quarantining with my toddler, who was also sick, and my husband was trying to figure out his working from home situation in a small New York apartment,” she said. “It was complete insanity.”
Dr. Mary Thomas, a pediatrician in New Jersey, said that she’s much more worried about many of her young patients than she is about her own three children (her whole family already had the virus and recovered). “I’m seeing so much anxiety and depression, and a lot of it has to do with this terrible year,” Dr. Thomas said. “Parents are unemployed or losing money or stressed on top of it, and kids are on screens for hours a day.”
"The tween and teenage years are already filled with heightened emotions and social pressures – adding a pandemic to the mix only makes things more complex. How can we best support older kids who have been impacted by COVID-19?
Our guest experts will discuss how to help your teens and tweens through this difficult time, how to monitor and care for their mental health, and more."
This webinar is a free event being held on Thursday January 28th from 9PM-10PM (Eastern Time).
"Winter's here - how will we continue to keep our youth active and healthy during the pandemic? Many sports have had to take a time-out due to COVID-19. Indoor activities have been cancelled, and, pandemic or not, weather doesn't always permit us to enjoy being physically active outdoors. The cancellation or delay of sports seasons have also had long-term impacts on the futures and identities of youth and young adults.
So, as parents and caregivers, how do we keep our children active, healthy, and strong, while helping them (and us) mourn the loss of the activities that help them thrive? Join us and our guest experts as we discuss the ways to tackle these issues and help our children cope physically and mentally so that everyone "wins."
This webinar is a free event being held on Thursday January 14th from 9PM-10PM (Eastern Time).
By: Cory Turner, Anya Kamenetz, & Meghan Keane| December 10, 2020
"For the kids in our lives, the last nine months have been many things. Scary — because an invisible, unknown illness was suddenly spreading across the globe. Maybe even fun, when the possibility of school closing felt like a snow day. But for many, that novelty has given way to frustration and sadness — even depression and anxiety. Just like adults, kids are wondering: Will I get sick? Will someone I love die?
It's a lot for kids and parents to handle. So we talked to the experts and came away with five tips for how you can help your kids through this.
Make sure your kids wear their masks
"Kids generally don't get very sick from this virus," says Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. But, he says, they can still play a part in making sure others don't get sick by wearing their masks and social distancing.
It might take a little imagination. If you have younger kids, you can explain the spread of the coronavirus by comparing their mouths to a bottle of bug spray. Weird, yes — but it's one way for young ones to visualize the tiny droplets they spread, even when they aren't sick. If they wear a mask, it helps keep those droplets in.
If you've got older kids or teenagers, take this a step further: Encourage them to spread the word. Practice what they might say if they're with friends at the park and someone takes their mask off. Maybe your 13-year-old has been waiting months to see Grandma and could say, "I need to keep my Grandma safe, so do you mind putting your mask on?"
Rehearse it with your kids so the conversation goes smoothly.
Practice positive thinking and mindfulness
In a recent report, researchers interviewed 46 teenagers in California and found that the teens reported a huge sense of loss — similar to the stages of grief. Most of the teens were sleeping badly because of lack of activity and lots of screen time.
Kids of all ages — as well as their parents — can probably relate.
In addition to the obvious prescription — trade in some of that screen time for physical exercise — try some brain exercises too, like replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. You might try saying a few things you're grateful for each night before dinner or before bed. There's evidence behind that: Gratitude boosts your immune system, lowers blood pressure and motivates us to practice healthy habits. It may feel awkward or cheesy, but practicing mindfulness and positivity very consciously can help kids and parents too.
It's also important to watch for signs of something more serious too.
"Depression in teenagers sometimes looks like a prickly porcupine. Everybody rubs them the wrong way," adolescent psychologist Lisa Damour says. Don't take it personally; just keep offering them a listening ear."
By Rafael Nam| November 12, 2020
"Like many married and working couples first confronting the pandemic, Bianca Flokstra and Victor Udoewa tried to go on with their lives as normal.
Flokstra continued to work full time while taking care of their kids, ages 4 and 2. She also handled most of the housework, with her husband helping from time to time. It didn't work.
"Those first couple of months were really hard," Flokstra says. "There was ... a lot of fighting. A lot of tears."
The pandemic has upended many aspects of domestic life, and that has brought new attention to one of the most enduring disparities between men and women — the wide difference in handling housework and child care.
It's what Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Stanford VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab, calls one of society's most "stubborn" divides.
"The traditional gender division of labor is very durable," Cooper says. "Even the most egalitarian-thinking couples, after having children, find themselves in a much more traditional division of labor than they ever would have intended."
Cooper, who has studied the issue extensively, says that divide, which is rooted in history and perpetuated by persistent societal norms, has endured even as women have joined the workforce in larger numbers over the decades, making record gains.
Yet even as more families become dual-income households, women still do 30% more of the housework and 40% more of the child care, Cooper says.
The disparity in work done at home is now having a serious economic impact as entire families are forced home with schools closed and no child care options available.
More than 2.2 million women have left the workforce this year, far more than the 1.4 million men who have left as a result of the pandemic, according to the monthly U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Proportionally, more women were employed in sectors that were hit hard by the pandemic, including hospitality and retail.
But Cooper, as well as many economists, says the burden placed on working moms during the pandemic is another key variable forcing many women out of the workforce.
Some couples have adapted.
Flokstra, for example, says she had little choice. She desperately needed sleep after exhausting days at a new job in international aid while also taking care of all of her other responsibilities.
She started sending the kids to her husband, unprompted. Then, she started drafting to-do lists — activities she and her husband would split day to day.
But getting there wasn't easy. It wasn't that Udoewa wasn't willing to help; he was.
Flokstra says she had become so used to doing household chores that she found it hard to delegate — and trust — her own husband to do the job.
That hesitancy is surprisingly common among women, according to Cooper.
It's a complicated mix of "mother's guilt" as well as societal expectations on couples, where men are still seen as the breadwinners."
By Pallavi Gogoi| October 28, 2020
The number of women in the workforce overtook men for a brief period earlier this year. But the uncomfortable truth is that in their homes, women are still fitting into stereotypical roles of doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and parenting. It's another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying bare. Malte Mueller/fStop/Getty Images
"Women are seeing the fabric of their lives unravel during the pandemic. Nowhere is that more visible than on the job.
In September, an eye-popping 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce — four times more than men.
The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on households, and women are bearing the brunt of it. Not only have they lost the most jobs from the beginning of the pandemic, but they are exhausted from the demands of child care and housework — and many are now seeing no path ahead but to quit working.
Women have made great strides over the years: More women than men are enrolled in college, in medical schools and law schools.
The number of women in the workforce even overtook men for a brief period of three months through February this year.
But the uncomfortable truth is that in their homes, women are still fitting into stereotypical roles of doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and parenting. It's another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying bare."
Already, their parents are getting sick and dying. Their kids are falling behind. So along with doing everything else, working becomes impossible.
"The problem is that right now a lot of women don't really have choices, right?" says Martha Gimbel, a labor economist at the nonprofit initiative Schmidt Futures. "They can't send their kids to school. Someone has to supervise the learning. Someone has to deal with the cooking. Someone has to deal with the cleaning, and it's falling onto them. And so they can't make choices that they want to make because they're being restricted in all these ways."
Women are back in 1988
The pandemic's female exodus has decidedly turned back the clock by at least a generation, with the share of women in the workforce down to levels not seen since 1988.
A growing, prosperous economy depends on a large and committed workforce, with women playing a vital role. If women decide to stay on the sidelines, the very dynamism of the U.S. economy is at risk as many households lose half of their earnings and productive capacity. This trend could even turn back the clock on gender equity, with harmful consequences to society and the economy.
Economists are worried.
"We’ve been through so much together since this summer, and we still have a long way to go as pandemic parents and caregivers. (Remember, psychiatrist and child trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry said it’s a thru-hike, not a sprint or even a marathon).
With our co-founders, Dr. Lindsay Malloy and Dr. Amanda Zelechoski, leading the way, let’s take a brisk walk down memory lane (because nobody has time for a stroll right now) to share some of our most impactful moments so far since our first Pandemic Parenting Exchange."
This webinar is free and will be held on Thursday, December 17th, 2020 from 9:00-10:00 PM (Eastern Time) via Zoom.
"We’ve all been there. Exhausted. Busy. Hungry. Bored. You name it—we turn the [insert electronic here] on. (Warning: The mom/parent guilt around this can be strong.)
But what are the actual, science-based facts on screen time…and too much of it? As the weather turns colder, we explain the fact-based pluses and minuses of screen time to increase our knowledge on this hot topic. Jonathan S. Comer, Ph.D. will join as our guest panelist, and Natalie Hong, M.S. will guide the discussion as moderator."
The webinar will be held on December 7, 2020 from 9:00-10:00 PM (Eastern Time) via Zoom.