How hard lockdowns have hit working moms is a favorite media topic. Just survey examples such as The New York Times’s “America’s Mothers Are in Crisis,” to NPR’s “‘This Is Too Much’: Working Moms Are Reaching The Breaking Point During The Pandemic” and “Almost A Year Into The Pandemic, Working Moms Feel ‘Forgotten,’ Journalist Says,” to the Washington Post’s “The pandemic is devastating a generation of working women.”
In an article, “On this Mother’s Day, the crisis for working moms is hard to miss,” a Washington Post columnist sums up this perspective, “And this past year brought into focus a problem that preceded the pandemic: For many women, becoming a mother means being put at a lifelong economic and career disadvantage.” Such articles make no mention of the joys of motherhood, and how the presence of family helped buffer an especially difficult time for most.
Finding the right set-up of work, child care, and time with their children feels like a delicate balancing act for many working moms. They must have everything set up just right, including lots of back-up safety nets in place. The pandemic obliterated many safety nets.
Taking care of children while working is more difficult in many ways during the pandemic. But the focus on the challenge leaves out an important part of the story—for many working moms, children brought immense joy during a tough time.
The pandemic led to some families reevaluating their priorities in ways that ended up helping them. And yes, some moms even decided to have more children. These stories deserve to be told too.
Homeschooling ‘A Remarkable Awakening’
Take Julie Gunlock. She began the pandemic as the full-time director for the Center for Progress and Innovation at Independent Women’s Forum and a mom of three boys ages 11 to 14 who were all in the local public school. More than a year after the lockdowns started, her local public schools have yet to reopen fully. Having all three kids in virtual public school didn’t work for her family.
“We did a trial in the spring from March to June. When we realized the school wasn’t communicating with us, we decided to pull my oldest, and I would homeschool him. My middle son went to private Catholic school, while my youngest wanted to finish up elementary school so he stayed,” Gunlock explains.
Homeschooling was a huge success for their family. As Gunlock put it, shifting to homeschooling was “a remarkable awakening for me and my son.” He completed 1.5 years of curriculum in a year on top of reviewing previous math lessons to make sure he had a solid foundation. He now loves math, a major turn of events.
Without lockdowns, Gunlock speculates her kids would all still be in public school, getting a lesser education. She said, “I would have been unlikely to homeschool without the pandemic. Once students get into middle school, the subjects become serious. You think about high school and if they are prepared. We were really worried about the quality of education my oldest son was getting. I had explored homeschooling but kept telling myself I couldn’t do it. What the pandemic did is essentially not give me a choice.”
Regardless of if her public schools open full-time in the fall, she is going to continue homeschooling her oldest son, while her younger two sons will go to a private Catholic school.
Silver Linings in Hardship for Many
Gunlock is not alone. The pandemic served as a catalyst for a lot of parents to try homeschooling. The percentage of households with school-aged children homeschooling doubled from the spring of 2021 to the fall of 2021—from 5.4 to 11.1 percent. Compared to March 2020, in April 2021, people who said they had a more favorable view of homeschooling as a result of the coronavirus jumped 9 percent from 55 to 64 percent.
How does a homeschooling mom get her work done? Gunlock said, “It made me work more efficiently. When you homeschool, you become a master of time management. I don’t think parents understand how little time homeschool takes if you compress it into a few hours each day. You really do tailor it to the child…I am more productive and more ambitious than before the pandemic. I am energized.”
Not every working mom has the same flexibility as Gunlock. Certainly, lockdowns affected people with different socioeconomic and professional situations differently. That Gunlock took a challenging situation and addressed it the best she could for her family should be applauded. She found a silver lining. This is a story that needs to be told as well as those focused on how hard lockdowns have been on some working moms.
My Children Got Me Through It
Children helped some working moms through the pandemic, such as Bethany Mandel, an editor at Ricochet, contributing writer to the Deseret News, and mom of four children ages six and under at the start of the lockdowns. Her kids gave her a reason to get out of bed.
Mandel said, “At the beginning of this, there was this feeling of being overwhelmed. Especially in 2020, I felt like I needed a day to process. I just want to sit in bed. There was none of that. You couldn’t do that with kids… It kept me and my husband grounded in the moment. There were three meals a day that needed to be made. It gave us a reason to keep regular hours and not stay up all night doing doom-scrolling.”
While Mandel already worked part-time pre-pandemic, making flexibility with her work a priority, the pandemic made one aspect of her work easier, thanks to the fact that her husband began working from home. This made her husband a source of support during a tough time.
“I always prioritized my primary role as being a stay-at-home mother. With everyone I have worked with, I have been clear that this is my situation. I am paid in flexibility. Planning a conversation for a podcast or with a professional background is difficult because we have to make sure everyone is set up, and the kids have a snack,” she noted. “Having my husband at home [due to lockdowns], I don’t have to play the balancing act. He can plan his lunch break around a podcast I need to record.”
While working moms are grabbing headlines, Mandel noticed the challenges single people without kids faced: “I have had a lot of single friends who have really, really struggled this year. I have heard from so many of them that this year is lonely. I think the hardest part for them was the lack of physical touch from any other human being.”
More Family Time Made Me Want More Kids
Many people today are choosing to postpone or forgo getting married or having kids, and the pandemic revealed the personal costs of such decisions. There was an 8 percent drop in the number of births in December 2020 compared to December 2019. And fertility rates in the U.S. have hit an all-time low.
While the pandemic certainly disrupted Mandel’s life, it also led her to reevaluate the schedule she was keeping with her kids and slow down. Seeing her kids interact made her want another child, and she recently had her fifth. As a COVID mom myself, I understand.
“We saw the bond the kids had. We decided we wanted more of this. We want them to have each other,” Mandel explained. “When we are gone, they only have each other. They have a special relationship we love watching over this last year, so we thought let’s go for it again because this is such a special bond.”
She summed up the case for more kids: “At the end of the day, what I think the lesson is from this year is that life is short, and it is easy to fill our days with superficial distractions, but what is really important is the stuff that gives you meaning and purpose. There is nothing that gives you meaning and purpose more than having children.”
When responsible for a child, some days are always tough. Becoming a mom or being a mom during the pandemic was tougher. I had a child at the beginning of the pandemic, which added all kinds of uncertainty and stress to my birth experience and those early days.
Still, a frequent focus on the downsides of being a mom overshadows all the happy times children bring. Popular publications have become PR machines against motherhood.
It is time for America’s moms to speak out and remind everyone of the joys of motherhood, even—or especially—in tough times. Don’t forego the fantastic adventure of motherhood—the newborn baby snuggles, the big open-mouth kisses, all the firsts—because of negative headlines. They don’t tell the whole story.