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Caring About Childcare During Covid

I married a good man who is a great father. I know that; I tell people that. I also know that when things started getting hairy with Covid and our kids were home all day, it was my work that suffered. There are reasons. He earns more; I’m an adjunct college teacher.

The thing is, I’m a maternal researcher too, so I know that it’s not just about income and it doesn’t really matter if I married a good guy or not. Data tells us good guys still don’t “lean in” at home, though they do sometimes “help out,” and a woman’s income does not protect her career if she’s in a heterosexual relationship. A recent report said 14% women are considering quitting their job due to increased family responsibilities. Already, 60% of job losses have been by women, which is highly troubling when we think about the fact that nearly all single families are run by women. Before Covid, more than 40% of single mothers are below the poverty line. A big reason: Childcare costs more than what many women earn due to underremuneration and employers’ reticence to hire mothers.  

We absolutely need to open the economy as soon as we safely. We all want to go out to eat, earn a living, and enjoy a concert again. But while few places of work are scaling back performance expectations, most schools are proposing scenarios that avoid being fully open. Same for childcare centers. It is unclear how all mothers, but particularly single mothers, will be able to work and care for their kids.

We need high-quality, affordable, convenient, safe childcare as soon as possible or else mothers must get paid for the childcare work they do at home – labor the government and businesses fully expect to profit from but do little to support.

Recently, I ran an online survey regarding mothering during Covid. Nearly all respondents were working moms with male partners. When asked about the additional time they were putting into their kids’ schoolwork (beyond what was already being done pre-COVID), 70% mothers said they have added 5 hours of more to the week. Thirty percent of moms have added 12 hours or more. (Keep in mind: this only addresses schoolwork, not the extra cooking, cleaning, and TLC that our families require right now and women, largely, are doing.) Conversely, based on the same survey, 75% of men are kicking in four or less hours with 35% not doing a single extra hour.

As long as men continue to avoid responsibilities at home, businesses will not be required to lower performance expectations. Yes, some step up more than others (often for the “fun” tasks), but the overall data doesn’t reflect well on them. As women, we continue to handle the overflow whether we do it ourselves or pay another woman to do it instead. These are our choices, particularly when we don’t have the time to dig our heels in, set up schedules, devise compromises, and argue for parity.

Many women are enraged, not just at their male partners, but men in government who continually ignore the absolute necessity for childcare even while they talk about opening the economy – an economy that relies heavily on the $4 trillion of free labor women do internationally caring for kids and elders, cooking, cleaning, and more. An economy whose workforce is now majority female, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

We moms are very tired. A friend of mine, who is a single mother, recently asked me rhetorically, “Doesn’t anyone give a fuck about us?” It’s hard to feel men do. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand had robust childcare policy proposals, though.

What’s up, men? Seriously. It’s not like women have been gifted a dozen extra hours in the week to do with as we please. In fact, 80% of women in the above survey said they were finding the extra time by giving up personal time, 55% from paid work, and 45% from exercise time. (The question permitted multiple answers.)

Unsurprisingly, women’s waged work is taking a hit, and the long-term ramifications, while still unclear, are certainly underway. Inside Higher Ed recently reported that solo-authored submissions to academic journals are up 25% for men; the same uptick is not happening for women. This echoes research showing that men experience similar boons after parental leave, whereas women do not.

As the economy shrinks faster than a puddle in August, women will bear the brunt – children, as a result, too. Mothers, particularly single mothers, need immediate help at a national and community level. It is impossible to sustain a job and do full-time mothering simultaneously. We are cruel to expect anyone to try, but that is exactly what is on the table we talk about re-opening the economy without childcare.

Recent major media articles talk about the growing stress experienced by parents who work from home, but the problem is that it isn’t really all parents, it’s mothers. Moreover, few major articles have addressed the large number of single mothers who are “essential” workers but are also essential at home. Does anyone care? In a recent talk, one person said, “The work is essential, but the bodies aren’t.”

May is the month of both International Workers Day and Mother’s Day. Our country has a long history of calling on women to step up when duty calls, whether it was filling factors during WWII, leaving work after the dot com crash to puree baby food from organic yams and practice attachment “parenting” (really meaning mothers), or become school teachers and sew masks for the front line workers during the Covid crisis.

Mothers need more support. We need to be paid for the work we do and have child/elder care available when we work outside the home. Men need to do their fair share. Now more than ever, we need to talk about doing right by those doing the most for next to nothing.

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