As the virtual school year approaches, millions of mothers scramble to balance their home and work life
The coronavirus has continued its spread throughout the United States through the summer and into the fall, preventing students from returning to campus for the upcoming school year, and mothers nation-wide are bearing the brunt.
Many mothers, especially single mothers and those living from paycheck to paycheck, have found themselves in difficult positions where they must decide whether to cut back on work hours or spend to hire childcare for their young children.
According to UrbanSitter’s eighth annual childcare study, the average cost of at-home childcare is $16.75 for one child and $19.26 for two children. These charges, which are unmeetable for many households, have forced countless mothers to assume the role of provider and full-time parent, teacher, and disciplinarian.
“This balancing act is leaving many parents exhausted and will likely eventually lead to a mental health crisis,” marriage and family therapist Darrel Walters wrote in an email to the News.
Walters has noticed the crushing burden online schooling has put on his single-mother clients.
Walters said he has received calls from another who called his office crisis line on the verge of a breakdown. Her workload had increased dramatically since the start of COVID-19, and she was forced to move her workspace to the kitchen table, so she could keep an eye on her two sons. That matter was made more difficult by the learning disorder of one of her sons, which demanded her constant attention as he completed his online schooling.
“In our brief 30-minute session, she managed to put me on hold several times to take multiple calls for her work, all while managing both of her kids—who were struggling with virtual learning, frequently distracted, irritable, or trying to run off to play video games,” Walters explains. “She told me that this was her life nearly every day, and she didn’t know how much longer she could take it.”
Walters said he worries the incessant obligations many of these mothers face has left them with little time to prioritize their mental health and well-being. They are stretched so thin managing all the essential duties and can no longer afford to take a much-needed breather from their busy lives.
Without being able to depend on schools to watch over their children during their normal work hours, mothers are having to forgo that time and take on both responsibilities at once. \
“It makes sense then why many of these families are pushing to return to in-person school, regardless of the risks—for their children, themselves, the teachers and society as a whole,” Walters said.
Walter’s client is one of many working moms in this position that has taken on unhealthy amounts of stress. According to a survey done by Motherly, a lifestyle brand for mothers, 74% of American mothers report a noticeable decline in their mental health since the beginning of the pandemic.
The same survey revealed that the majority of working mothers– 54% of full-time and 71% of part-time — report taking on most of the household load.
A lot of mothers are also tasked with overseeing their kids’ online learning, and navigating all the new technology,
“It turns out, parents are very poor tech support. I’m not helping with learning at all, just internet issues. I wouldn’t mind helping with math and English, but helping with WebEx and Google Classroom is painful!” said Jill Cucullu, mother of five and co-founder of TruAdopt,
a non-profit adoption agency.
Cucullu has struggled to balance her job and the demanding nature of her children’s online schooling.
Cucullu said she has had to dedicate copious amounts of time troubleshooting her son’s laptop and navigating the online databases. At some points technology issues have forced her to give up her own device to her kids, leaving her without one for her work.
Other working moms have had to take a leave of absence from their jobs to deal with the pressing demands of their children’s online schooling schedule. With no means to hire childcare personnel, the responsibility of keeping their kids on track and safe during online schooling hours has fallen on them.
A US Census Bureau and Federal Reserve joint survey revealed that mothers working in states with earlier quarantine orders were 53.2% more likely to leave their jobs than working mothers living in states that implemented their stay-at-home orders later.
This same survey showed that of those who have left their work, women from ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely to have done so due to childcare needs.
“Overall, the pandemic appears to have induced a unique immediate juggling act for working mothers of school age children,” writes Misty Heggeness, senior advisor and research economist, in her conclusion to the Census-Reserve survey.
There are 23.5 million employed women with children under the age of 18, according to the 2018 United States Census Bureau.