Without school, the calculation implodes. If you can even get child care, the high expenses continue, and during this pandemic, there is more housework to be done and more child-related tasks to complete. (For example, I spent at least 15 minutes last week trying to log into Seesaw — a string of words that would not have even made sense to me before March 2020.) Because men tend to outearn women, it is economically the more rational decision for some proportion of mothers to leave their jobs.
But that does not mean they’re happy about it, or that it’s good for marriages or long-term financial security. “Sacrificing market skills to help your family comes at a really big cost,” said Stevenson. “And potentially causes tensions in marriages, and when you put those two together, a generation of women may be pretty badly scarred by Covid.”
Calarco has been conducting a survey of over 100 Indiana mothers as part of the Pandemic Parenting Study since April, and she found that almost 40 percent of her respondents are reporting increases in pandemic-related frustrations with their partners, and child care is a major source of strife. Rather than ask their spouses to step up their domestic contributions, “mothers blame themselves for these conflicts and feel responsible for reducing them, including by leaving the work force, beginning use of antidepressants, or ignoring their own concerns about Covid-19,” Calarco and her co-authors noted in a pre-print of a new paper using data from their study.
As Muthulingam put it, women are the “shock absorbers of our system, and the poorer and more precarious you are, the more shock you’re expected to absorb.” She recognizes how lucky she is to even be able to cut down on work — something single mothers, like Jamie Brody, 38, of Boynton Beach, Fla., cannot do.
Brody has a 3-year-old daughter, and she lost her job as an account executive for an insurance company in May, which she described as “quite traumatic.” When she was unemployed and without consistent child care, she would spend all day teaching and playing with her kid. Then after she put her daughter to bed, Brody estimated that she spent three to five hours each night scouring job sites looking for work.
She finally found a job selling data visualization software, which she started two weeks ago, and Brody’s daughter is back in preschool, which makes her feel anxious. “I feel like I’m choosing between health and financial security,” she said. That’s a choice that no parent should have to make.
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