I can’t work. Every time I turn my attention to my career these days, I get interrupted. My son can’t find his social studies printout or the zoom link for Spanish class won’t work or the internet is down or someone needs a snack. The interruptions are endless.
For the past 15 years I’ve had the luxury of working from home. First as a writer and editor for Nickelodeon’s parenting website and now as a creator for MyLifeSuckers. I feel so lucky to have been able to simultaneously fulfill my creative dreams and career goals, and be there for school pick-ups and sick days. I’m like a working stay-at-home mom. The best of both worlds. And it’s a privilege I don’t take lightly. I’ve always been incredibly grateful for the arrangement.
Not that it’s always been a picnic. Especially when the kids were really little. I can’t tell you how many conference calls I took hiding in the bathroom. Or how many of those conference calls I had a kid shoved on my boob breastfeeding. Or how many times I screamed at my kids to be quiet when I thought I was on mute. Or how many late nights I had to work to meet a deadline only to wake up at 5am to be a mom. No, it hasn’t always been easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
But this? This is different. This is harder.
This is killing my career.
My work is creative. I write and act and sing. And I need quiet to create. I need space to dream up ideas and execute them. Those precious hours when my husband was at the office and the kids were at school were my time to work and I squeezed every productive second out of them. But now with everyone home ALL. THE. TIME. I have no quiet. No space. No time to let my creativity flow.
I tried to do it all in the beginning. I actually had a burst of creativity when we first went on lockdown. But now … nothing. It’s dragging on too long. I’m exhausted. I can’t refocus every few minutes after an interruption. I can’t keep up with it all. The distance learning and the constant messes. The simmering worry and endless stress. It’s crushing me. I can barely make it through the day sometimes. Forget about creating. And I feel myself giving up.
Something has to go. Something has to give. Because my kids need me. Because the house is a fucking mess. Because this pandemic doesn’t seem to be ending. Because I simply cannot do it all. And the thing that is falling by the wayside is my job.
And apparently, I’m not alone.
The female unemployment rate in the United States is the highest it’s been since the 1940s. It’s the first time since 1948 that it’s hit double digits. Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate was actually lower for women than for men. That’s why some economists have called this recession a “shesession.”
Why? Why did the pandemic force so many women out of the workforce? There are a few reasons.
One reason is that women tend to work in industries that were hit hard by the pandemic. Jobs like waitresses and hairstylists and hotel workers were lost or paused. And women of color were hit disproportionately hard.
The other reason is that some women are just throwing up their hands and walking away from their careers because it’s all too much. The cumulation of childcare and domestic work and professional work is crushing us in this pandemic. And so we are giving up the only thing that seems like it can be given up—our jobs.
Women are three times as likely to not be working due to childcare during the pandemic. And as much as men help and chip in with childcare and chores in modern times compared to past generations, the burden of raising kids and domestic work still seems to fall on the female’s shoulders. Which pisses me off to no end and was something I was screaming at my husband (my wonderful, amazing husband) about in the wee hours last night.
My husband, like so many, tries to be an equal partner. He cooks. He vacuums. He parents. He folds laundry. He puts away groceries in a crazy covid-compliant fashion. But still, somehow, the mental load falls on me. I remember years ago we had a huge fight because we were out of toilet paper. My career had unexpectedly picked up and I was somehow shoving 10-hour workdays around taking care of the kids and house. He was also clocking in long hours and traveling across the country on an almost weekly basis for work. The fight started when he turned to me one night and mentioned that we were out of toilet paper. And I lost it.
“Why are you telling me this???” I screamed. “If we’re out of toilet paper, go buy some toilet paper. Why do I have to be the one who always buys the fucking toilet paper???”
He apologized. He didn’t mean to put the burden on me. He didn’t even realize he was putting the burden on me. But he was. And we finally both understood that. And so he went to the store to buy the toilet paper.
Of course, some of us don’t have the luxury to throw our hands up and step out of the workforce for a few months (years???) until the dust settles. I’m acutely aware that that’s a privilege. I was raised by a single mother and I can’t even begin to imagine how single moms do it, but I do know they are superhuman. But many professional women who can, have pressed pause on their careers. Not because they want to. Because it feels like it’s the only way to get through this pandemic without completely losing our minds. Most of us are hoping this hiatus is temporary. That we will be back to work full force when the pandemic ends. But the fact that Covid has all but forced us back into the home is sobering. After decades of progress, we are sliding backward.
And that’s not to say I’m not grateful to be home with my kids. Hell, I’m grateful to even have a home in these times. I know the years of having kids at home fly by, and I’m happy I can spend so much time with them. (Well, maybe not soooo much time.)
But I’m also a woman who needs my career to feel happy. I need to create to stay mentally well. And I need to make money. I need an income. I’ve busted my ass for decades to get where I am. And I don’t want to give it all up because this pandemic was so poorly managed. But it looks like, for now at least, that’s exactly what is happening. And it sucks.
PS – I was interrupted 27 times while writing this piece. No joke.