New Challenges for Mothers Returning to Work Post-Pandemic
The labor force looks a lot different for everyone than it did pre-pandemic. As new strains of coronavirus have evolved, and day-to-day routines and lifestyles have changed over the past year, offices have started opening up. People, including working mothers, have been required to return to the office. Whether you are full-time or part-time, after two years at home, this change may be a welcome or stressful time. Some companies will be fully in person, while others are developing hybrid plans for some remote work.
If you have to go back to in-person work-life, the childcare responsibilities might shift between you and your partner. Or if you have a lack of childcare options, you might need outside help from a caregiver or nanny. School-aged children may return to classrooms, but moms with infants and toddlers may be putting their children under the care of someone else for the first time. There are a lot of things to consider while preparing to return to the office. Budgeting for childcare and commuting, as well as taking care of your mental health and well-being are important amid this major life transition.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Working From Home with Kids
Job Loss and Leaving the Workforce
At the start of the lockdown, families, and moms especially, were faced with a challenge. Daycare closures were happening worldwide, schools switched to virtual schooling, but many workplaces only changed where jobs would take place. Work needed to get done, but more distractions and happenings were added with children at home. Moms and parents had to find a balance. Some job losses occurred due to closures or by choice. With closures, the unemployment rate went from 3.6 to 13.0 percent from 2019 to 2020. Many mothers were forced to leave the workforce amid the change in dynamic.
The pandemic also changed the number of women who worked while raising children. According to the Census Bureau, in 2020 following the start of the pandemic, 1.4 million fewer mothers were actively working than in 2019. Many chose to leave the labor force due to limited childcare options, while others faced job loss due to lockdowns and closures. Non-white single mothers lost or were forced to leave jobs at a higher rate. Hispanic and Black women were even more greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Finding Childcare When Working Full-Time
Schedules are now much different than they used to be. Some workplaces are remaining remote. Others are setting up for a hybrid situation, while some are going back to a fully in-person workspace. This may mean childcare help is necessary. Some fully-remote roles may be compatible with caring for your children, while others, or the return to the office, may mean you need to find some help.
While some workplaces may offer a childcare stipend to parents, a majority do not, and with the United States not offering much in the way of childcare assistance, costs can add up quickly. Sometimes it’s more affordable for one parent to leave the workforce or go part-time, but this is not always an option for financial reasons. If you do not have friends or family members available to take on caregiving responsibilities when you and your significant other head back to the office, daycare or an in-home caregiver will be your choices, depending on budget. Working women who had a baby during the pandemic may be navigating childcare for the first time now. Home daycares often provide a more affordable option, while having someone come to your home, or choosing a daycare center can be more costly.
Finding childcare can be one of the most challenging parts of returning to the workforce, but by weighing the pros and cons and looking at your support system, as well as potentially searching for flexible work, you can choose what will work best for your family.
Searching for a New Job After COVID
If you are struggling with the childcare situation, a new job where you can stay working remotely may be your best bet. Some employers do not want parents caring for children while working, though others have become more accepting amid the coronavirus pandemic. And though many offices are making their employees return to working completely in-person, hybrid and fully remote workplaces are still plentiful. If going back to working outside of the home does not feel right, fix up your resume and check out sites like LinkedIn or other hiring websites in your job search.
You can set up your search there or on other job websites for exclusively remote work or flexible work that follows a hybrid model of partial office time and remote. There are also Facebook groups for women and non-binary people or specifically for mothers of different professions where you may find freelance or full-time remote opportunities.
Switching to Stay-at-Home Mom Life
If you can afford it and determine it would be a more financially sound decision to stay home rather than work and put income toward childcare, being a stay-at-home mom may be the right choice for you. In doing so, you can either focus completely on your children if financially able or take on freelance work or a side gig that matches your skillset.
Working as a grocery or meal delivery person for companies like Shipt, Instacart, Grubhub, or Doordash will give you flexibility in your hours. You can make your own schedule and pick things up when you’re able, and can typically do no-contact delivery. But the pay is not always consistent to start. You could also start a babysitting service, or work as an online tutor.
Mothers of Babies and Children Too Young for School
For some mothers, the return to in-person work will also be the first time they have been away from their child if they were born amid the pandemic. This can feel overwhelming. If possible, ask to begin hybrid, but taking photos of your children and coming up with a solid plan for their care can help you feel confident in this emotional transition.
Depending on the age of your child, you may still be breastfeeding and wish to pump milk in the office. This might be a big change from what went on at home but it’s possible and legally required. Explaining where you will be if you’ve been home with your kids every day for the past couple of years can be even more complicated when you’re talking to children who might be too little to fully grasp what is going on.
A New “New Normal” for Work Schedules
The disruptions of work from home life may have been worked into your routine, but now moms and other parents are facing a new “new normal” amid more offices requiring some in-person time. Whether your full-time job wants you in the office every day, or you get a balance of time at home and face-to-face, things opening back up will make a major impact on everyday life for parents, especially mothers. Working toward gender equality in the workplace is still crucial, as the pandemic further revealed and exacerbated issues faced by working mothers.
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Stephanie is a mom living in the Chicago area with over 10 years’ experience in journalistic writing, editing, content management, photography, and graphic design.