How a Pandemic Brought me Closer to My Kids, and More Comfortable with Sweatpants
By Erin Jackson
“Hi, my name is Erin, and I’m a workaholic.”
This admission/confession/acceptance is one that I always knew was there. As a kid, my idea of dress-up was the perfect shoulder-padded power suit after watching Diane Keaton rock them in the 80s classic Baby Boom (watch it if you haven’t seen it). I get excited about PowerPoint and award myself with gold stars for reaching the elusive “inbox zero.” Our SUV passenger seat is often my mobile office on family road trips, and I have a sense of pride for my airline and hotel status levels. 3 a.m. wakeups to write post-it notes with new ideas are normal; I carry a laser pointer in my purse for impromptu presentations; and consider a day successful by how many conference calls and coffees I rallied through.
Oh – and did I mention I’m a mom too?
I’ve coached kids track, been on the PTA, volunteered on field trips, and was a frequent class helper. There were notes in lunch boxes before my business trips and story time (with character voices!) recreated via FaceTime when I traveled. Feminism 101 was a frequent topic to my 7- and 11-year-old daughters, while we all sat in awe (when I wasn’t racing to work) and talked about the greatness of Michelle Obama.
Then, enter the pandemic.
When I left my office last March after a building-wide COVID scare, I had no idea that almost 12 months later I would still be sitting in my home office, wearing sweatpants, folding clothes between Zoom calls, and teaching the fundamentals of math/science/literature/all-of-the-above to my children. But alas, here we are. And the journey hasn’t been easy, especially for working mothers.
At the beginning of the pandemic, research was prominent on the potential impact that “the new normal” would have on us working moms, falling-on-the-sword-of-2020 for our families. It was estimated that the anticipated struggle working moms would experience would have a $341B impact on the economy, and the psychological distress would be almost double than men due to the increased responsibilities at home.
But that wasn’t me. I had this under control. All I needed was a detailed spreadsheet with my kid’s conference calls, blocked off time on my schedule to help them learn (just like a meeting!), time in the morning to exercise, scheduled breaks to make sure the house wasn’t on fire, a pre-planned weekly dinner menu for my family, and some camera-ready work apparel so I looked presentable on video calls. Oh! And a good backdrop. Staging is key.
“Hi, my name is Erin, and I had a mental breakdown.”
The breakdown occurred in about month three of lockdown when there was no end in sight. My smile was less smiley in video meetings, elaborate menu planning and bread making transitioned to having salad and mac-and-cheese all the time, and my kid’s screen time increased from one hour a day to probably five. Mascara became a challenge to put on and I was cranky to everyone, everywhere, all the time. I had lost control. No more power suits and my strategically curated J Crew closet was getting dusty. I was wearing sweatpants everyday and losing my edge and drive.
It took me a while to realize I wasn’t alone. Unfortunately, us women like to always be strong and say everything is “fine” when it’s not; but we were – and are – still struggling. Life was disrupted and trying to do it all, be successful and parent, became a challenge. Before the pandemic, there were more women employed than men in the U.S., but now almost 1 million mothers have left the workforce. What the &%$#@!
Then one day, as I was laying on my bedroom floor watching Netflix on my phone, wallowing in my own boredom and despair, my girls came in and asked if I wanted to craft. Why not. I had nothing else to do and nowhere to go. Might as well be artsy.
I had no meetings, no calls and nowhere to be. I just talked to my kids. We laughed and took our time. A few days later, my eldest asked if she could learn to cook – why not. I slowed down and was patient, not rushing, and we made pasta. Soon came more family movie watching, bicycle rides, and making elaborate Barbie hairstyles. We had times where we sat and snuggled, just because, and I let them do schoolwork next to me while I worked. I introduced them to my colleagues on camera, and said things like, “Hey [insert kid name] do that cute face you do when you’re annoyed!” We talked about constellations at night and made bonfires in the driveway with neighbors (socially distanced of course). And through it all, I re-met my kids, for who they really are and all of their quirky silly tendencies.
Pre-pandemic, I worked an average of 50-60 hours a week in an office (which I do miss BTW and I hope is still clean) or on the road. I had missed the daily interactions and odd conversations that kids have about “why is something the way it is” or “did I hear about the thing that did that thing.” I missed hearing their secret conversations between each other about why boys are weird or how silly the dog was being. I was too busy. What I am grateful for this past year, is having the time to listen and reconnect. To play. To have patience. To see my kids for their awesomeness.
So, this is my one benefit of the pandemic. I’ve become a more attentive working mother. I’ve gotten to know my “littles” even more and have realized they are pretty cool and more like me than I knew. They are mini–Diane Keaton’s in Baby Boom.
But don’t get me wrong, we are not okay, and working mothers are struggling daily and understanding the long-term impact is just getting started. Together, we must create a broader support system that allows women to communicate their struggles and employers must have empathy on the challenges that working moms are facing. And in the meantime, I’ll be crafting.
“Hi, my name is Erin, and I’m a working mom.”