In March of 2021, one year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic ,17 percent of women with young children were considering downshifting their careers and 23 percent were considering leaving the workforce completely, according to research done by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey.
I was one of those women.
I had a four-month-old daughter, a husband with a demanding career and a lot of concerns about daycare. I was also lamenting leaving behind those early morning baby snuggles, wondering how and when I was supposed to do the dishes and laundry when I returned to full-time work and doing the financial math in regard to daycare and my income. Growing up with a full-time working mother and a lot of workaholic tendencies I had never once considered being a stay-at-home mom, but now it was fully on the table.
In some ways this is a tale as old as time.
Every woman that has ever had a child has faced the same dilemma. Leave that beloved little one in the care of somebody else or leave the career that you have worked hard pursuing behind.
Even though this is absolutely nothing new, somehow giving birth and attempting to return to work amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic felt different, and not just to me. Unlike my mother – or even most working mothers in January 2020 – I returned to work in January of this year at a desk in the corner of my living room. I didn’t have to wear business casual or shovel out my car, but I did have to watch somebody else play with my daughter, listen to her cry during work calls and learn that a breastfed baby will absolutely not take a bottle when mommy is in sight.
For so many mothers, the constant reminders of what they are missing while at work has made it nearly impossible to continue as they did before. Even as out-of-the-home daycare options such as school and daycare centers reopened, they are a lot less reliable than before the pandemic and therefore a full-time job is a lot less viable.
For example, schools and daycare centers require COVID testing if children have a runny nose or cough before returning and quarantine is required for more than a week after any exposure or positive test.
On the flip side, the shift to work from home has allowed mothers like myself – who one month into being back to full-time employment decide it’s not for them – to carve out a middle path. It’s now socially acceptable to interview state officials while feeding your toddler yogurt or while at the playground. I can tune into the state legislature while doing the dishes and write the story crib-side.
It often isn’t easy, but in some ways, I feel like I’ve hit the lottery. I’ve written some of my best pieces and grown my business while spending almost every day with my daughter. In other words, although I technically “downshifted” my career it feels like a massive improvement from the hurried, stressed life so many working parents lived prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m not sure yet what 2022 will bring for me work-wise, but I know that even if COVID is long out of the news by the end of it, the lives of many working parent across the country and the world will be forever changed because of it.