We wished for better work-life balance. Now we have work-life blurring. We longed for more time with our kids. Now we are home with them 24/7. In the most bizarre turn of events, it would appear we got what we asked for…except not the way we wanted it, and certainly not against the backdrop of a terrible global pandemic.
We are seven weeks into school closures. Many of us are forced to work from home with no end in sight. Social media feeds overflow with poignant posts about the growing burden on working moms. “Do you feel as though you are faltering at both roles? Go easy on yourself,” they implore.
Is it a burden? Or is it a blessing?
I have pondered this question many times. My answer flips back and forth, depending on how close I am to the brink of exhaustion at any given moment. What I have realized, is that it is a conscious choice to be made. Every. Single. Time.
Pre-COVID-19, we felt guilty about leaving the office at 5 p.m. while peers persisted in the boardroom. We wondered if they secretly resented us. We fought traffic in long commutes home, endured tantrums from hungry kids as we meal-prepped, then chauffeured them from one activity to another. We tucked them in bed, turned on our laptops, and clocked in another two hours on a deliverable.
While these events happened in series in multiple locations, now they happen in parallel, in the same location. We play the role of teacher, entertainer, nurse, cook, referee, therapist, and more for our kids, while simultaneously racing through endless to-do lists and conference calls. Notably, we don’t miss the commute, nor the pressure to be always available for in-person meetings.
Pre-COVID-19, we begrudged the social pull of dressing a certain way to “fit the part.” We often wore uncomfortable pantyhose and stilettos, fancy make up and hairstyles, and partook in other expensive and time-consuming rituals.
While we still miss the salon, we’re okay attending conference calls in casual wear and ponytail. Now that “the cat’s out of the bag,” we wonder if maybe… just maybe, we could be more authentic and re-focus our energies on what’s important (and whom). Our feet thank us.
Pre-COVID-19, many of us flew out for conferences or client visits. We cherished the change in scenery, and the opportunity to develop relationships with people we didn’t meet often.
Having pivoted to state-of-the-art videoconferencing and messaging technology, we feel empowered and more connected to our colleagues more than ever. It dawns upon us that we can dramatically reduce the need for long, costly business travel and its associated disruption to our family’s schedule.
So, is it a burden or a blessing?
Midway through an important presentation, my daughter steps into my home-office and proudly displays her artwork to me (and 25 other people on my video call). The interruption momentarily irks me. A few chuckles and “aww’s” are heard.
I am reminded that we have permission to bring our “whole self” to work, not just the one-dimensional view which predicated a taxing separation between work and family. In this moment, I choose to see the chaos of parallel working and parenting as a blessing.
Make no mistake: COVID-19 is a tragedy impacting every single human on this planet. It continues to mercilessly claim livelihoods and lives. In many cases, women are facing the toughest of situations — from single moms to front-line workers, women are doing double duty, often risking their own health while caring for others.
The quarantine has also flipped many paradigms on its head for working moms. When we do make it to the other end, let’s hope we learn from what worked well, and redefine a new paradigm rooted in inclusion and authenticity.