Vanessa Henn, a mom of two in Brooklyn, New York, was teaching two afternoons a week at an after-school program when “it all started hitting the fan.”
Her kids, then 2 and 4, were with a nanny while she worked. When the after-school program shut down and her nanny started taking on more hours at her other job at an urgent care facility, Vanessa was left in a bind. Torn between worries about her family’s safety and the cost of childcare, she decided to take care of her kids herself rather than return to work when schools reopened.
“I decided not to return because I would need childcare, and I didn’t feel like that was a safe option for us yet. I’ve lost friends to COVID—nearly lost my stepdad, too—and it has made my family extra cautious,” she said.
Vanessa isn’t the only mom who’s lost out on work since the pandemic began.
According to a new survey by parenting benefits and resources company Cleo, women lose an average of 17 hours per week due to stress and caregiving demands—roughly the equivalent of two full days of work. Of those 17 hours, 10.7 are devoted to childcare and 6.3 are spent on stress and anxiety.
The poll surveyed 749 working parents across the US in September. It confirmed another unfortunate outcome of the pandemic—moms are losing out on more work than dads. Men lose an average of 6.5 hours and 4.8 hours, respectively, to childcare and stress.
All in all, the two work days lost to external factors—i.e., children and anxiety—equate to 720 million hours lost collectively in the US, or $76 billion.
With most families at home this fall, and only one in seven US kids attending in-person school full-time right now, working parents—who haven’t quit or scaled back yet—are facing an entirely new set of challenges. Moms are getting half as many uninterrupted work hours as dads during this crisis, and it doesn’t stop there. Women are generally expected to handle more of the domestic duties, but with nearly one-third of parents “terrified” of losing their jobs while balancing childcare and work and women twice as likely as men to be negatively affected at work by the pandemic, it’s the mental load that’s taking its toll on working moms.
Though studies show that dads have taken on more of the housework and childcare responsibilities compared to pre-pandemic, it’s clearly not enough.
So, why are moms spending an hour and a half more than dads per week stressed and anxious during this pandemic? Well, Mieke Beth Thomeer, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham gave us a few ideas.
“Most research finds that women experience more family stress than men,” Dr. Thomeer said. “It also has to do with women doing more unpaid work than men within families, especially emotion work (or, the effort we put into monitoring and uplifting other people’s moods and masking our own negative emotions). This work is especially stressful when it is unbalanced and underappreciated. And during the pandemic, most types of unpaid work within families—including childcare given remote schooling and emotion work given how stressed everyone is—are increasing, making it not surprising that stress from that unpaid work would be up, especially for women.”
She also suggests that the type of stress impacting men and women may differ.
“One type of stress in particular is anticipatory stress, or stress about what is to come. Because women are more responsible for taking care of the children, buying groceries and household goods, and watching after everyone’s mental and physical health and emotions, they likely carry more anticipatory stress about what may be coming for their family in the future during the pandemic,” she said.
Our families’ post-pandemic futures might very well be what’s weighing on our minds. Cleo’s study found that over a third (34 percent) of working families are still without childcare, and some experts estimate that 40 percent of daycare centers could close in the coming months. And if we’re not worrying about childcare, then we’re likely thinking about our own careers. For working moms who are fortunate enough to still have a job, research shows that dads are three times more likely to get a promotion when both partners work from home. The climb to the top has only gotten harder.
That’s why it’s more crucial than ever that employers support their working mom employees. If not, our entire economy could pay the price.