Moms Are Drowning. Here’s How We Save Them.

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Had you told us that things would get worse for moms, it would have been inconceivable. Women were already exiting the workforce at 43%, losing 10% of their earning power for every child they have, and straddling their roles at work with their roles of CEO at home, at the cost of career progression. Now, those privileged enough to still hold jobs, they face additional challenges with regard to childcare, virtual school needs, less ability to outsource, strapped finances, more meals, and clean up at home…things have gone from overwhelming to unmanageable. Too many women are in too deep to sound the alarms.

“People are very nervous about taking days off. Just so busy. All the moms are working until 1 a.m. There’s no good solution.” — Parent Employee Resource Group Leader

moms are underwater
Helping moms make it to shore depends on our partners, our companies and us

Dads Need to Step Up—Even the “Good Ones” 

Not all households have a mom and dad, but when they do, childcare responsibilities still disproportionately fall on moms. And today, with childcare and home responsibilities only increasing, women are shouldering most of the work and it’s disrupting their careers. Perception further complicates the labor distribution. As the NYTimes article with the same headline describes, “Nearly half of men say they do most of the homeschooling; 3% of women agree.” Cloudy perception in theoretically shared responsibilities implicitly creates a culture of invisible work–in other words, work without recognition or perceived value.

We heard this in discussions we held with parent Employee Resource Group advocates and leaders as we sought to understand how their companies are supporting caregivers during this pandemic. The sense of exhaustion and despair, with no end in sight, is palpable. A recent study showed that moms have reduced their paid working hours 4 to 5 times more than dads. One example of disparity in work production: women academics are submitting fewer papers since coronavirus started, while men are submitting 50 percent more than they usually would. Think of the research, insights and extrapolations the world is missing from women, because they are cleaning up the oatmeal stuck on the bowl, while their male counterparts are more likely working in a quiet room.

The good news? There’s an entire movement of passionate “FamilyTech” founders who, long before the pandemic turned it into a crisis, created support strategies to address aspects of this problem. We’d love to introduce you to existing options for both you and your companies, as well as share recommendations from our research.

Moms Are Underwater

How do we save one another and make it on the other side of this pandemic better off than when it started? We all—partners, employers and moms—have a role to play.

invisible load
Moms are taking on even more invisible work since COVID started.

Technology can help with the mundane, repetitive tasks of running a family so that parents can shift valuable mindshare to more important matters.

  • Modern Village is building the Family Operating System as a central place that isn’t mom’s brain to be the single source of all things family.

Couples can then focus on divvying up the remaining invisible work through tools like:

  • Fair Play which helps couples divide up household tasks fairly, based on their needs.

  • Persistiny allows parents to track, value, and share the unpaid work to care for their families.

For partners who want to improve their marriage, and in doing so contribute to a society that values women, here are some things you can do today: 

  • Take on more housework. Even if it feels like you are doing your fair share, pick up one, two, even five more tasks.

  • Initiate a conversation with her…tonight. Ask her how she feels the child and housework is going. Is she drowning? To avoid adding mental load to her already loaded cart, come to the conversation with two ideas for how you could help.

  • Take the kids out of the house to give her some time to just think, reflect, and do something other than parenting and housework.

  • Say thank you. Say thank you every time you see her pick up the LEGOS, feed the children, and sign them onto a remote class. Say thank you for everything you don’t see…the uninterrupted Zoom call, the empty sink, and anything else slipping by because of its invisibility. Make it your personal goal to show as much gratitude as possible, and in doing so her invisible work will suddenly start becoming visible.

Employers who want to attract and retain a diverse and efficient workforce

Much like the parents they employ, companies have found themselves in unknown water, without access to a best practices playbook on how to support caregivers. Because of this there is a real-time experiment taking place when it comes to benefits, policies and stances companies are implementing.

Moms who are essential workers or who work from home are all struggling.

Four Guiding Principles of What Companies Can Say and Do to Support Caregivers:

Consistent policies that don’t depend on an employee to initiate

✗ “Talk to your manager”

✓ Quarterly or monthly mental health days. (e.g., YOU days at Indeed)

✓ 40 hours a week, anytime during the week

Reduced Schedule without Penalization

✗ Promoting part-time with reduced pay

✓ Company sanctioned 4 day work week

✓ Office closes every Friday at 2:00 (e.g., The Zebra)

✓ Continued growth and career conversations

Leaders Communicate Challenges & Model Behavior

✗ Silent about kids, challenges and taking time off

✓ “I’m taking time off work to get my kids through the end of the year push.”

Re-Examine Meeting Culture

✗  Back-to-back Zoom meetings

✓ Replacing “syncs” or ad-hoc meetings with a Slack conversation or channel, and other remote work best practices

Here Are Some Services Employers Can Offer to Support Caregivers:

Workshops / Training / Coaching

  • Femily helps companies create an inclusive culture.

  • Mindful Return, a benefit that guides new parents back from parental leave and supports working parents with workshops and retreats.

  • TendLab provides workshops and training to optimize the workforce for parents.

  • Villyge, an employer-paid benefit, connects working parents 1:1 with a community of coaches from preconception to college.

  • WRK/360 offers employer sponsored training, development and 1:1 career & life integration coaching support for working parents, their managers and whole teams.

Childcare & Education

  • BridgeCare offers employee benefits that help working parents find and afford child care.

  • EdNavigator provides families with personalized education support from preschool to college.

  • HappiFamili helps manage childcare.

  • Helpr provides custom primary care solutions for families looking to create care pods or find nannies during COVID, with online 1:1 tutoring for all ages, and backup care with either their sitters or your sitters.

  • UrbanSitter enables families to select providers to come into their home in a COVID-friendly way.

If you’re looking for companies that have been vetted for supporting caregivers, Hustle Hunters or Prowess Project can help match you with opportunities.

Moms, although we are utterly burnt out, we remain stronger together

While moms are in no position to add more to their infinite, impossible to-do lists, now more than ever, we need the support of one another. This includes banding together to recognize our needs, both at work and at home.

First, we need to speak up for ourselves and balance the inequities at home. By talking openly with our partners, we can align on our values, share responsibility in the joys, challenges and logistics of childcare, and teach our children to be proud of doing housework..

Second, womxn need to join forces. Stay at home moms have classically been pitted against working moms. Today, parents are at odds with teachers, who are overwhelmingly women, struggling with the very same issues we’re describing, while we debate how and if school should open. In doing so, we are missing the bigger picture. We should instead be working together to fight for expanded paid leave and sick leave, to fund the childcare industry and protect working parents from being discriminated against. And we should be sharing resources, whether that be information, space, or childcare.

If You’re Looking for a Community of Moms Who Get It:

  • Chairman Mom is a private network of badass working women.

  • MotherNation creates spaces for Mothers to care for themselves and each other by gathering Circles based on location, age of children and shared experience.

  • Mother Honestly is an online community, with resources and support for working mothers.

Finally, we need to be inclusive and welcoming to all womxn, which is a departure from the traditional white feminism many of us inadvertently have been practicing. The pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black moms so it’s important for those of us with a more privileged position to speak up for racial justice in our homes, schools, and organizations.

You Have Options

Every family needs to do what’s right for them. Based on their own mental health, their family situation, their risk tolerance and financial resources, every family’s solutions will be different. For example, one mom may opt for homeschooling to reduce her own anxiety while another mom may feel it’s necessary for her kids to attend school for her own mental health.

Five factors that influence a family’s decisions:

If you’re looking for ways to engage and educate your children from your own home:

  • Flexable offers interactive, virtual childcare.

  • Homeroom provides online classes for kids and their friends.

  • Inceptive offers expert-led, live, and on-demand classes for families on a wide range of topics.

If you’re looking for toys, books, and activities for your kids:

  • Lovevery provides stage-based early learning and play essentials, up to age 3.

  • Raddish Kids is a cooking club for kids.

  • Little Feminist is a monthly book club to help diversify your bookshelves.

If you’re looking for childcare outside the home:

  • Winnie helps find local childcare providers, many of which can support school-aged kids with distance learning.

  • Komae enables cooperative, free care by swapping points with other families.

From Drowning to Thriving

We know this just scratches the surface. There is no silver bullet solution to alleviate such a complex and nuanced issue, rooted in historic biases. The pandemic has brought the childcare crisis to the national stage, although moms have felt the weight of it far longer. We believe the future of caregiving brings together the public and private sectors and is equitable, inclusive, and antiracist. When everyone pitches in to help, moms will make it to shore stronger, and our world will reap the benefits.

We are Shift, user researchers, and designers who provide custom qualitative research to companies to identify needs and recommendations to better support caregivers. We welcome you to follow our thoughts, and if you’d like to work with us, let’s chat.

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