Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I worked hard as a PhD. student, primary parent of two young girls, and an occupational therapist with two jobs: one as a part-time outpatient occupational therapist at a hand therapy clinic and one at the local hospital in the pediatric intensive care unit on weekends. end.
I was fired from my job as an outpatient occupational therapist at the start of the pandemic, and had to stay home with my two daughters anyway when the schools closed. As we squatted they watched ungodly amounts of television and I miraculously completed my thesis. (My kindergarten didn’t do as well academically at Zoom School.)
I defended my thesis anticlimatically via Zoom, wearing a button-up shirt and slippers. I went down to a doctor and immediately needed to clean the homemade mud from the floor.
After nine months of weekend call-in at the hospital, I found a part-time research position where I could work from home. My daughters, aged 4 and 7 at the time, were still at home due to school closures, so working from home was a necessity.
I was not alone in this situation. Following the outbreak of COVID, women left the labor market en masse for these same reasons. Even for those whose work could be done at home, many were driven out by the added demands of running the household and caring for children who had suddenly returned from school and daycare.
Even after my kids’ schools reopened, any COVID symptoms might still force them to stay home, which added a spontaneous twist to the game I called “how much can i work this week.”
My youngest daughter likes to crawl on the bathroom floor (because she’s a kitten, obviously) and then lick her hands, which causes her to develop around 295 colds a year and take subsequent sick leave. I also had to be ready at all times to pick up my kids when there was an unavoidable positive case in one of their classrooms, lest they marinate for a moment longer in a COVID petri dish.
While I felt grateful for my remote research position, especially with my kitten-human hybrid child and his perpetually runny nose, I desperately missed the connection with patients – and needed more hours of work.
At that time, someone actually asked me if finding a new job would be “fair to the employer,” given the unpredictability of my schedule amid the roller coaster of school closures and waves of COVID.
I mourned the losses suffered by women in the workplace as the data emerged and the headlines said “The coronavirus childcare crisis will set women back a generation.” I had worked tirelessly all my adult life to get higher degrees, and yet in the blink of an eye they seemed inconsequential. I felt I had failed to expand my daughters’ understanding of what women were capable of, an effort that had been going on for generations.
A year and a half into the pandemic, I finally resumed regular weekday hospital work once my daughters’ school schedules felt relatively reliable. I assumed everyone would understand my interrupted professional life, given the upheavals we had all presumably experienced in the age of COVID.
I was assigned to a new department, which made me very excited. There, it soon became apparent that I needed to not only learn new clinical skills, navigate the culture of the department, and recharge my batteries, but do it quickly.
Where I expected empathy, I was instead met with hostility, apathy and criticism about the gap in my patient care experience. I was told that I lacked “basic” skills (after more than 10 years in the field) and that my “break” from clinical care was detrimental.
“That’s why full time is different from weekends,” a supervisor sneered, as if I had just returned from vacation. Parenting during the pandemic had required a total paradigm shift in my work, but the outside world seemed unchanged.
Of course, the people who said such things were not parents themselves. They struggled to understand what parents have been through during the pandemic, like the severity of our professional desperation as our lives revolved around homeschooling and the monotony of making snacks every nine minutes.
At work, I took care of infants. I did not lose sight that my ability to quickly develop a relationship with new mothers and provide personal insight into breastfeeding trials came from the same parent who had spent the previous two years keeping a family alive. , psychologically safe and intellectually. stimulated. The employer valued the first set of skills, but not the second.
Within two months, it became clear that I was not welcome to dedicate myself entirely to this position. I tried to save my role, in vain. I left the hospital completely two months later.
I continued to work part-time remotely, doing research for my other institution. But I didn’t want to completely give up on patient care. I recently started working part-time at a new hospital and was greeted with flexible hours and photos of my co-workers’ children, which felt like a warm hug.
This phase of the pandemic offers the opportunity for more women to return to work, but only if they are welcomed.
It may take some time for mothers who left the workforce in 2020 to regain our professional footing. Some of us may have years of gaps in our resumes due to caring for children, parents or other dependents, responsibilities that often fall to women. Companies should expect it, plan for it, and view it as another casualty of the pandemic, rather than a reflection of a woman’s abilities.
This is necessary to retrieve the net 5.4 million female jobs we lost during the pandemic.
Of course, I’m more than lucky. I was not trapped with an attacker during this time. I have a partner and this partner kept his job. In fgeneral, Black and Latin women fared much worse than white women when it came to employment. I also want to acknowledge that some male parents have stayed home with their children during the pandemic.
For many, however, the pandemic has caused families to outdated gender stereotypes.
It is likely that COVID is not over, and that a new wave will soon be upon us. Parents may again have to leave work at any time when a case of COVID forces the closure of a child’s class. Organizations must nevertheless work proactively to welcome mothers back into the workforce.
Otherwise, we actively support our collective regression into past generations. We are effectively destroying the battles of our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers to give women choice.
I and the many other mothers who have had to take time off from work need your grace and understanding. This can take the form of flexible working hours, awareness of important meetings held in the late afternoon or early evening, or a mutually agreed schedule of skill building. We need help to ease the transition and empathy for the gaps in our work experience.
In many ways, the pandemic has done away with the illusion of boundaries between work and home. You can no longer work because you don’t have children, or be a parent because you don’t have a job. We bring our whole being to work and we deserve respect for our experiences, including motherhood.
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