A Mother’s Lament: The Care Gap and Motherlode Is Heavy

Over the last year, we changed the way we loved, shopped, worked and lived. But the expectations for mothers did not change.

I love my husband and two toddlers. I love the way my 2-year-old wraps his hands over mine as he watches TV and the way my 4-year-old tells me about her day, sprawled across my lap. And I love my husband, who co-parents in a world that constantly tells him he doesn’t need to. 

But I’m tired. 

Over the last year, our country has lost almost 550,000 people to COVID-19. America lost countless citizens to racism and experienced one of the largest spikes in hate crimes. The country faced a tumultuous—almost never-ending—election season.

We changed the way we loved, shopped, worked and lived. But the expectations for mothers did not change. 

More than 75 percent of women report that expectations from society about gender roles amplified during the pandemic as work and home lives blended—or collided—together. My husband worked hard to make our kids invisible in his Zoom calls. I never had that opportunity; our children didn’t understand that mom wasn’t available.

Pew Research Center reported moms having “a lot” more of the child care duties over the past year. This takes a toll. Almost 70 percent of moms reported adverse health effects and 78 percent of new mothers reported an increase in stress. 

It’s no surprise then that the rates of women leaving the work force have significantly increased since the pandemic started. Between January and December 2020, the U.S. lost 9.6 million net jobs. Fifty-five percent of those were jobs held by women, with Black and Latino women overrepresented in those numbers.

With these jobs gone, many are not coming back into the work force, as so many struggle with who will watch the children. Women not entering the work force, by choice or by design, have severe economic, social and moral implications; the biggest being the ability to feed and shelter their families. 

In the Survey of Mothers with Young Children, 17.4 percent of mothers with children ages 12 and under reported that since the pandemic started, “the children in my household were not eating enough because we just couldn’t afford enough food.”

Of those mothers, 3.4 percent reported that it was often the case that their children were not eating enough due to a lack of resources since the coronavirus pandemic began. 

According to a 2020 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “About 26 million adults—10.8 percent of all adults in the country—reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days.” Almost 14 percent of adults with children said their children did not have enough food to eat because they could not afford it.

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For many mothers, families and individuals, having no or limited income also connects to housing—having access to it and finding quality housing that is not cost-prohibitive. Recently, Matthew Desmond and Gracia Himmelstein, of Eviction Lab, published research in the Journal of American Medical Association on how evictions during pregnancy harm infant and maternal health. These evictions continue, even with a moratorium that is ending shortly. 

Moms who are struggling deserve better. But, all moms deserve better.

I was expected to work as if I wasn’t pandemic parenting. I was expected to teach my children coping skills and ABC’s. I was expected to have a clean house and prepped meals. I was expected to keep my family safe when the aisles of Target laid bare and our enemy invisible.

Now that the end of COVID-19 is on the horizon, the question going forward is how best to support mothers into the future.

Yes, President Joe Biden and Congress offer the child tax credit, but paid family leave is a universal need. Corporations, organizations and elected officials need to prioritize moms—especially Black and Brown moms—with daycare subsidies, raised hourly wages and gender bias training for all.

Continuing on with business as usual is just too exhausting.

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Nissy New is vice president of operations at Metro Dallas Home Alliance and a public voices fellow through The OpEd Project.