By: Mary Beth Ferrante
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
We’ve all been operating in some kind of state of quarantine and exhaustion for the last six months, but for me, the last 4 weeks have been the most challenging. What changed?
It was the start of online Kindergarten. While teachers are incredible and I appreciate all of the work everyone is putting into making online school work, it has been chaotic. As plans for the start of school were being finalized, parents were left mostly in the dark, unable to really know what class schedules would look like online or what days kids would even be in classes for hybrid schedules. For me, it made it impossible to plan our care needs, how we could co-op with our neighbors and, more importantly, how I was going to get any work done. Now a month in, I feel like I’m finally just getting a handle on it, but still am dealing with weekly changing schedules.
Yet, I sit in the very privileged position of working from home and having a partner that is also still working from home right now. We realize our situation is so much easier than for parents that are unable to oversee online learning, are at the mercy of their own changing work schedules, and are faced with an impossible dilemma: either earn income to support their families or take unpaid time to manage online and hybrid school schedules at home.
It has felt impossible to be fully present at work or at home for these six months, but unlike the spring, it feels as though the stakes have changed. The early days and weeks of quarantine were exhausting to say the least, but at that point there was an expectation, however naive, that we were keeping our families safe, that any learning was just a bonus, and that students would return to school and day care centers in person soon. It felt temporary. At the same time, many employers, managers and clients were understanding. We all felt the weight of the crisis and that families should be offered some empathy and flexibility.
But as the weeks have turned into months and the months have become over half a year and counting, we remain far from returning to “normal.” Employers’ and managers’ empathy has waned, job losses are high and those still employed fear the impact of additional layoffs. Many employees are actually working more hours at a time when, according to the Boston Consulting Group, parents are spending an average of 65 hours per week on unpaid labor at home, almost double the pre-pandemic demand. The ongoing weight of this crisis and the sustained breakdown of child care infrastructure is crushing parents.
Blessing Adesiyan, founder of Villo and Mother Honestly, hears this from working parents daily in the social community she has created. She shares, “The caregiving crisis is taking a toll on working families. The psychological anxiety surrounding safe and affordable childcare and the added responsibilities at home will continue to threaten productivity in the workplace. Now more than ever, leaders across all private and public sectors must provide the infrastructure and support working parents need in order to properly position the economy for an optimal recovery.”
Adesiyan recognizes the solutions are complex and require leadership across the spectrum. She is doing her part to provide working parents with tools, resources and a community of support through the Mother Honestly social media, podcast and conference platforms. Their recent “Parent Summit” and “State of Black Mothers In America” conferences were attended by over 2,500 working parents. Up next, Mother Honestly will be hosting the Caregiving and Work Summit on October 2nd to bring together expert speakers and free support for working parents. The event, which is being sponsored by companies like Pacira Biosciences, M.M.Lafleur, and Goldfish Swim School, is proof that these pain points are being felt across all kinds of industries.
This year’s summit brings together another incredible roster of influential leaders striving to improve work and parenting, including Sarahjane Saccehetti of Cleo, Katica Roy of Pipeline, and Katie Bethell of Paid Leave U.S. The session topics will range from the immediate logistical needs of parents to more in-depth conversations on systemic challenges like removing caregiving barriers and addressing the setbacks to gender, racial and economic equalities due to COVID-19.
Adesiyan isn’t stopping her work with this summit either. She recently launched her new startup Villo to address the burnout epidemic that affected working families well before COVID. The company focuses on lightening the unpaid labor load that is weighing families down by providing them with “villos,” trained household managers that assist employees, especially busy parents, by managing their personal and household responsibilities. Working parents have always been stretched thin, patchworking care together, squeezing personal tasks into gaps between meetings or after a long shift (or two). Adesiyan wants to take away some of that burden so parents can focus on what’s really important to them personally and professionally.
Working parents will continue to carry the burden of a broken caregiving infrastructure for the months ahead. But with people like Adesiyan creating community and solutions, the hope is that we start to move towards a new normal that includes more support for working families.