Why We Need to Cut Working Parents Some Slack Right Now

Blame the hot pink glasses I keep glued to my face, but since mid-March, I have found myself thirsty for some good COVID-19 silver linings. I search for them in any area I can, and I sing their praises: DoorDash is my new favorite app! John Oliver is killing it during quarantine! My husband works from home now, too, so I suddenly have a coworker I never even knew I wanted!

Photograph by Burlingham/stock.adobe.com

But one of the best—and perhaps most important—silver linings to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is society’s recognition of this simple fact: Being a working parent, especially right now, makes you a freaking superhero.

As a society, we’re extending so much empathy and grace to parents in the midst of that struggle. I see that empathy when the topic of returning to school comes up. What do you do when every single option seems terrible? I see the grace on TV when a kid interrupts a scheduled program. Like when Alanis Morissette’s daughter Onyx commented on new Mom’s song Ablaze during a livestream performance on The Tonight Show or when a BBC News interviewee’s daughter Scarlett needed help about where to store her unicorn book.

Who hasn’t been tickled when that happens? Who doesn’t laugh at the innocent sweetness while also feeling a little sorry for Mom or Dad, because they likely want to scream till their forehead vein pops but they can’t do that on national television.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, working parents’ kids were a part of life outside a parent’s 8-to-5 work schedule. If something happened that needed Mom or Dad’s attention during those hours, it required special permission.

Now there’s a blur. Colin’s tangled in his toy bow and arrow? Yes, please, duck away from this Zoom meeting for five minutes to help. And, by the way, when that happens? I love it. I love the humanity, and I love how it keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. (I also love that it can sometimes hasten the end of a too-long meeting.)

Long term, I have to wonder how these changes will affect the maternal wall, that garbage bias against moms in the workplace. It stems from the belief that moms are less competent and committed to their jobs than childfree women. Moms are less likely to be hired or promoted, and they’re held to higher punctuality and job performance standards than their childfree counterparts, according to the Gender Bias Learning Project directed by national nonprofit Center for WorkLife Law.

“Responsibilities at home don’t necessarily affect women’s productivity at work,” says an October 2018 Goldman Sachs report. “But they may affect women’s availability for early or late meetings, client dinners, or multi-day travel, for example. This may hurt them in a work environment that expects people to ‘always be on.’”

When this is all over, whatever the world looks like, I hope this empathy and grace continue. I hope managers are better accepting of working parents wearing both those hats at once, and I hope parents are given more of this much-needed flexibility. Because burnout is real—and no one who’s feeling it is at his or her best in the office or the family room.

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