2021年3月24日 星期三

‘I Cry on Tuesdays and Fridays’

Moms are still primal screaming their hearts out.

'I Cry on Tuesdays and Fridays'

Michelle Mildenberg

Michelle Pasos, 46, describes herself as someone who has "always been extremely healthy." That is until the pandemic, when she ended up in the emergency room because she had a bad reaction to a drug prescribed to bring down her elevated blood pressure.

Managing work and caring for her 7-year-old daughter had left Ms. Pasos exhausted and medically vulnerable. So when the hospital gave her the option of going home and monitoring herself, or staying an extra night, she chose to stay. It was the first time she had felt calm in a year.

"I'm watching HGTV, feeling very relaxed," said Ms. Pasos, who lives in Atlanta. "It almost felt like a time I needed to spend by myself. It's been a year of virtual learning and having everybody around, it's very overwhelming."

Ms. Pasos is one of hundreds of people who have called into our Primal Scream phone line since the eponymous series, which explored the emotional and economic pressures on a generation of moms, published in early February. Since then, a major stimulus package that could provide a boost to American families — the nearly $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — has been signed into law, and the latest jobs reports show that mothers have been returning to the workforce. I wanted to check in with experts, and with the moms living through this time, to see if conditions had improved since we did our original reporting.

The short answer? Though there is additional federal support to families, more Americans are vaccinated every day and job loss is not quite as dire as it was in the early days of the pandemic, unemployment claims remain higher than they were in previous economic crises. And moms are still not OK.

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"Despite the increased labor force participation of mothers, mothers are still having a really hard time," said Liz Morris, the deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings Law. "Despite their return to the labor force, they are not having much relief at home, and by that I mean, many children are still home-schooling." She added that the burden of remote school has fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of mothers. Research has shown that in states where children received only remote instruction during the pandemic, mothers' labor force participation has been lower than in those where children attended school in person.

Even where children are back in classrooms, they may have hybrid schedules or face unanticipated closures and related quarantines because of Covid exposures. These unexpected schedule changes are particularly brutal for mothers who work retail, in factories or in food service, Ms. Morris said, because their employers may use what's called a "no fault" attendance policy. These policies give workers disciplinary "points" for absences, no matter what the reason is for missing work, and they affect an estimated 18 million workers, according to a report from the nonprofit organization A Better Balance.

Though the American Rescue Plan provides many benefits for parents that may help lift children out of poverty — including cash payments of up to $1,400 and increased tax credits for children — it does not guarantee paid leave for caregivers or paid sick leave. Though the plan gives tax credits to employers that voluntarily offer paid leave, it is not mandatory, and may leave many lower-income parents in the lurch, Ms. Morris said. (The Biden administration has a proposal for paid leave, but it is far from becoming law.)

Lower-income parents have already been hit harder by unemployment than their higher-income and college-educated counterparts. "More than parental status or gender, education has been most decisive in who has lost jobs during the pandemic," Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard, told my colleague Claire Cain Miller.

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Interestingly though, Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress, found that among non-college-educated parents, there wasn't much of a gender gap in unemployment, yet among college-educated parents, there was a bigger split. Before the pandemic, about 80 percent of moms and about 95 percent of dads with college degrees were employed. "Now it's like 76 percent of moms and 94 percent of dads with college degrees," he said. This suggests that where families could afford for one parent to step back from work to deal with domestic labor, mothers were bearing the brunt.

While I can list these labor market statistics all day, the emotional impact of Covid-19 is ongoing, devastating and harder to quantify.

"I cry on Tuesdays and Fridays. Sometimes I have an extra bonus day, like on this Monday," said Cait Roberts-Donovan, 35, when she called into the Primal Scream line. Ms. Roberts-Donovan has a 16-month-old baby, and has been working from home with her husband without child care for almost the entire pandemic.

Why Tuesdays and Fridays? On Tuesdays, her husband has a lot of meetings, and her day isn't light either, so even though she is trading off baby care, it's "really high octane all day." You sort of accept Mondays are horrible, because they're the beginning of the workweek, but "then you realize Tuesdays are just your life." Fridays: "It's a matter of having kept things nominally together all week, and then you have this big letdown," she said.

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Ms. Roberts-Donovan has asthma, and so was reluctant to send her daughter to day care during the pandemic. She said she has felt "terrified" for two years, after being anxious during her pregnancy as well, because she wanted her daughter so badly. "I must have buckets of cortisol," she said, referring to the stress hormone.

Ms. Roberts-Donovan and Ms. Pasos both took pains to stress how lucky they are in the scheme of things. Almost every mother I have spoken to during the pandemic, no matter what their financial and family circumstances, has expressed guilt about complaining. And both women said that things are looking up right now — their children are back to some form of in-person care or schooling, and Ms. Pasos was able to spend time with family she hadn't seen for months.

But mothers shouldn't have to slap on a Pollyanna smile. As a recent Pew Research report pointed out, there was already a gender gap in caregiving before the pandemic, and moms were more likely than dads to step back from paid work to fill any family needs. The past year has only exacerbated the difficulties caregivers face in the United States. We can acknowledge that things could be worse, but at the same time honor the fact that our circumstances are still so far from good.

Want More on Pandemic Motherhood?

  • In December, I asked parents for their post-pandemic solo fantasy vacations (in a hospital bed watching HGTV was not included). I like to joke that there should be a mom island where it never rains and no one asks you for anything.
  • My Primal Scream partner in crime, Jessica Bennett, profiled Kate Baer, a poet whose work about motherhood has resonated with so many during the pandemic.
  • If you're having trouble understanding the complicated details in the American Rescue Plan (I know I did), check out this very clear and helpful guide from Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard, who are personal finance reporters at The Times.

If you've found this newsletter helpful, please consider subscribing to The New York Times — with this special offer. Your support makes our work possible.

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