Dealing with harsh conditions that included smoke-choked skies from last year’s wildfires and the constant fear of getting Covid-19 was how Maritza Martinez, a farmworker and single mother of five, lived for months in 2020.
Her days were long, starting before 6am as she got ready for work and took her two youngest children to daycare. At home, her 14-year-old daughter stayed with her school-age siblings, taking care of them while all attended online school. Martinez worked up to 10 hours in the fields. After work, which sometimes stretched to 6pm, she made dinner and helped with homework. “I never had to face something so hard,” Martinez says in Spanish.
She’s currently out of work but about to start a new job. Before the pandemic, she didn’t have to worry about her kids being home alone and they did their homework at the library.
Maria Trinidad Sanchez Sandoval, a daycare provider, had to buy pricier internet to run 13 computers during school hours. “My brain hurt from so much pressure,” she says.
At least one parent – usually the mom – has to juggle work with taking care of children and helping with homework. Working mothers have a 28-percent greater chance of experiencing burnout than working fathers, and more than 2.3 million moms in the U.S. experience burnout because of unequal demands of home and work, according to a study by the Maven Clinic, which focuses on maternal and family health. Maven interviewed over 400,000 working parents, including 226,000 mothers. Burnout percentages were higher among Black and Latina mothers compared to white moms.
The shutdown of schools and limited childcare has changed the dynamics at home. Lynn Bentaleb, executive director of the Nancy Buck Ransom Foundation and mother of two, says she is privileged: She has a flexible job schedule and can work remotely. Despite her husband doing his part, most times her children prefer “mommy.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 1 in 5 working-age adults were not working because of changes in childcare arrangements due to Covid-19. Women ages 25-44 were three times more likely than men to not work because of that lack of childcare. And working-age women with children were more anxious than men: 36.9 percent versus 30 percent. They were also more worried, 33.3 percent versus 25.3 percent.
Bentaleb says families need additional support. She had a breakdown last October while juggling motherhood, schooling and work. “I can’t handle it. I can’t do this. I need help,” she remembers saying. She hired a babysitter to help care for her daughter, Layla.
“I don’t know any mom who isn’t at a breaking point right now,” Bentaleb says. She worries about the future of women in the workforce: “I think our society is focused on the number of hours.” She hopes in the future, post-pandemic, employers offer more flexibility and better resources for working parents.