Behind the Scenes
Moms, It’s Time to Celebrate Yourselves and Each Other
Moms, raise your hand if at any point in the last year you’ve taken a phone call from a bathroom or parked car just so you could hear yourself think.
Now, raise the other—I’ll give you a minute to put down your child—if you’ve forgotten to brush your own teeth until bedtime, or had a tearful rant in the shower after tripping over the same pile of toys you picked up yesterday, or hovered over the sink eating PB&J from the jar because you couldn’t muster the strength to make a proper grown-up dinner.
We understand each other. As a mom of a first grader and a 7-month-old, and a communications executive, I’ve been there, too.
“There is no line between postpartum and pandemic,” my colleague Michelle Strom, senior product marketing manager at BrainPOP, recently told me. Her daughter was born in December 2019, so parental leave literally segued into lockdown.
In May 2020—just a few months after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic—the cracks were already beginning to show, with women bearing a disproportionate weight of the parenting load. A year later, those cracks have grown into gaping holes. Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company explored how the pandemic has impacted women’s employment on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2021. To the surprise of zero moms everywhere, McKinsey confirmed that existing inequities were compounded during 2020. According to the study, “Women are 1.3 times more likely than men to have considered stepping out of the workforce or slowing down their careers—particularly mothers, senior women, and Black women.”
As the pandemic wore on, the walls came tumbling down. We retreated into our private spaces—while ironically completely losing our privacy—as work, school, and family life morphed into one messy, continuous state of being. Years ago Gwen Stefani said, “Meditation is my thing. But I’m not going to lie: sometimes I go into my closet and lock the door so no one can find me.” Today we’re lucky if we can find an hour, let alone a closet, for a private retreat.
Parents who previously worked outside the home literally got a front row seat to our children’s education. When we started hosting virtual classes from our living rooms, we had a collective “aha!” moment of appreciation for the multifaceted and indispensable role of teachers. We also began to understand and look in awe at fellow moms whose full-time job is managing their households.
Our support systems evaporated, so we attempted to be everything for everyone—often to the exclusion of ourselves. (In moments of exasperation, I have been known to reference the satirical feminist essay “I Want a Wife.”)
But we also picked up some important lessons along the way.
We’ve started to get real with ourselves and each other. The veil of perfection, and the calm façade that so many mothers force ourselves to maintain, finally became too great a burden. In our race to do it all, we have sometimes imposed impossibly unrealistic standards on ourselves and our fellow moms. This has kept us from admitting when we’re not alright, and denied us opportunities to form authentic, mutually supportive bonds with other moms based on vulnerability and shared experience. What we need most from each other, now and always, is honesty and grace.
Yet, even as we mourn the trauma, loss, and missed opportunities of the last year, we are learning to cherish small blessings. “I am pretty certain I wouldn’t have coped well with the stress and demands of the remote work routine if I didn’t have two very young kids waiting to hang out with me,” says Nina George, SVP, growth & marketing at BrainPOP. “I am working more hours than ever before, but also spending more time with them than I would have otherwise. Despite the extra layer of complexity in my day-to-day, the kids keep me going. They are a source of joy during this year of isolation.”
Our kids are expanding their perspectives, too. “During the pandemic, my kids were exposed to how work really affects me,” says Maya Kadar Kovalsky, chief culture officer at BrainPOP. “They learned that working through challenges is part of everyone’s job, no matter how old you are. This whole period has demystified work for my kids; they now have a healthier perception of work in its many forms. That will be a real asset for them as they grow up.”
We recognize the endless work moms are doing to keep our economy, institutions, companies, and homes humming throughout the pandemic. Often this work is unpaid and unseen. It punctuates every part of the day, and continues long after daylight hours, after the kids are bathed, fed, and tucked into bed. If you have ever dashed off an urgent email during a midnight feeding, you know exactly what I mean.
Here’s to all the moms, as well as the sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and cherished friends who lift us up when we can barely peel ourselves off the bed, couch, or floor—because we still have essential work to do.
Ilana Kurizki is VP, communications and social impact at BrainPOP. She recently celebrated her 10th anniversary with the company.