About a year ago we gathered a small group of working mothers at Ensono to talk frankly about how the pandemic was affecting their families, their work and their lives. Little did we know that a year later, we’d be still be working from home, juggling the demands of our kids’ education, working harder than ever, and trying to remember what “normal” ever looked like. Decades of research tell us that women do significantly more housework and childcare than men—so much so that women who are employed full-time are often said to be working a “double shift.”1 And according to McKinsey, almost 60% of senior level women report feelings of exhaustion consistently in the last year. 2
We thought this would be a good time to regroup and see how these working moms are making it work a year later, and what they’ve learned. We’ve even added some new voices to the conversation. Here’s what they had to say.
On how your typical day changed in this last year:
Violette: More, more and more meetings. The days starts earlier and end later and it’s difficult to manage the day because the demands of home life don’t change.
Katie: Juggling the kiddos with my work obligations is a giant balancing act, and it feels like you’re on the clock 24/7.
Rita: learned to scale back how much I work and stop as needed, when needed. Household responsibilities kick in after virtual office hours do.
Samantha: When we all started working from home, I was so strict about being on a schedule, like everything was going to just flow and I was determined to fit work in as usual. But I’ve I realized that the schedule just doesn't mean much. Sometimes things get moved around or sometimes things have to wait.
On household duties:
Rita: I’ve always been very schedule driven, but I now just let some things slip. I used to need everything in its place. But the kitchen table is now the work table, the arts and craft table and the dinner table.
Katie: I’m definitely letting more things slide. With everyone at home every day, it’s tougher to keep things organized and to stay on top everything. I’ve resorted to hiring some help to clean the house clean.
Samantha: Because my husband works outside the house, and I’m home, I feel like I have the responsibility to keep up with it. I didn’t feel that way when I was in an office every day.
Violette: I’m literally sitting at the kitchen table right now: it has work, homework, and toys everywhere. I do let some stuff slip now too, but I've also gotten my son involved in doing more around the house. He’s getting more responsibility now as an eight year old than I probably would have given him before.
On education and school, at home or otherwise:
Katie: It was extremely challenging for me trying to balance being there for them with my responsibilities at work. I dedicated at least four hours every morning to help them get through schoolwork and their zoom calls. They’ve let me know how much they appreciate me devoting so much time to their education, but they also told me how much they really miss the classroom and their teachers. So we recently sent them back to school.
Violette: We made the decision to homeschool our son early on, so we got a jumpstart to figure out how to manage it all. And I have him in a co-op once a week and Polish language classes, so that he gets more interaction. With the homeschooling curriculum he’s using, he’s actually ahead of his other friends that are schooling remotely or in a hybrid situation, so I’m pretty happy about that.
Saira: I think my kids are coping well. They went back to school full time in August when the school year started.
Samantha: My youngest are in a Pre-K program that’s been fantastic because they were really missing the socialization when they were home with me from March through September. My oldest is doing virtual school, which was a bit of a challenge at first. I think she's thriving now, despite these unprecedented circumstances.
On the hardest thing for kids to adjust to:
Rita: Getting my kids to understand the difference between work at home mom and weekend mom, because they are still young. They don’t really understand there’s a difference.
Katie: Not having the opportunity to just kind of hang out with their little buddies.
Samantha: The biggest impact is definitely the socialization, not being able to hang out with friends, and just not getting out to do the things we used to do. Our outings are so limited now.
Violette: Not seeing his friends, and not following a regular schedule, because he's kind of forced to be on my schedule.
On how your kids surprised you:
Rita: They've shown that they can adapt better than I thought they could. Pre-pandemic, we were out every single weekend, so it was a huge shift for us. We just weren’t stay at home people.
Saira: I’ve been surprised by their maturity and understanding and how well they’ve handled all of this.
Samantha: My almost 11 year old has surprised me by how helpful she is. She’s the first to pitch in if one of her siblings needs something while I’m working.
Violette: I’m amazed at how my son’s imagination and creativity have grown. He’s created special family events like an indoor campfire, complete with a fire in the fireplace, beanbag chairs, s’mores and movies on the TV. It was so much fun.
On what’s changed that you’d like to continue:
Rita: For me, it's prioritizing time for myself. It’s a bit ironic: I try and carve out the time for all of the work I need to do, but between the twins and the job, I realize now I have to focus on myself, whether it’s 10 minutes or 30 minutes, to be effective at either.
Katie: The flexibility to work from home or go into the office. And trying to keep a healthy balance between work and family. I’ve always tried, but I want to continue to make it a priority. Work can’t be the only thing on your list.
Saira: I want to continue to be more laid back and understanding with the kids. In the past, if there was pair of shoes laying in the middle of the middle of the living room, I’d just lose it. It’s so much easier to let the small stuff go.
Samantha: Since the pandemic, I now know I can't control everything, and that’s okay. And since being home, I've seen a positive impact with my kids and with my other relationships that I want to keep.
Violette: My son is back into sports and other activities that I was never able to attend when I worked in an office. Now I can cheer him on. I’m going to continue to make time for these events, regardless of what the future holds.
On taking care of yourself:
Rita: I've had my fair share of breakdowns. But this year has taught me to be happy with minimalist parenting, so I am just kind of at peace with trying not to overdo things and doing the best I can with whatever I have.
Katie: For me, faith has always been a top priority in my life, and it’s even relevant during these challenging times. So ensure that I find time to meditate or read my Bible a few minutes throughout the day. It really helps.
Samantha: I’ve started focusing on not just my mental health, but my physical health as well. I take an hour every single day after work, when my husband keeps the kids and I go run, or walk, or just sit in my car and breathe to get away from it all.
Violette: Honestly, It’s a been a struggle: I cry a lot. I laugh a lot. I need to get better at ending the day and taking care of myself.
On what you wish you knew a year ago:
Rita: Work/life balance is critical and it’s so easy to get out of balance. We do important work, but we are not saving lives. I have to tell myself over and over again, sometimes work can wait.
Katie: I’d tell myself to stick to my life priorities. For me, that's faith, family, physical health, and then career. And I’ve switched that up terribly during this time.
Saira: Learning how to say no and sticking to it. Not stressing out over the housework. You don't have to try to save the world in one day.
Samantha: You just can't do 100% of everything 100% of the time.
Violette: You have to create boundaries between work and home and keep them, otherwise you’re on the clock all the time, and that’s not sustainable.
And finally, has there been any silver lining to all of this?
Rita: I’ve forced myself to prioritize which meetings I must attend. This gives me more time to focus on what I really need to do, outside of the kids. I’m also connecting with other moms virtually, and it’s really helpful to talk to other working mothers in tech.
Katie: Connecting more with my family, my children in particular. I’ve got a better understanding of how well they are doing academically. I was able to recognize that one of my daughters was struggling a little bit with reading comprehension, and I'm not sure I would have known that if she wasn’t at home.
Saira: Being able to be home for my kids more than I used to. I still have to balance work and kids, but it was stressful to figure out childcare if someone was sick. Now they can just stay home with me.
Samantha: Being able to spend more time with my family and my kids and cutting out a two hour commute. And for me personally? I tend to be a type-A driven person and I’ve had to learn to just let go of some things and that’s been a really good shift for me.
The events of 2020 turned the workplace upside down, and those changes will continue to reverberate into 2021 and beyond. These working moms at Ensono have demonstrated remarkable resilience in a year marked by crisis and uncertainty. They juggle the competing priorities of work and family with grace and good humor, and try to carve out some time to recharge, even if it’s just a walk around the block. They’ve continued to remain passionate about their careers and focused on their families and are learning to let go a little.
1 Pew Research, A Rising Share of US Parents Say It’s Been Difficult to Handle Childcare During the Pandemic, January 2021
2 McKinsey, Women in the Workplace, September 2020