I Was Furloughed From My Dream Job

It’s been exactly four months since I was furloughed from my dream job.

If you had spoken to my colleagues and me earlier this year, before COVID-19, you would have thought we were on top of the world. Our phones were ringing off the hook, our schedules were filled to capacity, and we were even looking at expanding our team just to keep up with the demand. You see, for the last nine years, I have enjoyed a diverse creative leadership journey at one of the largest entertainment companies in the world. This industry is cutthroat, highly competitive and despite there being a plethora of highly skilled and talented people, there are not enough roles out there to employ every single person who has the skills and talent to do the job.

I always knew this, and was always up for the challenge. In fact, I’d been conditioned my whole life to be a workhorse — my family immigrated from Cuba with nothing, and I watched my parents work multiple jobs as a child: my mom graduating from ultrasound school when I was 13, etc. Hard work has never been a stranger to me. I was a straight-A student, have held multiple jobs since I was 18, conditioned to believe in the American Dream. Earlier this year, at 33 years old, I thought, wow, I’ve finally found it. I have a new house, a beautiful family, and a dream gig I worked so hard to land. I am finally living this American Dream!

That is, until COVID-19 shut my industry down.

When I first heard about the furlough in April, it was gut-wrenching, but also a necessary evil as “we were all in this together” to stop the spread of COVID. I knew that as a society we had to do our part, and sacrifice our jobs for the greater good of beating this pandemic. I was sad that I wasn’t deemed “essential,” but felt almost relieved at the temporary break that this time off would provide me. I was thankful that I could spend this extra time unpacking into our new home that we had just purchased in February, and relished the fact that I could spend this quality time with our two daughters.

I inhaled my girls with snuggles and cuddles while we played dolls and watched movies. I’d have Zoom chats with my friends at night, drinking cocktails and making fun of Tiger King. I shared and made funny quarantine memes on social media, and laughed at the fact that we were living in some sort of #coronapocalpyse. I set my out-of-office alert to expire in July and thought, how nice to have this #coronacation.

But then, slowly, in June and July, despite this pandemic not being over, the world started opening back up, and my friends started slowly being contacted one by one to report back to work. This gave me hope, as I thought, “Wow, I shouldn’t be that far behind.” I’d reach out to my other friends still on furlough almost daily, and we’d comfort each other and give each other advice as we tried to navigate this complicated puzzle of why some people were already back and some of us were still at home.

My husband, luckily, was deemed “essential” and has been working this whole time. I was able to qualify for unemployment benefits (thank GOD) and with the extra $600. Although it was a pay cut from my normal salary, we were able to continue to pay our bills and put food on the table. I thought how blessed I was to be able to get paid to stay at home with my children. I thought how lucky I was to have a job to come back to once this is over. I thought how lucky I am that I am not alone and that other people have it way, way worse than I do. Even in the midst of my worry, I found things to be grateful for.

Some days I’d have bursts of motivation and do arts and crafts with my daughters and organize closets, and some days all I could do was silently cry as I held my children, as we watched yet another cartoon or Disney movie on the couch. I even polished my resume and applied to several jobs, thinking maybe I could find something temporary.

Other days, I’d wake up with a sense of heaviness in my bones, feeling sad and bogged down by the negativity in the world. This heaviness would paralyze me and make any simple task like taking a shower seem too daunting to manage. Some days I’d obsess over why I hadn’t been called back yet — was it because I was late too many times? Was it because I was too loud in the office? Did I write a bad email? Was I not talented enough? Not liked? I’d obsess over my insecurities … being a working mother, being a person of color, being a female in a white, male-dominated industry. I’d obsess over old conversations with my leaders, analyze what I could have possibly done wrong to be left in the dust. My self-doubt would encapsulate my brain and keep me up at night, leaving a painful pit in my stomach and an intense anxiety every Thursday and Friday as I stared at my phone, waiting for my job to call me back.

I felt silly feeling this way as I FaceTimed my parents, now almost 60 years old and still working in Miami like the workhorses that they are and have always been. I’d see the scars on my mother’s face from the three masks she has to wear all day, every day as a healthcare worker, and watch my poor father try to continue to safely run his business in the COVID hotspot that is South Florida. They’d comfort me and love me. My husband would do the same, holding me as I’d cry and giving me the space I needed when I’d take that extra time every night in the shower to scream into the scalding hot water that would burn my skin and soothe my devastated soul.

I know this sounds dramatic, but this has been my reality. When you pour your heart into a career, it becomes a part of who you are. When you work in my industry, you literally work night and day, and find yourself spending more time at work than at home. Your coworkers become your extended family and you all live this incredibly hectic yet fulfilling lifestyle. When you get to be a part of an exciting, creative team, you feel like you’re part of an exclusive club — one I worked SO hard my entire life to a be a part of. And as a working mother, I felt like I was even more thankful to be a part of this club, since I was only met with support when I was pregnant, was provided a wonderful maternity leave, and never ever given any kind of drama when I pumped milk for my baby for over a year after she was born. I thought it couldn’t get any better than what I had. I was so loyal, totally in it for the long haul, dreaming of getting older and retiring with this company.

I embraced the chaos that was being a working mother. I got to know my daughter’s preschool teachers, many times dropping them off at school after working an overnight shift. They knew I had a demanding job, but they also knew I loved it, and my daughters did, too. I wanted to inspire them that they, too, could “have it all” like Mommy! And my husband was the best: always an equal partner, supporting and believing in me, telling me how I was well on my way to greatness. I was just so happy! 2020 was going to the BEST year!

The hardest part of the furlough has been the lack of communication. From my understanding, there can be serious legal restrictions when you are on furlough, and the company is apparently not allowed to contact you unless it is to return to work. It’s especially hard when your leaders and coworkers become a part of your extended family and they are not allowed to talk to you or give you any kind of information. This only adds insult to injury and makes the whole process seem even more personal, and even more painful.

When you become friends with the people you work with, and then you see them go back to work, and not be able to talk to you, it adds yet another layer of despair. And with this lack of communication, you are left in limbo, without a timeframe, wondering how much longer this is going to last. And the more time that passes, the less hopeful it seems, the more depressed you become.

Also, when you do not have any sort of timeframe, it is impossible to plan your life. How are we supposed to know how much money to save? Or what to do for the new school year? This uncertainty, depression, and anxiety put me in a really terrible mental state, probably the worst I have gone through in my entire life.

So when the job that I let define my self-worth and happiness was taken away from me for nothing that I did wrong, it resulted in a complete mental crisis. I remember one particular night in August coming to the realization that I may never go back. I was heartbroken and felt like a part of my life had died.

I grieved my old life, trying to come to terms with that fact that things will never be the same again. My whole body ached and trembled as I wondered how I was going to be able to make a living for my family, now that unemployment benefits have expired, and now that none of the 30+ jobs that I’ve applied to so far haven’t called back. I melted into my poor husband’s arms, shaking, as I buried my face in my pillow, completely soaking it with tears. I felt my entire face swell up as my head throbbed from the pain. I cried, and cried, and cried, until there were no more tears left inside of me. I woke up the next morning feeling like a shell of the person that I used to be. I walked around my house like a zombie for a few days until something clicked. I found hope again. I found an opportunity to make my own path.

I am still furloughed. It has been two weeks since I had that emotional breakdown, and even though I hit an emotional low that I’ve never hit before, I’m finding the resilience to pick myself back up again. I am no longer waiting by the phone, no longer analyzing what went wrong, and no longer questioning my talents and abilities. Through the support of my close family and friends, I am starting my own company in the middle of a pandemic and actually feel a lot of peace and calm around the notion that I will be okay. I will be okay, and my family will be okay, because we always have been and we always will be. There is really no other way to look at it.

Even when accepting a situation sucks, if you can find the power to take control of your life again, your entire world will change. That is the path that I am on right now, and if you are furloughed, underemployed, unemployed, or laid off right now, I encourage you to do the same.

You did not lose your job because of anything you did. Your job does not define your self-worth or your happiness. Whether or not you are part of that exclusive club that gets to return to work or not, you are still exactly the same person that you have always been. You now have the choice to redefine yourself and create your own path. Think about what it is that you have always wanted to do, and just DO IT! You have nothing to lose!

And when you put yourself and your family at the forefront of your future, you will only have something wonderful to gain.

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I Was Post-Divorce And Excited To Go Back To Work––COVID-19 Changed Things

Like millions of other Americans, the pandemic has been forcing me to work from home since March. While I am grateful to still have a job, I’m also a little bummed. I had literally just gotten back into the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom for nine years when the coronavirus started.

I left my career after my child was born to allow my husband to focus on his career. After daycare and gas, it didn’t make sense for me to continue working. I absolutely loved the fact that I never missed out on a single thing while my son was little, but if you’ve ever been a stay-at-home parent, you know that it comes with its own share of struggles.

Although I had found a job as a writer, working from home, by the time my son started kindergarten, I still needed to be home for before and after school. We were financially stable, so this was doable. That was, until we got a divorce.

The divorce happened last year, and although I was sad and feeling overwhelmed with all the changes, I have to admit that I was a little excited to finally have a reason to work outside of the home again. Living on my own made it a necessity, and since my son was in school full-time, I was able to work without the help of a sitter.

I found a job working the exact same hours my son was at school, and it worked out perfectly for several months. Then, the coronavirus hit and the whole world shut down. If I had known that the last Friday I worked back in March would be my last “real” workday, I would have savored it a little more.

I know some of you may find that statement absolutely ridiculous, and I get it. Working can really suck sometimes. Even if you totally love your job, it can be stressful. But going from a stay-at-home mom to a working mom gave me a sense of freedom and purpose again.

I loved the work friends I made. I loved what I did. For nearly a decade, my world revolved around taking care of my child and my home, and while I wouldn’t change those years for anything, I definitely lost a bit of myself in the process.

I Had Just Started Working Outside The Home -- Then COVID-19 Hit
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I think it’s common for stay-at-home moms to crave what working moms have, and for working moms to crave what stay-at-home moms have. If you’ve never been a stay-at-home mom, let me tell you, you really start to miss that adult interaction. Work friends are a real thing and they are absolutely wonderful. It’s a definite trade off to be able to spend that precious time with your children, but still miss that connection with other adults.

So here I am, back to being a stay-at-home mom. But now I’m a divorced stay-at-home mom who is also working full-time from home and doing remote learning. I mean, it just keeps getting better and better.

I know I’m not alone in this. Everyone’s lives have changed. Whether you’ve been an essential worker this whole time, lost your job, or started working from home, this pandemic has affected all of us. This “new normal” is anything but normal.

We all do what we have to do. We make money however we can because the bills need to be paid. We take care of our kids because they are little humans who rely on us. We lose our cool sometimes because the world has completely changed and none of us really know how to deal with it.

I’m doing this whole stay-at-home mom thing again because it’s just what needs to be done. I am able to work from home and have my son participate in remote learning, and I am very grateful for that, but I still miss the job I had to leave in order to do that.

There will likely come a time when I will work out of the home again, so for now I’m going to savor these extra moments with my child that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. I’m going to try to embrace being a stay-at-home mom again, even though it was not a part of the original plan.

If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught me, it’s that you can make plans and stress about those plans all you want, but when it comes down to it, life is going to throw you some major curve balls. Whether it be something as big as a pandemic and a divorce, or as small as a new layout at your favorite grocery store, you have to just roll with the punches.

What we have planned for ourselves isn’t always what life has planned for us. Right now, life wants me to be a stay-at-home mom again. While I thought this stage of my life was over, I’m going to make the best of the second time around.

I will always believe that stay-at-home moms have one of the toughest jobs around. Their paycheck consists of lollipop kisses and piles of Dreft-scented laundry. It is one of the most undervalued professions there is. Shaping tiny humans into adults and sending them out into the world to succeed and conquer is no small feat.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Many stay-at-home moms do it all on their own. I know, because I’m one of them. To all of the stay-at-home mamas- whether by choice or by necessity — know that your job is essential. In fact, it’s probably the most essential job in the world.

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My Husband Was The SAHP While I Worked––Then COVID-19 Happened

I grew up in a big family. Four children, two parents, eight sets of aunts and uncles. I have four cousins on my mom’s side and even more on my dad’s.

My mom’s mom, our grandmother, was our matriarch and she earned it by being loud, welcoming, and wild. Her life motto was “Be a bother!” and she often joked that her first marriage was for procreation and her second marriage (which started well into her senior years), recreation. She was one of the first women in her community to go to college – at age 16. When her first husband passed away, she went to work as a secretary and then built herself a career in real estate so she could take care of her five children on her own; three of whom were still living at home.

Her only daughter, my mother, followed in her footsteps. For as long as I can remember, my mom was a managing partner in her own accounting firm. Both my parents worked, but it was clear that my mother brought home most of the family income in our house. My dad was the one whose career was a little more… “flexible.” His time was more geared towards field trips and dinner duty rather than long hours in the office for which my mom was known.

I was born in the 1980’s and this is how I formed my world view. Moms were kick ass. They got shit done. They worked hard.

Dads did, too, by the way. But, if there was volunteering to be done or dinner to be cooked. it was dad, not mom, who came to the rescue. Even so, with both parents working, summers were spent at babysitters’ houses or Girl Scout Camp until we were old enough to just look after each other at home. Parents were there for the big things, but it was rare to have a parent home all. Day. Long… on a random Tuesday, no less.

A Shout-Out To Stay-At-Home Parents Everywhere
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This all formed my attitude about what it meant to be a stay at home parent. I spent late summer nights as a pre-teen guffawing at the housewives I saw depicted on Nick at Nite reruns of the Dick Van Dyke Show.

“How could they!?” I’d wonder out loud. “That will never be me,” I vowed. I didn’t understand how someone could subject themselves to that fate.

Here’s the thing, though… I was wrong. So, so wrong.

In 2017, my mom sadly passed away. Our daughter was three at the time and my family had moved in with my mom six months earlier to help as her health quickly declined. My dad had passed away six years earlier. It all felt too much for me to bear.

My husband and I both took a year off from work following the death of my mom. We healed. We traveled. We connected for the first time in years – having normally been too busy taking care of our family, the everyday grind, or my mother to even think about ourselves too much.

After a whirlwind year, it was time to get back to real life. Our daughter was starting Kindergarten in the fall, and we needed to find our footing again. I eventually went back to work. But, my husband? My husband stayed at home.

Let me just say: the contribution of a stay at home parent is nothing short of earth angel status.

For two years, while my husband’s main responsibilities centered around managing the household, I had never felt more supported and more in synch as a family. His role allowed me to dive head first into mine. Promotions, new opportunities, travel, and professional development – all of this soared while our home was single-handedly well managed by my husband. We never scrambled for childcare for things as simple as school pick-up, the grocery shopping always got done, dinner was almost always home cooked, our house was a home, and I was able to be fully present in my professional life through it all. Hell, we even moved internationally for a new job opportunity of mine.

A Shout-Out To Stay-At-Home Parents Everywhere
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I felt incredibly lucky to have the role of “breadwinner” in the family. Sure, work could be stressful. Of course, there are ways that working outside of the home can be challenging. But, in the meantime, I got to feel fulfilled in my own identity outside the home. I had a purpose and meaning beyond my title of “mom” or “wife.”

Instead of viewing my financial contribution as the important one, as I had been indoctrinated by society to believe was the only one that mattered, this set-up allowed me to see it as just one part of a winning combination. I immediately realized my husband’s role was just as important and key to our success as a family as mine, and I was baffled I could have ever looked down on such a sacred responsibility. I started reaching out to all my friends and family who were their own family’s stay at home partner or parent, and giving them unsolicited praise for the major contributions they provided their household.

Even so, my husband did so much, and so seemingly effortlessly, that it was eventually easy to overlook all of the effort that went into keeping things moving so seamlessly every day.

Then COVID hit.

We live in Italy which was the world’s first hotspot outside of China. I had just gotten major surgery right before they announced the country-wide lockdown. It was clear I wouldn’t be going back to work for a long, long time.

Like most, at first our family was at home together 24 hours a day. What became the norm was the “stay at home parent,” or the “work at home parent” for those fortunate to have kept their jobs. The only outings we were allowed were trips to the grocery store or pharmacy. Given my lowered immune system due to recent surgery, my husband managed all of those.

As we’ve finally crawled out of lockdown, our roles have now reversed. I’ve been furloughed, and it is uncertain if there is a job waiting for me on the other end of all this. My husband was able to find work outside the home and I now suddenly find myself in a role I never thought I’d have: I am a stay at home mom.

The cliché rings true: it is a very tough job, certainly not for the lazy or unmotivated. What I find particularly difficult is feeding my family. The decisions on what the menu will be, the act of buying the right ingredients, the fear my cooking skills aren’t up to par with my husbands (they aren’t) – all of this sends me into a tailspin before noon.

I am also not a very natural homemaker. Sure, I can keep a place tidy – but does our house look like a home? The jury is still out.

I absolutely love love love all the time I get to spend with my daughter. But some days, keeping her entertained is not so easy and my capacity to focus most of my attention on her can easily wane. This is especially true when I hear the words, “Mom! Watch!” seventy times a day, only to look over at her doing something that can only rationally be described as nothing, but since she clearly needs the attention and love, I oblige — trying to maintain enthusiasm. It can be exhausting.

So, this is my ode to the stay at home parent.

Whether the house is spotless, or filled with loving chaos… You are amazing.

Whether you are left standing at the end of the day, or regularly sink with the sun into a wine-happy bundle on the couch… You are unstoppable.

Whether you have chosen this role, or have been pushed into it by unforeseen circumstances… What you are providing your family is valuable beyond comprehension.

Whether society would look at you and pin you as the “breadwinner” or the “homemaker…” You are the perfect person for this job.

Whether your partner regularly says this or not… It is because of your dedication to this role that they can be fully realized in theirs.

I do look forward to going back to work one day and putting the stay at home parent status firmly behind me. But, for now I know it is the very best thing I can do for my family.

And it is an absolute honor. 

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10 Ways To Stay Sane While Working From Home With Kids

When I started my journey of self-employment, it was with my kids. They were newborn and 16 months. It was in the midst of the economic crash of 2009, approximately one year after we purchased our first house, which conveniently was about three months before the bottom fell out.

My husband and I are not wealthy people. We were both raised by hard working, middle class parents and had jobs at the age of 14. Relaxing is not something that comes easy to either of us, and as parents, we just want our children to have comfort, security, and confidence.

So much of what we desire for our kids shows up in the decisions we make in our professional lives. My husband is from Ohio – he honestly is the epitome of Midwestern values. Get up early, work hard, don’t complain, and do your best every day.

I am a word nerd and have always been writing. One Saturday, when I was unknowingly pregnant with my daughter, in a move I still blame on an internal nesting instinct, I created a free Google site, positioning myself as a freelance business copywriter offering services that included resume writing and corporate communications.

Within a week, my first client had found me, hired me for a resume, and my business was born. Fast forward approximately two years and two kids later, and I made the bold decision to leave my full-time job (with just one month of savings and no real plan) to go into business for myself … full-time. I quickly realized I needed help, which started out as traveling to visit grandparents two days a week, then hiring a sitter. This morphed slowly into daycare and a different sitter, all requiring a degree of flexibility and adaptability that I was previously unaware I was capable of.

When I look back, I can’t even believe I had the courage to do it. What gene was I born with that made me think I could build and run a business with two tiny people crawling around?

In retrospect, I don’t recommend this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method to starting a business. I would highly suggest a more thought-out approach; however, I did make it work, and I believe I owe that success in large part to a set of loosely-tied-together principles that have become my non-negotiables.

What’s my secret to working at home with kids?

1. Accept failure.

You will absolutely not get the things done that you planned.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

2. Build an “Oh, Sh*t” block into your schedule.

It’s a great cushion for the things that will fall through the cracks.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

3. Get up and move.

A lot. Like at least once every hour, to ward off the anxiety that creeps in when you’re not getting all the things down.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

4. Exercise.

Daily if possible. This balancing act is hard. You need to combat stress, and exercise is the best thing I’ve found.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

5. Get dressed and put on makeup.

You just feel more effective when you look the part. My other secret? Shoes. I always put on shoes when I’m in my office. It’s a small psychological trick that works really well for me to reinforce work vs home.

6. Find your rhythm.

Learn when you are most productive, and block that time. Using a calendar app like Calendly with rules built in is a great way to manage that.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

7. Train your partner.

They will forget that while you “worked” all day, you were interrupted every 20 minutes. So the reason you work when they get home is because you can actually get stuff done.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

8. Be prepared to sacrifice.

Weekends, vacations, typical time off all goes out the window when you’re self-employed — but you don’t have to miss plays, concerts, school meetings, and all the other things.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

9. Find (and stick to) systems that work.

These are different for everyone. The hardest part is sticking to it, but routines will save you.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

10. Be disciplined.

I can’t tell you how hard it is some mornings to not just binge watch Netflix. But I don’t. Mostly.

Things have changed over the years, not least of all my kids. At this point, they are pretty self-sufficient and have a sitter who keeps them busy while I’m wrapping up my day. There are days when I wonder if I made the right decision. Then 2:52 rolls around. Every day, my son gets off the bus and silently crawls into my arms, tucking his head under my neck (being careful not to make too much noise because he knows Airpods in means I’m talking to a client) to give me a hug, and my “why” comes back into focus.

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The Pandemic Is Absolutely Crushing Working Moms, But Does Anyone Care?

I’m the Executive Editor of a parenting site, and I still can’t find work/life balance

A new study published in the academic journal Gender, Work & Organization shows that in households where both parents work, the pandemic has exacerbated the gender gap in work hours by 20 to 50 percent — meaning that a working mom’s schedule is being upended while dad’s work schedule stays pretty much the same. I doubt there is a working mom out there who is surprised by this. Many working moms are being forced to cut hours they work from home to maintain the household — and care for kids who are now home full time.

I’m sitting at my dining room table — my makeshift office. It’s in the center of my house, but we live in an old Hudson Valley home, and there’s not exactly an “office” proper. I’m the Executive Editor of Scary Mommy — the largest parenting brand in the country. Currently, I’m overseeing our Deputy News Editor, who is assigning a team of writers articles that we’ll push out to our four million fans on Facebook in real time. She works from her dining room table too, as her husband “needs the office for his work.” I’m also overseeing our Snapchat channel, which will push out stories to our over three million fans on that platform. In between that, I’m attempting to launch a book club for our site — an endeavor we’ve never taken on before — but the importance of new revenue streams is not lost on anyone trying to maintain some sort of job security in this economy. And my nine-year-old son is sitting next to me playing Mario Kart on his Nintendo Switch, complete with all the sound effects you’d expect to come from a child his age.

Now a Facebook message from a parent at school who needs help with the PTO. Now a meeting rescheduled at the last minute. Now the sales team needs a pitch approved for Snapchat. Now my kids are hungry. I’ll put everything on hold to make them lunch, rushing through it like I usually do. I’ll exist on a cup of coffee until about 4pm — when I have time to grab a snack. I’ll feel like a live wire the entire time. I might raise my voice when my kids get too loud. I might respond to a Slack message in a short fashion. I’ll probably be deemed “bitchy” at several points during the day. I’ll wonder when the last time one of my male colleagues was tone-policed. I won’t have an answer.

“Among telecommuting-capable parents with children aged 1 through 5, we find that the reduction in hours worked per week between February and April is nearly 4.5 times larger for mothers than fathers,” the study, called COVID 19 and the Gender Gap In Work Hours, reads. “This indicates that even when both parents are able to work from home and may be more directly exposed to childcare and housework demands, mothers are scaling back to meet these responsibilities to a greater extent than fathers. Ultimately, our analyses reveal that gender inequality in parents’ work hours has worsened during the pandemic amongst mothers and fathers with young children, even among those who were able to telecommute.”

And this just speaks to households where mothers can scale back. There are plenty of households where that is not an option — and what do you think the result is there? I’d guess that mothers are working more than ever, based not on any scientific study — just my own life. My partner is a working musician, and you can imagine what the pandemic has done to his income stream. The weekly trips to the city have dried up — as have the paying gigs. This has made our once, two-income household a one-income household. And it’s given him a lot more time — and he is a partner who cooks, cleans, and maintains the home. But the kids still want their mom. They always want their mom. “We know that young children are more likely to disrupt mothers’ sleep and leisure than fathers’,” study author, Caitlyn Collins explains. “Even in U.S. households where parents aim for equal parenting, it’s typical that for children, ‘If something needs to get fixed, mom is the name they know.'” And working moms trying to manage working at home during a pandemic know this all too well. But let’s get back to those households where both parents are still able to telecommute.

Woman's choices
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“This study provides early evidence that the pandemic has increased gender inequality in the labor force with troubling consequences for mothers,” the study reports. “Despite the increased necessity and visibility of domestic labor brought about by school and work closures in the face of COVID-19, fathers appear to not have reduced their employment contributions as much as mothers. Instead, mothers have scaled back their hours to meet new caregiving demands.” I don’t have to look far to see that this is what’s happening daily — my company employs dozens of mothers who are now working from home. And in so many cases, I’m hearing the same refrain: “My husband closes the door and tends to his Zoom calls while I’m left wrangling children while I tend to mine.” “My husband never blocks out time on his calendar to handle lunchtime for the kids, so I’m left scrambling my schedule — or worse, making lunch while on conference calls.”

And then there’s the interaction kids need; They need to go outside. They need to not be on their screens all day. They need to maintain some sort of schedule for their own well-being, as their lives have already been turned upside down so much in the face of COVID. And that’s where the overwhelming mom-guilt comes in. Speaking of that — have you ever heard the phrase “dad guilt?” You haven’t. It doesn’t exist.

“The future is unknown, but our results indicate mothers are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and may face long-term employment penalties as a consequence,” the study reminds us. “For this reason, it is critical for employers, managers, and other leaders to recognize the gendered implications of the pandemic on workers to avoid this consequential mistake: the loss of women workers.”

I work for a website whose sole focus is moms, and I still haven’t been able to find that work-life balance. I’m not even sure what that would look like, to be honest. I ascended the ranks from a news writer to Executive Editor in three years because I’m what my male bosses have described as on several occasions, “a beast.” This is something I’ve always taken pride in — I know I have the grit and work ethic to build and accomplish pretty much anything professionally. But the chronic anxiety and feeling like I am always stretched thin is making me wonder if this is the reward for being an amazing employee when you’re a mom; utter exhaustion and the feeling that you’re failing at pretty much everything.

The study did find that there are those who work from home whose days haven’t been completely upended during COVID: Dads. “In contrast to mothers’ work-hour reductions, we observed very little change in fathers’ weekly work hours…These trends indicate that the pandemic is exacerbating gender inequality. Mothers appear to be taking on a larger burden of childcare and homeschooling at expense of paid work time, as evidenced by their larger reduction in work hours compared with fathers.”

Whenever someone writes about the unfair balance of the domestic workload in the home, there are always those who demand that this is an easy fix: tell your partner to do his share! I’m not sure if that’s intentionally obtuse, or just naive. Often, women don’t talk about the mental load of being a mother, because we don’t want to sound like we’re feeding into the stereotype of the incompetent father who doesn’t help around the house. Our partners do help.  They get up, they feed the kids, they participate in household chores… but it’s just not the same as the burden most women carry every day. The mental load.

Think about your own household. Think of the last time your kid had a fever. Who stayed up with that kid all night? Now think of the last time your fridge was filled. Insurance papers were filled out. Old clothes were rotated out of their drawers and donated. Who makes the mental note that you’re about to run out of milk? Who communicates with teachers? The answer, overwhelmingly, is moms — and we all know that. This isn’t something that can change overnight, and implying that it is displays a true misunderstanding of what the mental load actually is.

It’s going to take a lot of work on the part of employers and partners to change this dynamic. But if we don’t want women to drown, we have to start somewhere.

“To avoid long-term losses in women’s labor force participation, employers should offer flexibility to keep mothers attached to employment, including allowing employees to work shorter hours,” the study authors recommend. “Further, fathers should be encouraged to provide more hours of care for their children, which may mean sacrificing paid work hours to do so.”

Great suggestions. But is anyone listening?

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Stop Relying On Working Moms To Handle Everything

Since our children were born, my husband has been at every doctor’s appointment I can remember. We are always together at every parent teacher conference. Yet, when it comes time for questions like, “Do you feel like your daughter is getting a balanced diet?” or “How’s it going at home with long division?” the teacher or doctor always looks to me, and only to me. This is in no way ill intentioned; these are professionals who are engaging in a kind of pattern recognition. If your experience shows that matters related to the care and comfort of children are the domain of the female, you will turn to that person instinctively.

In the U.S. – as it is around the world – women are seen as default providers of care for their families. One study found that women are 10 times more likely than men to take time off to stay home with their sick children.

But what happens when life turns into one long sick day? It looks like a “shecession” with women’s unemployment considerably outpacing that of men. As it is, the employment gains for women have been erased in only a few short months since COVID-19 took hold. New Oxfam research from various countries around the world shows that in the midst of the pandemic, women are spending their days doing unpaid care and domestic work – cooking, cleaning, shopping for the family — not advancing their careers. And while two-thirds of men report that they are cooking and cleaning as much as or more than women are, only one-third of women agree.

Mother trying to stay concentrated for work while holding her son in lap
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The imbalance in care is particularly acute for Women of Color and Asian women. Oxfam and Promundo’s new research in the US found that while 57% of White women say that their daily domestic and care work has increased, 71% of Black or African American women, 71% of Latina women and 79% of Asian women said their care duties have increased.

Now, as the economy opens back up and employers start wavering on accommodations around caring for children while working from home, we need to avoid falling into accepted patterns that women should shoulder the continued uncertainty around school and daycare availability.  If we don’t address this, we’ll see widespread attrition of women from the workforce and women becoming more economically dependent on their partners. Not only will women be worse off, but, if men pull back from caregiving as women stay home at higher rates, our sons and daughters will be worse off too.

It is time for men to lean in. Men themselves benefit from greater engagement in caregiving, including improved physical, mental, and sexual health and reduced risk-taking. Men who are involved in the home and with their children report the relationship is one of their most important sources of well-being and happiness. It is good for children, too. There is ample evidence from all over the world that engaged fatherhood has a positive impact on boys and girls – and the relationships they will have as adults.

Busy woman multitasking
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But large-scale shifts need to happen to keep us all from backsliding.

Men can advocate for their employers to strengthen parental leave benefits and paid family leave benefits while carrying out workplace-based campaigns that demonstrate a workplace environment that fully supports the caregiving duties of women and men equally. Men should encourage other men to lean into childcare. Humans are social creatures, taking cues from those around them. What people believe, what they see in the media, and what those around them believe often determine how individuals behave and act.

We can all call on our lawmakers to support the passage of the Child Care is Essential Act, which would provide $50 billion in immediate funds to the child care industry.  This Act would ensure that essential workers—men and women alike—will not have to choose between keeping their jobs and staying home to care for their children. Additionally, it will ensure that the already fragile childcare industry will not collapse due to COVID-19, meaning workers—again, particularly women workers—can depend on childcare services that were present before the pandemic and go back into the workplace.

The question is, what kind of future do we want for this country? We are at the precipice of going back in time, of losing the gains for women in workforce engagement and of men in equal roles in caring for their children and families. Men – and women – must act now to push for changes that are good for all of us.

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As A Black Woman In The Workplace, I Hope Times Are Changing

We heard the cries from mothers across the world, responding to George Floyd’s final plea, calling his mama begging for help, yearning to be heard one last time. Over the last few weeks, we’ve also heard from protesters in the streets marching in communities from Brooklyn to LA screaming, “No justice, no peace” and “Say her name,” a call to action for our federal and local governments and police departments across the country to do better. A call to hold those accountable for their crimes against the very humans they were meant to protect and serve no matter the color of their skin.

As some of us dust ourselves off, push forward, and return to the world of work, as a Black person, it all feels different. How could it not? Particularly as a Black person going back to an all-white work environment, like I am. I work side by side with white women. My boss is a white woman. The small organization I work for was founded by a white woman.

As the only person of color on staff, and the only Black woman in my office, the Black Lives Matter movement has given me the fuel I’ve long needed to use my authentic voice while at work. While many days over the last few weeks have been emotionally unbearable at times, finding my voice and using it has been the silver lining for me — if there could be such a thing at a time like this.

Don’t get me wrong, I have colleagues who understand and truly want to learn and do better. As my colleagues, but more importantly as white people, they understand the need to act now and to keep putting in the work. They read books on race. They explore the hard questions with interest and commit to improving their understanding of the plight of Black people, my people. They attend trainings in hopes of leaving said training with more self-awareness and an unspoken mandate to go out and be an educated ally, to walk the walk.

Yet I can’t help but fear and wonder with great curiosity if my newfound voice will, after, say, a year has passed, be welcomed the same way. Will using my authentic voice push them into a corner, building walls to shield themselves from the truth of my words? Will I retreat back into the cocoon which has kept me safe throughout my entire professional career? Will I revert to being the woman who toed the line to keep the peace? Will I be the woman who worries that speaking from her heart with passion and authenticity will be seen as a threat instead of a conversation starter? I know I cannot go back to being “that woman” who doesn’t use her voice in the way it is meant to be used. 

Trending hashtags like #ShareTheMic attempt to amplify the voices of Black women as white women hand their mics over to Black women for the day, allowing them to be heard — Black women who work in fields like journalism and acting, are business owners, and more. But is the #ShareTheMic Instagram initiative enough? What about the black women who wake up every day, who work in hospitals, who are nurses, who are housekeepers, who work in daycares, who sit in board rooms shoulder to shoulder with people whose skin color does not match theirs — what about those voices?

In a 2019 article in the New York Times, editor and reporter Lauretta Charlton dissects a report called “Being Black in Corporate America.” A year out from when this article was published, I believe we are turning a corner — and we didn’t need a study to get us there. We needed the bravery of everyday people, Black, white, brown, and all bodies willing and able to take a stand against racism, injustice, and fight for equality. George Floyd’s murder in May was, and will remain, the catalyst for the changes ahead of us. They must stick.

For Black women like me, I am hopeful that the words that leave our lips can help tame the troubled waters ahead. The fight for equality in the workplace, the right to be heard, and the battle yet to be won, will continue to propel us forward into what I hope is our new normal.

I, for one, am foregoing the opportunity to mop up the perceived hurt feelings of my white family members, friends, and colleagues. I am standing in my skin, ready to be heard. There has been a shift — albeit a slow one, but it is happening nonetheless. It is spilling over into the workplace and trending hashtags like #blacklivesmatter and #sayhername and #alllivesmatter stir a pot overflowing with emotion.

As a community of many, we are entering a new world and have a better view of what it looks like to give a Black woman her voice back. 

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7 Tips For Pursuing Your Dreams Even When You’re Busy AF

Yes, you have time.

As a soon-to-be mom of six, I hear you when you say that you wish you could start a new project or pursue a new goal but you’re just too busy to add one more thing to your plate. None of us have the time. I just finished writing a book, and the first thing most of my friends asked was, “How the f*ck did you do that?”

It’s a reasonable question. As well as being pregnant and taking care of five kids, I run a wedding business. My partner also works full-time as a financial advisor, and, like a pair of masochists, we have our children enrolled in a mind-boggling array of sports and activities.

So how would someone as busy as I am add something as time-consuming as writing a book onto my plate? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I didn’t. It was impossible, so I did something that probably feels unthinkable to many moms out there. I started sliding other things off my plate to make room. My unbelievably understanding partner caught some of those things while others, like my personal appearance, fell to the wayside.

At home, I took a couple of months off from inviting people over in lieu of cleaning. I worked out less frequently, wore increasingly eccentric outfits as the laundry piled up and dinner mutated from Cordon Bleu to Cordon Bleurgh as I resorted to tossing a random selection of frozen goods into the oven at 6pm. Instead of making sensory boxes and practicing reading with my five year olds, I took them to indoor play centers with ball pits to catch E. coli while I ignored them and stared at my laptop.

It felt… awful. I was a bad mom, a bad partner, an absent friend, and my house was a health hazard. But after two months, I was suddenly an author. My book was being edited and I was able to start picking up where I had left off. My kids got their mom back, my hair got highlighted, and the house got decontaminated. The best part was that no one seemed to notice that it hadn’t always been that way.

The “How the f*ck did you do that?” questions seemed nothing short of bizarre at first, as it seemed so obvious to me. Had no one noticed me looking like a bag lady? My kids looking pale and plump from a lack of home-cooked meals? Apparently not, and you know why? Because no one else is judging you as hard as you’re judging yourself. The first time my kids noticed my sabbatical from parenting was when it ended and they were suddenly asked to eat vegetable stir fries and homemade shepherd’s pies again instead of chicken nuggets and carrot sticks. And let me tell you, they weren’t actually pleased.

In summary, moms of the world, I am here to tell you that you have time to do absolutely anything — you just don’t have time to do everything. More importantly, it isn’t selfish to take some time away from one area to apply it to your career or a goal that is important to you. Your kids will benefit from seeing you do this, even if you fail. Perhaps especially if you fail. They will also celebrate with you when you win.

Remind yourself that your children may well choose to model themselves on the choices that you make today. Do you want them to feel free to pursue their dreams when they grow up? Or do you want them to think they should squash themselves down inside in exchange for a Pinterest-perfect house?

So, let them see you soar, let them see you roar, and let them see you prioritize passion over a clean floor.

If you have a dream — and I hope you do — then here are my top 7 tips for finding time to chase it.

1. Schedule!

Look at your calendar and block off portions of time that you will spend working on your project. Commit to making those non-negotiable.

2. Use all the scraps.

Keep your laptop close and make use of all of the snippets of time that crop up during the day: waiting at the doctor’s office, the auto shop, or ballet class.

3. Read while driving.

Audiobooks, silly! Or podcasts. I studied the content of my book in the car as well as listening to motivational podcasts on book writing and marketing.

4. Make deadlines.

Have an accountability buddy and commit to sending them evidence of completed tasks within certain timeframes. I splurged on a coach, but this can be your bestie or your mom.

5. Let it go!

Keep Elsa in your head. Drop perfectionism, guilt, and self -doubt. You truly have no time for those. Also drop cleaning, cooking, and laundry for a while if needed. Everyone will survive.

6. Reward yourself.

We all need recognition for our hard work, but that isn’t easy to find in the early stages of a new project. Choose some milestones in advance, and pick a treat to enjoy when you reach each one. A pedicure, a box of chocolates, or some wine perhaps. You did a great job and you shouldn’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back.

7. Remember, it’s temporary.

When you’ve reached your goal, you will have more time again, whether that’s because you have freed yourself up or freed up cash to pay someone else to wash the floors. You won’t have a messy house forever, and you can go back to being super mom again when the time is right.

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My Husband Is A Better ‘Housekeeper’ Than Me

My friends think my husband is the perfect man. And, in some ways, they’re not wrong.

“Liz’s husband is the type of man who unloads the dishwasher, unbidden,” my best friend once lauded him. Indeed, he is the sole keeper of the dishwasher, loading and unloading it daily, without complaint. He takes out the recycling and the trash, including emptying the diaper can in our daughter’s nursery and enduring its gag-inducing odor. Sometimes, when I’m watching TV, I hear the dulcet whirr of the vacuum cleaner in the next room. He cleans out the fridge as soon as he notices so much as a speck of mold. He grocery shops and cooks marvelous meals.

Were he a CrossFit enthusiast, he’d be a candidate for the book series “Porn for Women,” which features handsome, muscular men—often shirtless—performing household tasks, accompanied by quotes like, “As soon as I finish the laundry, I’ll do the grocery shopping. And I’ll take the kids with me so you can relax.”

Unlike other wives I know, I never have to nag my husband about household chores. He just does them.

So, I’m the luckiest woman in the world, right? The thing is, sometimes living with this angel of domesticity makes me feel like a big fat failure.

Somewhere deep down, I believe should be the “housewife.” More specifically, my idea of a good mother is an overburdened housewife. I read so many stories about how mothers still bear the brunt of household chores, even when both spouses are working full-time. Since my husband and I both work, am I getting off easy? I contribute to our household in plenty of ways that don’t involve scrubbing or sauteeing, but somehow I still feed bad.

When I was growing up, I was not neat, and my family did not teach me how to clean. My father collects stuff of all kinds, and he would freak out when housekeepers rearranged his things. So, typically the house was in disarray.

My mother was more interested in her career as a painter and intellectual pursuits than in keeping house. (To her credit, she took care of me and my brother part-time for our entire childhoods.) As a result, mounds of dirty clothes accumulated in the laundry room.

My husband’s family, on the other hand, didn’t order takeout as frequently as we did or have a housekeeper. I’ve never seen my mother-in-law leave dirty dishes in the sink, as my mother frequently did.

Six years ago, for The Christian Science Monitor, I wrote a paean to my mother, praising her for finding time for her own pursuits, even if it meant putting off some household duties. Her behavior was a kind of feminist manifesto, I wrote—not modeling how to be a perfect housewife.

New York had recently run a cover story titled “The Feminist Housewife,” which cited a survey from the Families and Work Institute, in which women said that they detested housework and wished for more free time. Yet, when the women got more free time, they cleaned.

“Psychologists suggest that perhaps American women are heirs and slaves to some atavistic need to prove their worth through domestic perfectionism,” the reporter, Lisa Miller, wrote.

After my daughter was born, I suddenly began to identify with these women who feel guilty for not cooking or cleaning enough—in spite of admiring my mother’s unconventional approach.

I work as a freelance journalist, and I stay home with my daughter part-time. My husband has the same dual setup, and outside of that, we are good at splitting the child care. But, when my daughter was a newborn and I was taking time off of work, I cleaned obsessively during her naptimes and at night. I tried to cook more often. I bragged to my new mom friends about how much laundry I did.

My identity as a writer seemed to disappear. I didn’t give myself so much as a few moments to read or write in my journal.

And, I took for granted my own contributions to our household. Tucked away in my home office, I manage our finances, sort the mail and pay the bills. I buy our health insurance (my husband and I are both self-employed), a daunting task that requires hours of comparing plans. I pay our taxes. I’m the researcher—of travel, child care, you-name-it. Between our wedding and our baby, I’ve written more than 125 thank you notes (I worship at the temple of Emily Post). These are important tasks and things my husband isn’t good at.

There are also some household duties that are my responsibility, including laundry. I grocery shop and cook a couple of nights a week. But, I often fall behind on folding burp cloths and onesies, and I’m typically the one who suggests ordering takeout.

Most of my contributions aren’t things you can see. They don’t involve reaching to the back of the fridge with a soapy sponge, or carrying a heavy trash bag down two flights of stairs. Even though my husband always thanks me for what I do, I know he sometimes resents that he does the physically demanding work. He has joked with my brother that he is the “custodian” of our family (a fancy name for a janitor).

My therapist suggested that I need to accept my “21st century marriage.” Meaning, my husband does more of the cooking and cleaning, and I do the tasks that, in the past, were typically assigned to the man.

She also said, “As a new mom, you have a certain idea about what makes a ‘good mother.’ ”

I need to redefine “good mother” on my own terms, as my mother did. For me, that means working hard on my writing; I want my daughter to be proud of her mother’s professional and creative life. I’ve started using my daughter’s nap times to write, and finding other, less-precious time for laundry.

To accept my modern marriage, and my mothering, I need to stop apologizing for being a sub-par laundress and unreliable cook. I need to start really hearing it when my husband says “thank you” for making sure we pay our taxes on time. I need to remind myself of the unseen ways I contribute.

My new mantra is, “This family could not function without you. You are essential.”

Sure, my husband might sometimes resent that he does his work on his feet and I do my work from a desk. But is any marriage without resentment? (Hopefully, not too much.) I’m a perfectionist. But there’s no such thing as a perfect wife and mother.

So what if my husband is more of the “housewife” or “house-husband”? But, wait. Both of those terms are so terribly sexist. Why do we need to qualify marital roles by attaching one of them to “the house”? Both my husband and I make our household work, in different ways—ways that don’t need to be assigned a gender.

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Why Summer Break Is Hard For So Many Families

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I saw an ad for a great summer camp for kids who like to write. My daughter is an amazing storyteller. I’m always looking for opportunities to help her grow in that area because who wouldn’t want to be the mother to a New York Times bestselling writer one day?

I clicked on the ad, read about the program, and I was sold! The camp operated in week-long sessions at 4 hours a day, and there was a location right near our house. I found the page to register, and then saw the tuition. It was almost $800! And my daughter would have to pack her own lunch. And I would still need to figure out how to afford the other nine weeks of summer break activities.

Sigh…

We need to talk about how expensive summer breaks are. As a working mom on a budget with a husband who works as well, I hate the stress that comes around this time every year. This is the time that my inbox starts blowing up with offers to save on summer camps by registering early. Even still, I really can’t afford to pay up to $1,000 a week for my child to experience all of the fun these camps offer.

And if I don’t sign my daughter up for camp, then what? Where will my child go while I’m working? Babysitters around here go for about $15/hr. Even if I could shift my work schedule so I could get off early, and only needed a babysitter for 5 or 6 hours a day, that’s still almost $100 every day.

I don’t know when things changed, but it’s not as common for folks to have a family member like a grandmother or older aunt who stays home and is okay watching all of the kids anymore.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time hanging out with cousins, watching television, and playing during summer break. I’d go to the library and read tons of books. Back then, there was always a lot of family around who could watch us kids. We would just pile into someone’s house and spend days there with an adult making sure we ate and came in when the streetlights came on.

To round out the summer, I would maybe go to camp for a week or two. My parents never paid more than $50/week for camp, and that included meals. The way things are these days, that experience isn’t enough for kids. Their school year is so packed, and by summer they’re ready for a break. That’s when the worry starts to set in for me. How am I going to afford summer break?

I ran summer camps for nearly a decade many years ago. Our camps were a non-profit, and we received grants to operate. Families paid what they could, and most families paid less than $200 for a full 10 weeks of camp that included field trips, meals, swimming, and more.

I understand that for profit camps don’t have the benefit of grants to cover overhead like we did in my non-profit camp. It also makes sense that a specialized camp that teaches something like writing, coding, or acting might require a higher rate for instructors who are more like teachers than camp counselors.

Still, $800 for a week, especially since it’s not even the whole day, feels excessive. After adding in after-camp care, or paying someone to pick my kids up and watch them until I’m done with work, it’s enough to make a working mom feel defeated. The only folks who could possibly afford that are rich, and unfortunately, we are not rich.

As a solidly middle-class family, this is the hardest part of summer. We make too much to be able to take advantage of affordable summer break options, like summer camp, and we struggle to afford things like tuition and babysitter fees. Since we don’t qualify for any scholarships, government programs, or reduced rates, her summer experience is often dictated by what we can afford rather than what she really wants to do.

We did get a break when I found the perfect summer camp for her a few years ago. I reached out and offered some marketing services in exchange for a session of their program, and they’ve been looking out for me every since. I’m grateful for that, but know that most families aren’t going to find a set-up like I have.

So, what are we supposed to do? How do we afford summer break when two weeks of camp or a month of reduced hours babysitting costs more than our mortgage?  I don’t know if the administrators of summer camps can be moved. As long as some families can afford to pay the ridiculous fees, there is no impetus for change. Instead, I think we look at our employers.

In an effort not to take advantage of my friends who allow my daughter to attend their camp, I only enroll her for a few sessions. The rest of the time, she’s in “Mommy Camp,” and I supplement with some affordable summer classes. My job is flexible so I can plan some fun and intentionally educational experiences and catch up on my work when I get home. Last summer we went to play mini golf, had a bunch of trips to the library, and visited some historical sites in our city.

As working parents, we have to ask our employers to be flexible during the summer months. They have to be our partners. If we are to be effective employees, we need to know that our children are being taken care of. Worrying about what our kids are doing, and how we’re going to afford care for them for the summer takes away from the brain space that could be used for doing the work that we’re being paid to do.

In a perfect world, summer camp operators would be more focused on making sure any kid who is interested in their program has a chance to participate. We live in a capitalist society. Everybody wants to make money. If they see a chance to make more, they’re going to take it.

I won’t let that deter me from continuing to search for high-quality, affordable summer break options. I know they’re out there. Until I find those unicorns, I guess I’ll be signing my kids up for another summer of Mommy Camp. At least that I know I can afford.

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