President's Perspective Blog

Working Moms: Beware the Pandemic Fallout

working mother

As a working mother, like many, this past year has challenged me like never before. And even though the world is reverting back to “normal” a little more each day, I feel like the strains and challenges of being a working mother continue on.

Laura C. McCullough, CFRE
Laura C. McCullough, CFRE

In March 2020, with three school-aged children, one with severe learning and behavioral issues, just getting through the day was mentally and emotionally exhausting. My employer was generous and allowed me to work from home. I quickly realized I was working harder to accomplish less and less each day. Making donor calls to discuss estate provisions and IRA distributions had to fit between teaching math lessons, making lunch, and unclogging the toilet for the 4th time that week. I started to lose my identity and priorities. It became less about accomplishments and more about surviving. I was so resentful of my husband. He got up for work early each morning, with his protective gear in tow, and I was stuck at home. I used to throw on heels and fashionable clothes. I did lunch, nailed meetings, and built relationships. Now, I learned 27 different ways to prepare ground beef and yelled at squirrels outside my window.

When I think about the daunting time early on in the pandemic, it stresses me to remember how awful I felt. But I was one of the lucky ones who had an understanding employer. I didn’t have to worry about being fired for taking care of my family. I didn’t have to worry about running into the office and wondering who could care for my children. I had comfort in knowing that I just had to do my best at that time.

Fast forward 14 months. My children are now going to school two days a week for a few hours. I am still working from home, but I can pop into my office while the kids are at school. I have even been able to see a few donors (socially distanced, of course). I have mastered technology issues, makeshift workspaces, and a life that requires me to be home. I could feel normalcy within my reach, but that came to a screeching halt pretty quickly. Because as the fiscal year is winding down, I am reviewing goals for the past year and setting new ones for the next. I am reflecting on what I accomplished … what I accomplished? I haven’t been worrying about accomplishments. I have just been surviving. And so, I am now experiencing the “working mother pandemic fallout.”

Survival Mode

I am a cancer survivor. When I went through cancer, for that whole year, all I had to do was survive. It was hard to do chemotherapy and all that comes with it, but it was easier when only focused on one thing—surviving. Returning to normal life is a whole different ballgame. All the things I let slide, they were in my face—people, responsibilities, goals and dreams. They were all waiting for me, and it was very intimidating. While I was surviving, life passed me by but, other people had been living. Returning to normalcy after COVID-19 feels the same to me. My head has been down, and I have been doing everything I can to survive. And now that I have, I realize there were people out there living and passing me by.

So, while preparing materials and numbers for my performance appraisal, I saw what I already knew—half my goals were unmet. I knew my goals for the last 12 months. They weren’t a secret or a surprise. But, at the end of the day, I only had so much time. Between helping kids with schoolwork, dealing with Wi-Fi interruptions and handling the tantrums of a child with special needs, I did everything I could to continue the work of my organization and take care of my family. I often started and ended my day with Teams meetings, and I still raised more money than the year before. Still, half my goals are unmet. My husband, however, is killing it. He is getting accolades and bonuses for a job well done. He continues to leave the house every day to go to his job site and rolls in at 6:00, where a meal and his family are waiting. And even though I am doing all I can, at the end of the day, I feel as though I failed.

The Impact on Future Growth

I have worked harder this past year to accomplish only half of my goals. It isn’t just about being given grace for not accomplishing what we had set out to do this year. As the world continues on its road to recovery, I have to wonder if working mothers will continue to be faced with what they were unable to achieve while our male counterparts continue to succeed? It isn’t that they should be punished because they were able to return to work or perhaps work without the pressures of children at home, but when evaluating staff, how can you compare oranges to very tired apples? How will this year and what working mothers have or have not accomplished affect their opportunities for the future within their organizations? What about getting the promotion, earning the raise, landing the big project? We have been at home meeting only half our goals. Not necessarily because we wanted to, but because we had to. How will this further inequity between men and women and affect workplace culture?

I do not know all the answers, but I do know we each have a responsibility and a role in shaping the culture and environment of our organizations. What role will you take in showing support to your fellow working mothers as they return to normalcy?

Laura C. McCullough, CFRE, (she, her, hers) is director of philanthropic services at The Community Foundation of Frederick County.

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