Covid-19 took us all by surprise last year. The pandemic upended our lives in so many unexpected ways, particularly by separating us from friends and loved ones and forcing many of us to work from home. For working parents, the toll has been even greater. In households throughout the world, parents have felt the need to continue performing well at their jobs while also having to cope with constant distractions from children throughout the day.
The plight of working parents during Covid has certainly been in the spotlight over the past year. In survey after survey, we’ve heard about the impact that the pandemic and shutdowns have had on working families. More than half of parents – and particularly mothers – feel that their job performance has slipped during the pandemic. Millions of women have left the workforce over the past year due to childcare needs, while millions more are suffering from burnout as they try to juggle work with family life.
With that in mind, this month’s Voices blog post is dedicated to working parents. We sat down with a few of NetMotion’s own employees in March for a very candid discussion about what it’s been like managing work expectations over the past year with the very real needs of their families.
Parents have always been excellent at juggling multiple responsibilities. No matter what they may be doing during the day, there’s always a part of their brains looking ahead at what they need to get done for their kids. It’s usually a checklist of things to get marked off, like doctor’s appointments, drop-off and pick-up times, meal prep, school and sporting activities. It’s like being an event planner on call 24/7.
In fact, parents are some of the most efficient employees. Out of necessity they become better at planning and multitasking, and they learn to be productive in less-than-ideal situations.
But Covid knocked all of those norms out the window. With many schools and daycare centers being forced to close, parents have borne the brunt of the extra work. Depending on the age of the children, it means prepping extra meals, helping kids log into classroom video chats and supervising schoolwork. For parents with younger children, it has often meant working odd hours to catch up on work that gets sidelined during the day.
Coping with Covid
In the past, working parents often felt apologetic or guilty when the needs of their kids intruded into the workday. We want to look polished, professional and buttoned up, not distracted. Who can forget the very public and comical moment in 2017 when a BBC interview is interrupted by children walking in on their dad as he was talking about South Korea? That seemed hilarious and embarrassing at the time, but for many parents it has become part of a normal day.
Likewise, parents have learned to take turns with child-minding duties.
“My wife and I kind of bounce off each other’s schedules, so if she has a meeting, she tells me about it so that I can put it on my calendar. That way I don’t book a meeting at the same time, and we can take turns watching our son. She can participate in her meetings uninterrupted, and vice versa. It has worked well for us.”Steve Londono, Senior Inside Sales Representative, NetMotion
“As part of NetMotion’s sales team, we naturally spend a lot of our time interacting with customers in different parts of the country. There used to be a lot of traveling involved, but these days there are a lot of video calls. It’s funny to see that when I’m chatting with another parent, there’s almost an instant connection. A lot of us feel like we haven’t slept in months.”
“Working from home with a young child has definitely been a challenge,” added Sarah Espy, one of our QA engineers in the R&D team. “The wonderful thing is that I get to have lunch with my daughter every day, and I can just go downstairs and give her a hug any time. It’s also tough, because I’m at my desk in my bedroom all day, so even when I’m done for the day, I shut my laptop and I haven’t really left work. There’s no separation.”
“For me, it’s been difficult to deal with on both sides. I tell my son, Henry, that I’ll be able to hang out with him as soon as an internal team meeting ends. But these meetings often run 15, 20, even 30 minutes over schedule, which is a long time for a kid to wait. So, I end up feeling guilty when I tell my colleagues that I have to drop early, even though it’s not technically early. There are definitely a lot of sacrifices being made in order to keep things moving.”Jeff Baldwin, DevIT System Engineer II, NetMotion
“On the plus side,” Jeff continues, “Henry has a knack of popping up in the background during my meetings, wearing just his undies and dancing for everyone. I used to apologize, but this is my life right now, working at home in a pandemic with two kids.”
Be good to yourself
For new parents, coping with the pandemic is like taking on two new full-time jobs at the same time.
“From January through March, when it’s really dark outside and you can’t really escape or even leave your house, it’s been really tough. Trying to be a good employee while also being a good parent means that many parents lose time for themselves, but that’s also really important.”Sarah Espy, QA Engineer II, NetMotion
For many of NetMotion’s employees, collaborating with other working parents has been a breath of fresh air, at least emotionally. Dealing with isolation and a lack of support from the extended family is certainly stressful, so knowing that there are other parents going through similar things and facing similar challenges gives us all some common ground.
The need for positive change
There’s a lot in the world that needs to change to better accommodate the needs of parents. It’s great to see things like nursing pods pop up at airports, but there are still simple things like having bathrooms at restaurants and other public places with changing tables so that parents don’t have to change their kids on a bathroom floor. On a macro level, it’s also things like better legislation that grants a federally recognized minimum for paid maternity and paternity leave. Change like that only comes about when people speak up, but too many parents don’t want to rock the boat – they already feel guilty and apologetic and ashamed and don’t want to be seen as complaining.
When all is said and done, working from home over the past year has been tough – on everyone. But as working parents, our responsibilities have piled up while our time has been stretched very thin. Fortunately, with Covid vaccines being rolled out around the world, many schools and daycare centers are reopening at least partially, there is light at the end of this long tunnel.
For many of us at NetMotion, being working parents has been an eye-opening experience that we weren’t totally prepared for. But like everything in life, it’s something that we’ll be able to look back on as a pivotal point in our journey as parents and as employees. To all the working moms and dads out there – we see you, we hear you. You’re not alone!