On the day my oldest daughter’s school announced it was moving to a virtual model, I realized my husband and I were going to have to have a hard conversation about which one of us would leave our job to become a full-time caregiver.
I had only just gotten my new freelance writing career off the ground after having largely left the workforce in 2014. My business was still small and didn’t offer the same security or benefits of my husband’s warehouse job, however, it made financial sense for him to quit as I could out-earn him if I committed to writing full time. Of course, that meant my husband would have to step up and handle Zoom school for our eldest child, snack time for our younger two, and all the other household duties that had traditionally fallen to me.
I knew from talking to friends that we weren’t the only mothers having hard talks at home. Many of us were forced into making major life changes as a result of the pandemic. And while not everyone was happy about it — I saw several relationships end after lockdown — and not everyone was privileged enough to change their life for the better during such a difficult time, my conversations with mothers were enlightening: some admitted the pandemic had prompted them to identify and overcome certain roadblocks, and they seemed happier for it.
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Rachel L.* had big plans for starting a family, but she didn’t realize the significance of becoming a new mom during a global pandemic, particularly how crowded she’d feel in her tiny Brooklyn apartment. “I think we had always sort of known that we would probably have to leave when the baby came. Like a lot of New York families, we probably would have just made it work until it was totally untenable,” the writer-editor tells SheKnows.
When the baby was born in July 2020, suddenly home felt much smaller with Rachel’s work space operating as a nursery and playroom. “My husband was working in the living room, which was the only shared room in the apartment. If I needed to write, I’d often be inches away from him and his work meetings,” she says.
Then noises from the outside world began creeping in. Constant fireworks, backyard parties, and the added volume from neighbors who’d taken in relatives during the pandemic, all of which made it harder for Rachel to sleep. Although she admits that moving from the big city to the country had always been a fantasy, the pandemic drove her to make it a reality.
Without the pandemic, Rachel says she likely would have spent years debating a move. “And yes it was scary, sort of, but it was scarier to live in the heart of the pandemic while [cases] were rising so catastrophically,” she recalls. “Early on, when so much about the virus was still unknown, we were living with plastic taped over our front door to protect us from neighbors who had family members die from COVID-19.” Rachel and her family decided to leave the city and move to a more rural area of the state.
“I was terrified, but I had to truly surrender to trust.”
The acclimation period has been difficult at times but she is “less wracked with fear,” she says. “I feel like, okay, we did the big thing, and now I’m going to have to spend months, and probably years, slowly learning how to be here.” Although there are benefits to country living. “I found an excellent day care immediately and it only costs $5 an hour,” she said. “There’s also a very good, free preschool, the local lake is a five-minute drive, and we get cheap local produce and dairy.”
Although many women were forced to leave the workforce and become full-time caregivers when schools and daycares closed, one mom was fortunate to pursue a passion. Last year, concerned for her college-aged son who is at high-risk for COVID-19, Jess H.* of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania sent five of her seven kids (her second college-aged son lives on his own) to stay with their father to limit their medically-compromised son’s potential exposure from his siblings. At the time, Jess, like many others, believed the crisis would be short-lived, so she wasn’t prepared when weeks turned into months.
One month later, Jess found herself depressed and in bed. Just two years into recovery, she was concerned with relapsing. “Tired of my own tears, I remember going into the bathroom and facing myself in the mirror, looking hard into my eyes, searching for my soul,” she tells SheKnows. “I realized I had become complacent in my recovery, complacent with my part-time job, and complacent in pursuing my dreams.” In her spare time, Jess began painting — her passion — which she eventually parlayed into a six-figure business. “Of course I was terrified, but I had to truly surrender to trust,” she says.
“Before the pandemic, I was caught under the pressure to go the ‘secure’ way to provide for my kids — get a ‘real’ job working for someone else even if it killed my spirit,” she adds. “But I’m an entrepreneur at heart despite always being told, ‘Art isn’t a real job or a responsible field to pursue.’” However, she says, “[But] it’s possible to have an incredibly joyous life on the other side of adversity.”
However, not all life changes were immediate. For Meghan P.*, her decision will play out for years to come. The public relations professional has always considered herself a curious learner, but with a full-time job and two children at home in Florida, going back to school to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology seemed out of reach. “There’s a lot of coursework, not to mention the dissertation, and many schools require a substantial amount of in-person engagement,” she tells SheKnows.
“I needed to take advantage of this time now or else it would be squandered.”
However, during the pandemic, Meghan’s work shifted to a permanently remote structure, and without a lengthy commute, her schedule opened up. “ I felt like I needed to take advantage of this time now or else it would be squandered,” she recalls. So Megan enrolled in the same university where she’d earned her master’s degree in the same field four years prior.
That choice, while ultimately a positive one, wasn’t made without fear. Meghan worries about the cost, both in terms of finances and in time missed with her family. “But sometimes we need to make investments in ourselves, and COVID helped me [see] that,” she says adding, “There are no multi-hour Zoom meetings and every class follows a similar schedule so I know what to expect.” She’s also grateful for the timing. “As more people return to the office, my schedule gets more intense and it would be harder to write a paper or read research articles after a long day of meetings.”
With her both children under the age of five, Meghan says she couldn’t accomplish her goals without a strong support system. “My husband does a lot to make sure I have time and space for my job and schoolwork because he knows it’s important to me,” she says. “And my parents often take the girls to their house when I have a big assignment coming up.”
While Meghan admits to feeling “major mom guilt” when she has to buckle down and focus on school, “ultimately, I hope my girls see that it’s good to take time for yourself and to pursue your passions.”
*Rachel L., Jess H., and Meghan P. requested that SheKnows omit their last names for privacy reasons.
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