As the world ushered in 2021, there was a collective need to move on, forget, and otherwise erase the harrowing year that was 2020. I understand the impulse. As a single mother, CEO, and co-founder of HeyMama, a private online community for working moms, I wouldn’t mind forgetting the days I had to facilitate my daughter’s at-home e-learning while running a board meeting or drafting proposals. I would be happy erasing the near-constant sound of sirens that dominated March, April, and May from my memory. Forgetting the isolation of quarantine? Sign me up.
But there were some positives that came from a year that was so detrimental to working moms — positives I think all of us parents should carry with us into 2021.
Working moms are talking more about their mental health.
One study showed that nearly half of all moms said they experienced some type of psychological distress in early April, when many became de facto homeschool teachers due to school closures. And a number of studies showed that Covid-19 caused an increase in depression and anxiety. As a result of the mental health ramifications of the ongoing public health crisis, more people are talking openly about their mental health and what they need in order to maintain it.
In 2019, research found that nearly 60% of employees have never discussed their mental health at work… but they want to. If employees continue to talk openly about their mental health needs, and employers continue to encourage and facilitate those conversations, as well as offer mental health care services when possible, we can all work towards eradicating the mental health crisis in this country.
Working parents are done apologizing for their children.
When Covid-19 changed where and how many of us work, we were no longer able to separate our work lives from our parenting lives. Our children were running in and out of Zoom meetings and screeching loudly in the background of weekly conference calls. The presence of our children during work hours became commonplace, so parents stopped apologizing for their children. Kids were stuck inside, too, and adjusting just like the rest of us. Most employers understood the difficulties facing working parents because, well, they’re working parents facing their own set of difficulties, too.
Kids exist. They take up space and make noise and they have needs that are time sensitive. Let’s normalize the presence of children in all areas of life by refusing to apologize for them, even when we go back to the office and they go back to school.
We’re finally acknowledging the ongoing disparities that exist for many working parents.
The country has suffered historic job losses and unemployment rates, but the ramifications Covid-19 has had on jobs and the economy has not impacted everyone equally. Nearly 2.2 million women were pushed out of the workforce between February and October of 2020. In September of last year, 865,000 women left or lost their jobs alone. In December, 140,000 jobs were lost — all of them held by Black and Latina women.
Meanwhile, men who worked from home were three times more likely to be promoted during the pandemic than women.
The disparities that continue to persist in the workforce are glaringly obvious, as is the need to level the playing field for everyone, especially working mothers of color. I’m proud to say that HeyMama recently partnered with Skip Hop to launch our inaugural Membership Grant Program. Skip Hop is is sponsoring 100 HeyMama memberships for working moms of color, which will provide a year-long membership, individually matched mentorship, and tailored resources to assist them in their careers, business ownership, and/or entrepreneurship.
Parents are talking to their kids about current events.
Whether it was an unparalleled public health crisis, the largest civil rights demonstration in the history of the country, a contentious election, or the history-making inauguration that saw the first woman, Black person, and Southeast Asian person become vice president of the United States, there was no shortage of news to take in and discuss. And in the midst of a never-ending news cycle, us parents were reminded of how important it is to talk to our kids in age-appropriate ways about the world around them.
CNN aired a discussion on race and racism that featured the cast of Sesame Stree t. Sesame Street also aired “Elmo’s Playdate,” which discussed the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic with children and why they couldn’t see their friends in person. Publications offered explainers for parents on how to talk to their kids about racism, police brutality, the pandemic, and the presidency. More of this, please. Our kids are much more aware of what’s going on around them than we realize, and they're much more capable of understanding “complex” concepts than we give them credit for.
Working parents have stopped pretending they can “do it all” alone.
If anyone doubted the old platitude “it takes a village to raise a baby,” 2020 put that doubt to rest. Everyone is now acutely, painfully aware that we aren’t supposed to parent in isolation. Instead, we should have and need access to child care, family members, friends, and other members of the community to assist us in the monumental task that is raising and caring for another human.
So, we all got creative. We found alternative ways for us to reach out to our communities, be it online via Zoom, via group chats, via social media, or simply writing letters and sending care packages and scheduling hour-long phone calls. We found a way to reach out for help, support, solidarity, and encouragement when we needed it. Most importantly, we admitted that we do, in fact, need to lean on our communities.
We’re not taking the simple things for granted.
Whether it’s time with our children we wouldn’t have normally had, and can never get back, or a run-of-the-mill birthday party or family trip to the movie theater, we’re no longer making the mistake of taking the small but impactful things for granted. Tiny things, like hugging a friend or watching your child play mask-free at a park, are now anything but small. Instead, they’re benchmarks towards a tomorrow where we can build a new “normal.”
Yes, there's plenty about 2020 that should be left behind, but not every change that truly difficult year brought was negative. In 2021, I hope parents see the potential for growth — for ROE: a return on energy. I hope all of us see that our herculean efforts to navigate a health crisis, a racial reckoning, a contentious election, civil unrest, job losses, and a looming recession were not a wash, but a step towards a better future...
… and a better us.