Why Quarantining is Hardest for Moms

photo credit: Ilayza Macayan/Unsplash

When China loosened restrictions on social movement and people could finally leave their homes, there was a spike in women filing for divorce. According to one woman interviewed, she didn’t “want to endure anymore. We’ve agreed to get a divorce, and the next thing is to find lawyers.” (China’s Divorce Spike Is a Warning to Rest of Locked-Down World, Bloomberg Business, March 31, 2020).

She fought constantly with her out-of-work spouse through two months in isolation over too little money, too much screen time, and his lack of effort with housework and child care.

This week, The New York Times published a survey of families quarantined in the pandemic (New York Times, May 6, 2020). The survey revealed how much more housework and homeschooling are falling on women. The strain on wives and working moms who are stuck-at-home is immense.

Why does the pandemic impact women harder, especially wives and mothers? Because women already do more of the housework, cooking and cleaning, and childrearing. It’s the same or worse in quarantine, especially when you add working-from-home and distance learning for kids.

What does all of this extra responsibility “cost” women in stress, in their emotional health?

photo credit: Claudia Barbosa/Pexels

When I raised this question in a public forum, asserting that moms take a greater “privilege hit” when the whole family is stuck-at-home, I heard from men who were confused.

I remembered that I was that guy once. So I stumbled through an explanation of gender and power dynamics, trying to empathize with how I might have heard this explainer when I was blissfully unaware of my own privilege.

Back in college, when Louise, from my Freshman dorm, asked me to walk her across campus at 9 pm, I casually said “no” because it wasn’t convenient for me. I had LITERALLY no idea why she needed the company. Frankly, I was kind of intimidated by her. She was strong and fierce.

Fortunately for me, she didn’t take “no” for an answer. Louise explained why she didn’t feel safe to walk across campus at night alone.

I had no idea that women need to monitor their safety all the time. I always felt safe walking across the campus, at any hour. I learned more from Louise that night that I would use the rest of my life than I did that whole year in college.

I usually feel safe walking alone at night. I don’t worry about how I am perceived if I interrupt someone. In fact, I was raised to assert myself and interrupt, to stand up for my opinion. I feel entitled to lead the discussion.

When I read the recent study, the imbalance in housework and childcare didn’t surprise me.

It was harder for me to read that men who answered the survey overestimated how much they were contributing. In fact, the New York Times article was titled, “Nearly half of men say they do most of the homeschooling. Three percent of women agree.”

The fathers’ and partners’ misperception upset me because I recall, with some embarrassment, how that sense of entitlement feels, how my privilege cushioned me.

I felt like I was making a big contribution as a young father when I got up to help make dinner or take a turn helping the kids with homework. I was leaving my comfort zone, “giving up” my chill-out time. All I really did was turn off my show and move to another room. In the moment, I felt heroic, like I was tipping the scales and making up for all the extra work my wife always did. I COMPLETELY overestimated how much I was contributing.

When I finally understood how little I was really contributing, letting go of some of my “woe is me!” ego, and really pitched in, I still did a few things that “cost” my wife “emotional labor”: I asked for affirmation every time I lifted a finger. I still left all the decision-making to her, coming to her with every question.

How exhausting is that for mothers? To take care of the other adult in the house while you take full responsibility for the household and kids every day, and then to have to pat her partner on the head for clearing his place at the table?

Do you remember the jokes that came out in the first weeks of quarantine, when parents were straining to homeschool their kids, about how much teachers should really be paid?

When will the next phase of jokes come out about the butler/maid “wages” that women are “paid”? When will we acknowledge what it costs the women who hold our families together, how “expensive” it is for them to go above and beyond in a crisis like this?

If you need support to balance this equation, you may want to check out my new, free Stuck-at-Home Parenting Workshops. We discuss:

  • How to get back to self-care.
  • How to get on the same page with your partner.
  • How to regain perspective.
  • How to yell less as a parent.

These are a few of the topics covered in the new “Stuck-at-Home” edition of my book, “Laugh More, Yell Less: A Guide to Raising Kick-Ass Kids.” I offer these free workshops and a tailored coaching package since I know you may not have the bandwidth to read a book right now.