COVID-19 Provides Pivotal Moment to Change Work-Life Imbalance

If your family is healthy and safe, use this time to reassess your family, work arrangements
April 1, 2020 Updated: April 13, 2020

Commentary

With children out of school for at least a few more weeks or, in some cases, for the remainder of the school year, many two-income families are facing what probably feels like an impossible task: We both need to work, but we now must also take care of the children.

Who will do this? How will we also work and parent? Battling COVID-19 might be new, but this question certainly isn’t. The economic and emotional impact this disease may have on families now might be a watershed moment, leading them to examine how to tackle this conundrum in a different, better way, once all this is over—a way many conservatives have been advocating for decades.

Use the Effects of COVID-19 to Reassess

Aside from the awful health effects of COVID-19, one of the instant trickle-down effects of battling this disease has been school closures and mandated work-from-home policies by businesses and politicians nationwide.

In cases where both parents work full-time jobs to support their families, this instantly placed many parents in the unfamiliar position of having their children home all day, while they also try to work.

According to 2018 statistics, some 33 million families in the United States have children under 18, and more than 60 percent of these families have two parents employed.

If most of those families sent their kids to school and now have them home, that’s a lot of logistics families are trying to work out.

While I advocate for homeschooling when possible, more than 95 percent of families in the United States still send their children to private and public schools, meaning this change affected almost 100 percent of American families with dual incomes.

While many families are battling the how-to’s of right now, it’s probably also worth spouses sitting down and asking the question: Is this the way we want to go on afterward? What if something like this happens again?

That’s especially the case if families are already discovering that it’s actually easier to have at least one parent home, that at least one parent can work from home, or that sending kids to school and/or commuting to a job has made for a hectic, stressful, and chaotic life without downtime, family time, or the balance you crave.

What Do You Value and How to Make That Happen?

While modern society presents the work-life balance question as a logistical one—it is in part, and I’ll get to that—first and foremost, it’s a value question: What do we as a family value? How can we implement those values into our lives? Surely, the existence of COVID-19 has brought this thought, or something like it, to mind in the past four weeks or so.

For example, even though everyone is quarantined and sharing perhaps a small space, you might have already discovered a number of things: You enjoy hearing your children learn from the next room, you actually hated your commute and the stress of getting out the door early, or you like cooking dinner at a reasonable hour and catching up on work in the evening, a trade-off of spending time with your kids earlier in the day.

If these are things you have a renewed appreciation for, and think they’re things you may want to implement in your life now you’ve had a taste of it, you’ll want to make some changes in the near future—if you aren’t already forced to make some changes because of job shortages and inflation.

Analyze Your Options

Of course, decisions to make changes in your family may not happen overnight, and it may take some time for a “new normal” to occur, especially as we learn how to grapple as a nation with COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean you can’t look ahead and make a few projections.

One caveat before I explain a few options and variables: I do tend to believe that mothers who are interested in a career or will need to work try to keep one foot in the business world and another in child-rearing, because it can help to later avoid the dreaded “10-year nap” scenario that often comes back to bite older women trying to gain employment.

Intellectual stimulation and earning power are nice to have, that is, if it’s something mothers want. Only she will know what she wants and what’s best for her family.

Again, the following are based on two-income homes with children and couples who have decided to pare back or change the second earner’s work so at least one parent is more available to be with the children.

If you have young children, you’ll want to look at what you’re spending on child care while both parents work. Is it worth what you’re paying? Statistics show child care is outrageously expensive, and often the person who earns the lesser wage (which is often the mother, but not always) essentially pays for child care.

American Progress reports:

“[A]mong working families with children under age 5 that pay for child care, average child care spending amounts to nearly 10 percent of the average family income, or 40 percent higher than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ definition of affordability. This is also an 11 percent increase from the 8.9 percent of average family income spent on child care that the U.S. Census Bureau found in a 2013 analysis of SIPP data.”

If this is the case, you may want to consider changing fields or adapting your current job to a more flexible position that would allow for more child-friendly work hours. Perhaps pay for child care, a sitter, or a family friend to help supervise your child while you work, or adjust your work hours to early mornings, nap times, and evenings, so no sitter or a rare sitter is needed.

If you have older children and a job with a commute, maybe you’ve decided that one of you should adjust your hours so that you’re more available for your children when they’re home. Or maybe you, too, can shift fields slightly or look for a work-from-home option, even if it’s just part time.

If it looks like things will still be tight with adjusted work hours, or working slightly less, but this is a priority to your family, you’ll need to make additional changes. See where you can cut your expenses, particularly when it comes to bigger things such as mortgages or rent, car loans, debt, eating out, and food. It’s true that in a two-income family, you may enjoy a lot more “stuff,” but if you’ve decided that doesn’t match your value system, or you’d rather have more time with your kids, you might have to trim your budget.

Don’t forget: Dads can do this, too. I know of a few families where either the mother is the higher wage-earner or where the dad’s job is simply more flexible. If that’s the case, perhaps he can arrange to be home more when the children are home, help with the family chores, and continue to set the optimal path that matches your family’s values.

Feminists Brought You This, But You Can Change It

In a brilliant column on March 19, Tim Carney, commentary editor at the Washington Examiner and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote about this topic.

The headline says it all: “We made a mistake when we decided both parents ought to work outside the home.” Carney blames this cultural shift on feminists and rightly so:

“But maybe now is the time to ask whether we made the right cultural decision over the past 50 years when we decided to prioritize mothers’ wage-labor outside the home over their work inside the home.

“And this was a decision. It wasn’t merely a bunch of individuals deciding to live their lives differently. The dominance of the two-income family also wasn’t merely the natural consequence of a society in which women are free to choose as they wish. For instance, universal preschool, a costly undertaking that doesn’t seem to provide lasting educational gains, is partly justified as a way to get mothers back to work.”

I agree with Carney that the feminist movement, combined with inflation, brought this on, beginning in the 1950s. Dual-income households have risen dramatically in the past several decades. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1960, only 25 percent of married couples with kids under 18 both worked. By 2012, it was 60 percent. That number has only increased.

Even though I agree with Carney’s thesis, the only good that comes from pointing out its origins is to remind women everywhere how feminism failed them and their children. Other than that, rather than belabor the point, I’d suggest using this time in home quarantine to ask yourself some pressing questions about what you value as a family, how that can be accomplished, and how your work and life can coincide together in a more unified way that serves you and your children.

Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.