Yesterday, March 11th marked two years since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. In the United States, the health impacts have been devastating, as have the ripple effects across employment, childcare and workplace inequalities – particularly for women, and even more so for Black women.
With children and vulnerable relatives stuck at home for much of the past two years, and women still tasked with a disproportionate share of unpaid housework and caregiving responsibilities, many women were forced out of or forced to scale back on their hours in the paid labor force.
Today, author Brynne Conroy joins us at Too Ambitious, to share her own experience of this time, and the impact it’s had on her work and her ambitions.
It was March 13, 2020. I had just put the kids to bed. Closing my bedroom door behind me I fell back against the wall, sunk to the floor and sobbed. My children had been abruptly sent home from school due to local coronavirus concerns and we didn’t know when they’d be going back. At that point we all thought it would be a few weeks – and even that was overwhelming.
Weeks turned into months. Months into years. During the process, I learned my family was high-risk. Which means that on a practical level, we’ve had to be careful over the past two years. Not because we’re having some type of overhyped trauma reaction, but because reality made it medically necessary.
About 18 months before I found myself there crying against the wall, my first book was published. I had started a popular networking group completing in-person service projects, promoting financial literacy, and getting marginalized writers good-paying, high-profile work. I had even started to set my own income goals higher – allowing myself to dream bigger than I ever had in the past. I was finally at a point in my economic life where I felt financially comfortable, and I knew how lucky I was for it.
But in the Spring of 2020, my income situation changed dramatically. And my networking group had to be shut down.
Not because my ambition had waned. But because I was forced into unpaid labor as the 24/7 caretaker and educational assistant for my children.
I had to advocate hard for my children to get access to the education they were legally entitled to. I was by my childrens’ side daily for cyber school sessions.
In January of 2021, I was even issued an ‘Unpaid Healthcare Worker’, a certificate title endowed by the state, acknowledging their failure to compensate me for my labor.
And while I have kept my business operational throughout the pandemic, the workload I take on has necessarily lessened.
The government has not provided the support that would enable us to both keep our children safe and work outside of unpaid domestic labor.
When expanded unemployment benefits ended in 2021, up to 1.79 million caretakers and mothers lost the aid they were relying upon to pay for daily necessities. Particularly cruel in a high-inflation environment, after so many of these women had already been forced out of their paying jobs to manage the demands of full-time caregiving.
To be clear, these women and caretakers are still working. They’re just not getting paid for their labor because society has decided we should do it for free.
I have seen how my career has been affected because of my gender and parenthood status on new levels. I actively mourn all the opportunities that have come to my inbox, unrealized because I simply did not have the time to read and reply. I find myself angry that if I were a father, surely I would not have been asked to pick up this same burden.
Rather than my ambition diminishing, it has been stunted by outside forces. And after two years, this burden on my shoulders feels heavier than ever.
It’s difficult to express these emotions as a woman. If we don’t provide our free labor sans complaint, we’re “bad” mothers. So for the past couple years, on top of the whole I-don’t-have-time-for-paid-work problem, I’ve also been silencing myself as I work through the best way to express my grief and frustration. And that type of writer’s block is an economic problem when you get paid for putting words down on a page.
I’m upset about the overall loss of income. I’m upset about the gaslighting we endure as a high-risk household. I’m upset that I haven’t been paid for all the extra healthcare and educational services I’ve provided these past two years.
I also realize I’m incredibly fortunate that I worked remotely before the pandemic. Otherwise, I don’t know how I would have continued to bring in an income at all.
In the future, I hope we start to make collective, systemic decisions that allow mothers and caretakers to fully realize the entire spectrum of their ambition.
I hope that women won’t be forced to choose between their families and their careers. Between the lives and well-being of those they love most, and their economic stability.
But for now, here we sit. Stunted ambitions and all.
How has the pandemic and demands of unpaid labor reshaped your relationship to your own ambitions? Let us know in the comments.
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Image:J_art/Moment via GettyImages