Just Wait Until Omicron Keeps Their Kids Home After Winter Break
We’re coming up on two years of this pandemic. TWO. YEARS.
That’s two years of moms trying to juggle work expectations while being thrown into brand new situations with managing childcare, virtual school, or even full on homeschooling. Two years of being afraid they’ll lose their jobs because of pandemic downsizing or because they’re having to divide themselves across 85 different spaces in a day knowing that something’s got to be suffering.
Two years of uncertainty and all we want is normalcy.
And for some people, it felt that way for a little bit. Like we could breathe again. But with the rise of potentially more contagious variants like Omicron, working parents are starting to panic that we’re headed right back to where we’ve been. Nearly 7.4 million children have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic’s onset and 1,015 children and teens under age 18 have died of COVID-19 so far and the numbers are only rising…exponentially.
Who will take on the burden of sick kids who need testing and 10-day quarantines as Omicron rapidly makes its way to every tiny town in the U.S.? Moms, of course. And who will take a hit when it comes to ladder-climbing and success in the corporate world? Working moms. You thought Build Back Better’s failure was a major blow to advancing equity for parents, and especially female parents? This variant is striking fear in the hearts of working mothers in a much more immediate way.
As a pediatrician and business owner, I fully understand how rising Coronavirus cases impact everyone: working parents, their kids, and the communities that surround them. Everyone wants kids to be able to stay in school if it’s safe to do so, but working moms will inevitably be the ones who have to find actual solutions when individual sick kids or to entire school shutdowns. Here’s what I tell the professional women I work with as they face their Omicron fears head-on.
Fear: Working moms will be pulled out of the workforce, yet again.
We know COVID is here to stay and has a seasonal nature to it. When it’s cold outside, we all go inside and breathe all over each other and cases go up. Due to those normal cases + variant surges + kids five-years-old plus just barely able to be vaccinated, moms will have to take care of their kids themselves or scramble to find childcare. But most of us can’t afford to have childcare options just waiting in the wings.
Stay in the here and now. I know, I know. It sounds like a cop-out, but stick with me. Spinning out on hypotheticals won’t help. Staying present will. Remember that “it is what it is,” rather than thinking you have to find a solution right now for something of which we don’t know the details. Which is CRITICAL to being able to not completely lose it. We aren’t going to be able to predict the future (spoiler alert!) so it doesn’t make sense to spend extra time or money on things that may or may not happen.
Solution: Figure out potential resources.
Mindfulness isn’t an excuse to do nothing. What you CAN do is start looking into options without allowing it to consume you. Are there resources that you can tap into for short term and immediate care, like friends, nanny networks, or short-term sitters?
Solution: Think of time spent caring for your kids as a pause, not a major break.
If you do have to take a step back and lean into caring for your kids short-term, try to maintain a long-term perspective. This is a moment in time and, yes, it’s a setback, but it doesn’t have to mean you’re off your career game forever. Like maternity leave, this is simply a pause (a very unfortunate, unplanned one).
Fear: Your employer might not see you as full of an employee as someone else or see you as a burden if you have childcare issues that come up.
You never want to feel like your “that” person in any situation, but especially at work. And it can be really uncomfortable to feel like you’re the only person to ask for certain allowances or for things to be rearranged.
Solution: Parenting out loud within your organization.
Talk about yourself as a parent and the things you’re struggling with or thinking through. Don’t be silent about those things. ESPECIALLY if you’re a senior leader. Let them know that you’ve been thinking strategically about other solutions that could help, like working different hours or doing remote work.
Solution: Have a network of mamas around you.
You aren’t always going to be able to see the best solutions. Sometimes you need an outside perspective that can help you brainstorm — one that understands you and that has your best interest at heart. If your employer sponsors an ERG, this may be your moment to lean on it and to advocate within it.
It looks like COVID isn’t going away anytime soon, nor is the unfair burden it places on working moms. Build Back Better’s failure showed us we still have quite a fight ahead of us when it comes to equity in the workplace and at home. We can, though, look to real solutions to plan ahead, to surround ourselves with resources and support, and to stay mindfully in the moment when it all feels out of our control (because, it turns out, COVID really is).
Written by Dr. Whitney Casares.
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