By LaDonna Moreland
As the Delta variant of COVID 19 surges in some states and the Centers for Disease Control shifts its interim guidelines, many employees are maintaining remote work, while many others are returning to workplaces with precautions in place.
As a professional in academia and a parent who has been working from home since March of 2020 and spending more time daily with my seven-year-old child, soon I will be expected to return to the office in person. At first, juggling e-learning and working remotely was a challenge, but soon we fell into a rhythm. After helping him complete his lesson for the day, he understood mommy needed to spend time in her “office room” with the people on her computer, content with the thought that after I log off, he would have my full attention.
As a single parent, I am experiencing what I call Mommy Guilt 2.0. I have completely enjoyed the opportunity to work remotely which has given me the gift of time to fulfill my parental duties, with something simple such as cutting out my commute.
I am not alone. Before the pandemic, daily life as a single parent mostly consisted of being in a rush, constantly trying not to be late. Between the stress of getting out the door on time in the morning, to rushing out of the office to pick up my son on time from after school care before late charges accrued, was compounded by unpredictable traffic. The ability to work remotely has slowed life down, which has been good for both my and my son’s mental health. I could not have imagined how I would have coped without the option to work from home, having to figure out childcare. Also, the effects of the pandemic on children will not be completely known for years to come, but at least being home with my son offers some comfort and solace for him.
Many workplaces are dealing with what some media outlets dub the “Great Resignation,” as up to 40% of workers are considering quitting if they no longer have the option to work remotely.
There are many reasons why this trend is happening, for some they just aren’t ready to give up time with their families, others are concerned about unresolved office issues such micromanagement, most are concerned about their needs being met regarding their physical and mental health.
For some workers returning to the physical office may not be life-altering, just an employer preference that does not present major life shifts. For others, returning to the office creates stressors of commuting, long hours away from home and increased risk of exposure to COVID, and many may consider the move not worth it.
For myself, transitioning back to work has been somewhat difficult as most of the conveniences and services I and other single parents rely on, are no longer available due the restrictions constraints of the pandemic. Furthermore, changing jobs is not an option as single parents need stability and a consistent income that working remotely offers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, 81.2 percent of employed mothers with children ages 6 to 17 worked full time. For some households, in order to make ends meet, two incomes may be necessary. For single parent households, the parent is the primary and only breadwinner, solely having to deal with household expenses of food, housing, and education as well as other costly expenditures such as childcare, vehicle maintenance, and commuter costs.
For myself, working from home meant I was able to immediately adjust and become this unique type of stay-at-home mom. I was able to attend a meeting virtually, while parked and waiting for my son to emerge from school. I became much more efficient with my time since I no longer had to commute three hours (round-trip in good weather) to and from work.
My productivity levels increased as I was able to slow down, with more time to get everything done. My employer provided extensive IT support which allowed me to upgrade my home office to be the equivalent of my work office. I was able to achieve the elusive work, life balance, something I previously equated to finding the fountain of youth. Nevertheless, as my employer is restructuring and we are slowly coming back to work, I will no longer be able to continue these helpful habits.
For single parents or those with elderly parents who had to rely on the proverbial “village” to help raise their children or take care of their aging parents or grandparents, the pandemic afforded them a new option in working from home. Of course others in this same demographic, the option of working from home had the opposite effect, rendering it impossible to perform parental duties while remaining professional, thus some are embracing the return to the office.
While returning to the schedules of in person work, childcare and in-person schooling may be a relief to many parents, for many—including myself– it seems as if the pandemic adjustments made that were beneficial in households no longer matter.
So, as I prepare to return to the office, I have chosen the hybrid model (combination of distance and in-person working) to ease my mommy guilt. The new hybrid workplace is considered a win from the perspective of the employee and employer. Nevertheless, I will need to do my part to achieve work life balance, because the pandemic has shown us that time is precious.
LaDonna M. Moreland, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, is Director of Clinical Education and Instructor in the Department of Medical Laboratory Science at Rush University – College of Health Sciences. She is a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.