In some of my recent conversations about the pandemic and future of work, I’ve argued that our mass live-streamed work-from-home reality TV / social experiment has revealed just how much time and energy working parents have had to spend creating the appearance that they’re both ideal workers and ideal parents (on top of the work they do actually working). Today, Monica Hesse has a great piece in the Washington Post about how the lockdown has laid bare the work working mothers do in order to be both workers and parents:
The U.S. strategy of treating child care like a combination of a lottery and a blood sport has never been a solution. It’s just been a secret.
If there’s a silver lining in any of this, it’s that the novel coronavirus has put sticks of dynamite into the cracks of our society, turning them into the canyons that must be navigated. It’s made the suffering visible. Instead of an office dad trying to settle a squabble over the phone while pretending he’s talking to a client, the squabble plays out on his conference call for all co-workers to hear. Instead of a nursing mom slinking into a bathroom stall to pump, she might be doing it on a Zoom call.
This moment in history has made visible how accustomed we are to choosing between physical well-being and mental health, to Scotch-taping our lives together while perpetually on the brink of exhaustion.
Opening schools is the red herring. The real issue is the absolute lack of safety net or social structure that has led Americans to think that opening schools is the only salvation. We can’t ignore this anymore, so we might as well put it all on the table: universal child care, mandatory paid parental leave. All the solutions we’ve dismissed as Scandinavian luxuries instead of universal necessities.