During Social-Distancing, Many Moms Shoulder More Parenting Duties Than Dads—Even When Working Fulltime

Motherhood is always hard, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, shouldering a disproportionate amount of household responsibilities can be downright overwhelming.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our normal lives in a fairly short amount of time. A month ago, our kids were in school, those who work outside the home were heading to work, and the days had a sense of routine normalcy about them. We woke up, got ready, and dispersed to where we needed to be. Now, thanks to school closures and stay home orders, that routine normalcy has been upended and everyone is scrambling to find a foothold in this strange new normal.

For those of us lucky enough to be able to transition to working from home, that new normal includes balancing work and the emotional toll of social-distancing. But for many moms, there's more to it than that. For years, we've discussed how women in heterosexual partnerships bear the brunt of the mental load–or what's been called emotional labor. They're the ones who essentially manage the household. But with the changes coronavirus has brought, that load is a lot heavier now.

California Governor Gavin Newsom made headlines this week by publicly thanking women, especially mothers and teachers, for carrying such heavy loads. "There’s a gender reality connected to this, and I just want to go deeply to express an appreciation to all of the moms, all those teachers, all those caregivers. I know how stressful this is. Trust me, I know,” he said.

"Moms are already carrying a disproportionate amount of weight in terms of managing the household," Newsom said. "Moms are also working, and many of them are teachers themselves that are having to provide distance learning, having to cope with all the stress and anxiety, looking out for all of their kids they love dearly, and making sure they’re taking care of their own kids and their childcare needs and the like."

And he's not wrong. This is hard. It's harder than normal and the fact there's no sign of things returning to normal any time soon is daunting. Moms are doing the work. They're teaching, cooking, cleaning, entertaining bored kids, scrambling for groceries and supplies, and worrying about the health of their loved ones all while trying their best to do the jobs they were hired to do.

Mother with little daughter using laptop in kitchen
Oliver Rossi/Getty Images

Not to say that dads aren't stepping up, they are. But in a society that was just starting to realize the imbalance between the emotional labor that moms perform compared to that of dads, it feels like all these changes have forced us two or three steps back. Many dads are home, but we're hearing more and more that they're spending their days cloistered in their offices or a spare bedroom doing their jobs and moms are left on the frontlines of household and family management while trying to do jobs of their own.

It's a frustrating and stressful time. The uncertainty surrounding what's going on in the world around us and the constant fear that it will get worse are difficult enough. Add in an extra dose of pandemic-schooling while trying to be at least a little productive at work and it can feel overwhelming.

There's small comfort though in knowing that it's not just you, not just your family, not just your home. It's all of us.

Looking for resources to help with coping with the mental load? We've got you covered:

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