How It Started, How It's Going: 4 Moms Share How They Make It Through a Day Working and Watching Their Kids
Moms everywhere are holding down their careers and holding up their families. Four women with demanding jobs (and demanding kids) explain how they make it through the day.
Jessica Malaty Rivera
Age 37, San Francisco, CA; mom of Samia, 4, and Laith, 2
Rivera, our cover star this month, has spent 15 years focusing on infectious disease research, public health policy, and vaccine advocacy. The organization she works for has taken on the task of tracing the pandemic's spread throughout the country, collecting and analyzing data no other official source is publishing. A self-described "data nerd" trained in science, she has used her growing influencer status to factually answer questions about mask wearing, vaccination, social distancing, and more.
My job: I'm the science-communication lead for The COVID Tracking Project. It's my job to make sure complex science is clear to a wide audience. It's easy to misinterpret data if it's not presented with the appropriate language.
How I'm doing: I've been working from home since Samia was born. Before the pandemic, Laith was still home with me, and Samia was in preschool. It's always been a juggling act, but it became even crazier after we pulled Samia out of school last March. We have a less-than-1,000-square-foot apartment. One kid would be napping in their shared bedroom, one in ours, and my husband, Joshua, and I would both be on Zoom in the living room. So we decided to move in with my in-laws, outside San Francisco. Six months later, they moved to North Carolina, so we rented a house in L.A. near my parents. My mom helps until nap time. Then I hang out with the kids and make dinner. After their bedtime, my husband and I pick up our laptops again.
What the pandemic has cost me: The thing causing so many people to scale back right now is what's putting my career into high gear. It's bittersweet. But, of course, the pandemic has also made working harder too. My output could be higher if the kids were in school. And my earning potential is not the same as it was before. I was doing communications for health care PR firms, which had to lay people off once the pandemic began. Research and science are not where people go to make money. But I look at my current role as a privilege and an honor.
What I had to back-burner: My physical health. I've never worked out less than I have these past months. And all the other things that made me feel better about myself, like getting my hair done or a manicure, have been put on hold. I do cook and bake way more than I used to. It's a good exit from reality that benefits the whole family.
What I've learned from this experience: That our society is often driven by fear. I'll be debunking misinformation and conspiracy theories until I die. I posted some facts and stats about the flu vaccine on my Instagram, things like you can't get the flu from the vaccine, and if you do get infected, the vaccine will make your illness milder, and hundreds of people replied to say they got a flu shot for the first time ever. It showed me that while there's a lot of fear, there's also an insatiable hunger for truth. That's deeply encouraging to me.
The biggest silver lining: There are a few. The pandemic has forced people to have more compassion for working families. The infectious disease community really came together. And the fact that I've become a science "influencer" is a silver lining that came out of left field.
My best advice for working moms: To remember that we're all doing our best—and it's good enough. I have a lot of guilt about keeping my kids home, but I've received so many DMs from psychologists and preschool teachers reassuring me that all my kids need right now is for me to read to them and play with them. They're extremely resilient, and we will never get this time together again.
Age 48, Hoover, AL; mom of Suman, 16, and Asel, 14, and unofficial adoptive mom of Delany, 22
My job: I'm the principal of a K–5 elementary school. Since September we've offered full-time in-person instruction and a hybrid model of two days in person and three days virtual when local COVID cases were high. I spend a lot of time in meetings, but I also visit classrooms, collaborate with teachers and community members, and interact with our amazing students.
How I'm doing: My husband, Gitendra, is able to work from home, but I have to be in the community. So we've done significant research to figure out how to stay healthy. My sons still go to school a few days a week but don't take the bus anymore, so we've had to coordinate drop-off and pick-up. I'm really lucky they're so independent. Since the pandemic began, they've helped with the cooking. Asel makes a mean spaghetti sauce, and Suman made his first beef stew in the slow cooker the other night.
What the pandemic has cost me: Touch! A high five, a hug, a handshake. I miss those simple but important gestures that let my students know I care.
What I had to back-burner: Time for my family and myself. I'm constantly saying no to things that matter to me, like attending celebrations and students' games and recitals, or spending time with friends.
What I've learned from this experience: That there are different ways to nurture relationships. Zoom has been around for a while, but it never dawned on me or my family around the globe to talk on Zoom. Now we do it frequently.
The biggest silver lining: The quantity of time I can spend with my family has gone down, but the quality has gone up. We set aside time every night to be together without devices. We play pool, go for hikes. We also eat together more and often have great conversations.
My best advice for working moms: In order to be good caretakers, we need to take care of ourselves. I've realized that for me to do my job right now, I need the help of my family. To truly be able to handle this and still smile at the end of the day—"It takes a village" is an understatement.
Age 31, New York, NY; mom of Liam, 4
My job: I'm a hairstylist and the manager of the Fox & Jane salon in Brooklyn, New York. Four days a week I'm in the salon 10 hours a day, and seven days a week I'm answering calls and texts from other stylists and clients.
How I'm doing: My son's in preschool five days a week. My husband works for the local airport. He gets off at 1:30 p.m., picks Liam up at 2, and takes care of him until I'm home at 9. Sometimes I won't see Liam until I take him to school in the morning. My in-laws live with us, and they watch Liam on Saturdays because my husband and I work that day.
What the pandemic has cost me: Initially, my mental health. Before my first day back in the salon after New York City shut down, I had a huge anxiety attack. But once I got back in the salon, I felt comfortable. We get tested every two weeks, clients reschedule if they have symptoms, and everyone wears a mask. Our nine locations have serviced almost 26,000 appointments since we reopened, and not a single employee has tested positive for COVID.
What I had to back-burner: Having a second child. We've always wanted one, but it's scary knowing that if I got pregnant, my husband might not be able to come to my appointments. And the thought of being in a medical facility right now scares me. We're kind of winging it at this point. If it happens, it happens.
What I've learned from this experience: That being a stay-at-home mom is not for me. In the beginning of the pandemic, I was home with my son for three months. I love him to death, but toward the end, I felt as if my identity was being stripped away. I praise stay-at-home parents—it's a lot.
The biggest silver lining: I used to always put my son and husband first. But I've gotten better at doing things for me, whether it's getting my hair blown out at a local salon, going to the mall, or taking a walk in the park.
My best advice for working moms: Don't let yourself reach your breaking point. I'm a go-getter who tends to think she can do everything herself, and I don't like to ask for help. But I actually need support and to be able to ask for an hour to myself.
Age 39, Dallas, TX; mom of Caleb, 6, and Caitlin, 4
My job: I'm the cofounder and CEO of Kanarys, a first-of-its-kind platform that fosters diversity between employees and employers. We track more than 135 data points, employee reviews, and company policies from a DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion) perspective. We're in the midst of a fund-raising round, so I've been meeting with investors just about every day for the past two months.
How I'm doing: My kids have been home from preschool since March of last year. Juggling their virtual school and my company was very, very difficult. Three months in—after several instances of, "Mommy, look what I drew on the wall!"—my mom came and lived with us for four months.
What the pandemic has cost me: A separation of work and home life. I don't have downtime or a true work environment. Our company advocates for healthy work environments, but we're seeing high incidences of burnout—and women are definitely bearing the brunt.
What I had to back-burner: Exercise, "me time," time with friends—all of it. In the beginning of the pandemic, we were taking family walks and doing Cosmic Kids yoga, but I didn't work out at all from May until November. I haven't gotten my hair done since the pandemic began. I also became Zoomed out, so my social circle consists mainly of my husband.
What I've learned from this experience: That there's no safety net for working parents in this country. I was fortunate that my mom was able to come live with us, but this has still been tremendously difficult for people with kids.
The biggest silver lining: I lead a team of 20, and many of them are parents. The pandemic has made me better at taking care of them. It's been extremely taxing on people's mental health, and I've learned how to be responsive. We'll often start meetings with, "Who slept last night? How are you feeling?" I like to acknowledge that this is not normal, because it makes it harder for others when you need to pretend you have it all together.
My best advice for working moms: Lock the door. On the weekends, I take a bubble bath, even though I can hear my kids knocking on the door and begging to get in the bath with me. I have to remind myself that they don't need to be with me every single second, that it's okay for me to read my book and have some downtime. I have to take care of myself in order to be good to my kids.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's March 2021 issue as "How It Started, How It's Going." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here.