Adapting Roles: Part 1

By Emily Blobaum, contributor and Emily Barske, associate editor

Time kind of stands still and it’s hard to disconnect. This response from one of the people who answered the Business Record’s survey on family and gender issues amid the coronavirus pandemic is one almost all of us can certainly relate to. But we may be feeling this in different ways depending on our profession, family status and gender identity. 

Research and news coverage of work-life balance across the United States are showing time and again that the pandemic is causing an increased strain on individuals, and creating new challenges for family units and relationships. While not scientific, our survey gives us a glimpse of some of the key family and gender issues facing our region and state in this time of crisis. Some of the biggest challenges our respondents indicated were: 

  • Feeling strain on relationships from too much time with those you live with.
  • Having to be apart from loved ones you would normally see.
  • Mental health challenges.
  • Imbalanced emotional labor.
  • Imbalance of gender in leadership.

Each respondent described unique situations they’re coping with, but common themes were evident. Responses were also so compelling that we felt one story could not show the wide impact of these issues. This introductory piece is one in a series of five stories, which will publish once weekly, about family and gender issues amid the pandemic. The series will cover parenting, work-life balance, relationships with partners and financial well-being. In the series, we talk with experts about these topics and give you a glimpse into the lives of individuals in our region who are coping with these challenges.

Here is just a sampling of what we heard in our survey. We’ll include other answers throughout the series.  

We asked people to tell us the most difficult family issue they’ve dealt with during the pandemic. 

Here’s what some of them said. 

Concern that my husband, an essential health care worker, is safe at work and isn’t bringing the virus home. Also, my father-in-law is in hospice and we have not been able to see family in two months now due to the virus.

Not being able to celebrate with family as we look forward to the birth of our son this fall.

Balancing a shared custody arrangement, and still limiting time and interaction with too many other people.

Child care is impossible when both parents need to work and both think their job is the most important. Whose meeting takes priority? Whose phone call can have children in the background screaming? It’s not always an easy answer. Children need consistency and schedules, which is hard when meetings pop up or there’s a rushed project.

Loneliness, lack of face-to-face interactions. My three kids are grown and I live alone.

Constantly cooking. Keeping a family of basically four adults fed three meals a day is not awesome. Additionally, making sure that our internet/bandwidth can accommodate a high school student, a college student and two working adults all at the same time. Three simultaneous Zoom meetings will almost guarantee that someone gets dropped.

We also asked what is the biggest women’s issue you’ve seen magnified by the pandemic. Here were some of the responses. 

I know a lot of my mom colleagues are REALLY struggling because they have taken on the brunt of child care responsibilities, homeschooling, etc., while also running law firms, being responsive to clients, meeting court deadlines, etc. A lot of dads I know are also stepping up, but the majority of families I know have the mom taking the lead on home life stuff, which (1) doesn’t make sense to me, and (2) is leading to a whole lot of burned out moms.

While it’s always been tough to carve out time/space for self care, the logistics, available time and, in part, services that provide for a brief “escape” for a haircut, massage, pedicure are closed – and, when open in the future, may seem like an unnecessary exposure risk.

Domestic abuse. Not having safe spaces for women to go and talk about/get help.

This might not be the biggest issue, but there hasn’t been a lot of press about frontline child care workers who have to work outside the home, aren’t paid what they’re worth and are exposing their families to additional risk. Many of these are single mothers who have limited options.

Overall, I think women are taking the quarantine precautions more seriously and have taken on the brunt of the emotional labor regarding being concerned for family members’ health.

Career progress. It’s stalled 100%.

Not personally, but very concerned about lack of child care and single parenthood while trying to work at home. Also, domestic physical/emotional abuse.

Service industry workers, which are majority female (nurses, teachers, child care providers) are essential and not paid nearly enough.I’m hearing every day from women who say their husband is not carrying his fair share, and I’m trying hard not to be that guy. 

If this reporting spurs a story idea or if you’d like to share your perspective, contact emilyblobaum@bpcdm.com