Mothers engage in 300 more hours of paid work per year than they did 40 years ago

By: C. Nicole Mason

My email read as follows:

Dear Mr. C,

My apologies for Charli and Parker not turning in their assignments for the week. We’re super behind. I am helping them between work and meetings. We will catch up over weekend. Thank you for your understanding.

I clicked send, hoping he would sense my near wit’s end tone and take pity on us. I crafted a second email to my assistant.

Can you please space out my meetings? I need more time to help my children with their school work.

How much longer could I keep this juggling act up? Not much longer, I thought to myself. I felt stretched, overwhelmed, and at times as if my best efforts to keep it all together weren’t good enough. Like many women across the country, I have internalized the responsibility and burden of care. As a working woman who decided to have children, I believed it was my job to figure it all out.

The burden or responsibility for care begins early for women. Pushing a pretend baby around in a stroller as a toddler turns into full-throttle care when girls become young adults. According to an Oxfam study, young women ages 15 to 24 in the United States spend 54 percent more time than boys and men in their peer group on household and care work.

Girls and women internalize their role as the primary caregiver for their children and families — a role that is reinforced and normalized by the media and in the workplace. Most moms are both trapped in the same self-sacrificing, never-good-enough narrative.

Bosses often don’t care if women lack child care and many caregivers charge by the minute if parents are late for pick up. As a result, families must absorb the cost of care when mothers have to work late or overnight. It’s a care tax imposed on mothers for working. Even feminist organizations or corporations run by female chief executives have trouble making room for mothers in the workplace.

While teaching at a major university in New York City, I was so worried about failing at my job I returned to teach my final class only two days after I had given birth to my twins. In a slimming black dress to hide my postpartum belly, I quipped to my students — if I can show up, so can you. I was delirious and in pain, but felt obligated. This kind of pressure is worse for women who are working minimum wage jobs.

Despite the fact that women comprise close to 50 percent of the American workforce and more than 15 million families have a breadwinner mother, who contributes at least 40 percent of her earnings to the household, employer practices and policies have not shifted to accommodate their needs or provided the work supports that would make them successful in their jobs or to help them to advance in their careers.

For the most part, our workforce model and employers, big and small, still use a 1950s workplace model centered around a male breadwinner, who can work endless hours and has a stay-at-home wife. This model is outdated and hasn’t been our reality for decades. In fact, mothers engage in 300 more hours of paid work per year than they did 40 years ago.

It’s time for a change.

I off-ramped when my children were 4-years-old, opting to consult and teach part-time. I did not return to full-time work until they were 10. I wish I hadn’t had to choose between being a mother and a career that I loved.

It is not a choice that we ask men to make, and we should not ask women to do it either, implicitly or explicitly.

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