My Mom Has Two Jobs

At the end of my two maternity leaves, I found myself dealing with very conflicting emotions. On one hand, I felt scared and guilty about leaving my two young daughters with someone else. On the other hand, I was looking forward to getting back to teaching future attorneys in my wonderful job as a law professor. Of course, that excitement itself induced another wave of guilt as I wondered how I could help my kids understand what it means to be a working mom.

Both of my daughters adored books. Books were how I launched conversations, shared new ideas, and inspired them to ask questions. So at the end of each maternity leave, I searched for children’s books that could enable us to talk about my return to the office. I was looking for books that would encourage my daughters to be proud of the work that I do outside our home and that would help them connect my mommy identity with my professional identity.

My search was both frustrating and illuminating. Most of the children’s picture books that I found about working moms were based on the assumption that kids are sad and lonely while their moms are at work. So the book narratives focused on various ways for kids to cope until their moms returned home each day. Needless to say, that wasn’t the message I was seeking (and it didn’t do much to allay my feelings of guilt).

So I vowed to write my own children’s book to fill the void. I wanted my book to help young children understand how their moms can do important jobs to make the world better, while still being the most loving and special caregivers in their lives. I wanted my book to show how the work that women do as moms is connected to the work that we do outside the home. I wanted my book to reveal that women care for our children and our communities with the same passion, dedication, and commitment.

I knew what the title of my book would be on the day that I packed by briefcase at the end of my first maternity leave. The title would be: My Mom Has Two Jobs. Although I knew that some might question calling motherhood a “job,” it’s important to recognize parenting as work. Motherhood is a labor of love, of course, but it’s still work. And we should value it as such.

Despite my grand plans, my own two jobs took over and the idea of writing a children’s book got pushed to the back burner. Somehow, a decade passed. But the idea kept nagging at the back of my brain. It took until my daughters turned twelve and ten for me to finally make good on my vow and publish a children’s book that celebrates working moms for all that we do both inside and outside of our homes.

On each page of My Mom Has Two Jobs, children proudly describe how their moms care for them in a special way, while also improving the world through their careers. The book includes diverse moms in many different roles, including a teacher, engineer, police officer, doctor, secretary, dentist, firefighter, nurse, lawyer, waitress, military sergeant, veterinarian, and pilot. I hope that the book will fuel children’s curiosity about their own moms’ careers and give moms a much-needed platform to talk with their kids about whatever jobs they do.

In selecting the careers that were highlighted in the book, I made sure to showcase the important work that women do at all ends of the economic spectrum—from waitresses to lawyers—because we all experience the joys and challenges of being working moms. I also included jobs that we traditionally associate with women, as well as jobs in which women are still breaking ground. In this way, My Mom Has Two jobs will disrupt gender role stereotypes and reinforce the idea that women can do anything. It may also inspire young girls to imagine themselves in exciting new roles and empower them to follow their own career goals.

Although my daughters are well beyond their picture book years, they have enthusiastically supported this project. One of my favorite moments of this journey was when they proudly posted pictures of My Mom Has Two Jobs on their Instagram accounts. For all the working moms who still have little ones at home and who are searching for a children’s book to help their kids celebrate all of our many important jobs, this book is for you.

[First Published for Magic Beans Bookstore]

Dear Employers, It’s Time We Recognize Parenting as Work – It really is a win-win. Here’s why.

A few years ago, I published a children’s picture book, My Mom Has Two Jobs, celebrating working moms. On each page, children share their appreciation for all that their moms do in both their professional and parenting roles. Instead of depicting these roles as conflicting, it highlights the synergies between our professional jobs and our parenting jobs, which actually make us more effective in both realms.

Although working moms readily see themselves in the book’s narrative and often share with me their sense of affirmation from its message, the book’s title initially raised some skeptical eyebrows. A few children’s book publishers were wary of referring to motherhood as a “job” and suggesting that parenting is “work.” But for me, that concept was central to the book’s purpose.

Recognizing motherhood as a job does not devalue moms, and acknowledging parenting as work does not demean parenthood. To the contrary, there are many benefits to calling parenting what it is: incredibly challenging, highly-skilled, and enormously impactful work. This recognition is crucial for advancing gender equity by breaking down gender role stereotypes and empowering work-family integration for all parents.

I’ve been excited to see two growing social movements that both highlight the benefits of recognizing parenting as work. These movements come from opposite directions, but they’re both headed for the same target of gender equity. In a post-pandemic world, where women are digging themselves out of the first “she-cession” in history, this target is more important than ever.

The first movement is led largely by women, and it’s directed from our homes to the office. Its goal is for employers to acknowledge and value the skills that women bring to the workplace from their experience as mothers. This movement helps employers recognize that motherhood is not a problematic resume gap. In reality, motherhood is a phenomenal leadership training ground. Raising children and running a family builds exceptional project management, multi-tasking, budgeting, negotiation, collaboration, and empathy skills—all of which are critical capacities for effective workplace leaders.

The HeyMama organization is spearheading this effort with its Motherhood On The Resume (MOTR) campaign, encouraging women to explicitly translate their motherhood skills into leadership skills on their resumes. They seek to disrupt the cultural bias against mothers in the workplace, validate moms’ unpaid labor, and destigmatize career breaks for caregiving responsibilities. Valuing the skills that moms bring to their professional lives, “not in spite of being parents, but because of it,” will advance women’s workplace equality and lift more women into the leadership roles for which they are so well equipped.

The second movement is led largely by men, and it’s directed from the office to our homes. Its goal is to encourage men to lean into co-equal parenting by applying their workplace skills to their fatherhood role. Research shows that many men want to be more engaged fathers, but they often feel that they lack the necessary experience and expertise. Many men also fear negative career stigma by taking parental leave, seeking workplace flexibility, and visibly prioritizing their family lives. These concerns create barriers for men who want to escape restrictive norms and achieve a healthier work-family integration. They also ensure women’s status as second-class employees as long as women continue to shoulder the bulk of caregiving responsibilities at home.

The Fathering Together organization is breaking down these barriers by helping men recognize that their career leadership skills are also parenting skills. With its More Than A Neck Tie initiative, Fathering Together is revealing how so-called “workplace skills,” such as project management, strategic planning, flexibility, creativity, and innovation, are the same skills that empower fathers to become co-equal parents and partners at home.

Stewart Friedman and Alyssa Westring have written a practical guide for this movement in their new book, Parents Who Lead. As experts on work-family integration, the authors encourage reluctant fathers to understand that “raising children is a leadership challenge.” The ability to inspire and mobilize a team to achieve meaningful goals is not just a defining attribute of successful workplace leaders, but a key to effective parenting. When men make this connection, it empowers them to approach fatherhood with greater confidence and fuller engagement by applying their workplace leadership skills to their parenting role.

Let’s get one thing straight: Parenting is work. It’s a labor of love, of course, but it’s still work. And it’s important to call it what it is. By explicitly embracing this reality, women will receive appropriate recognition for the skills they bring as mothers into their professional roles. Men will be empowered to become more engaged fathers and co-equal parents. Employers will reap the economic gains that flow from more gender equitable workplaces. And our children will grow into a world that’s a little less restricted by conventional gender roles and expectations.

I think my children’s book title got it right. Working parents indeed have “two jobs”—and we’re all better off as a result.

[First Published in Working Mother Magazine]

How Nonfiction Books Build Conversations, Connections, and Community

I’m a law professor by day. For the past twenty years, I’ve used my research and writing to advocate for advancing women’s workplace equality and work/family integration. I’ve gained an understanding of the barriers to women’s career advancement, and I’ve become an expert on legal and policy reforms like paid family and sick leave, gender pay equity, and workplace flexibility.

Yet I slowly recognized that my platform wasn’t actually connecting me with the people I needed to engage with the most. I found myself regularly surrounded by other law professors, lawyers, and legal policymakers, and I found myself having conversations almost exclusively with other women. This was comforting, familiar, and deeply validating. But there was only so much I could learn—and only so much progress I could make—with a community comprised of folks who largely think like me and share my life experiences.

I realized that making meaningful progress toward gender equity required more than just external reforms or women pushing boundaries. Meaningful progress required male allyship for change. Men still hold the majority of corporate leadership positions, so I needed to engage with male business leaders who set workplace culture and practice. And fathers still perform less than half of household and caregiving responsibilities, so I needed to engage with dads who are also juggling work and family obligations. In short, I needed to connect with men.

Building male allyship for gender equity requires understanding men’s narratives and lived experiences. Why don’t many men speak up against gender bias? Why do male business leaders hesitate to mentor women colleagues? What barriers prevent some men from becoming co-equal parents? Why don’t men use their paternity leave when they have the chance? How can men be invited into the conversation to become problem-solving partners for advancing gender equity?

Launching these conversations and expanding my learning community were among my primary goals for writing my nonfiction book, Dads For Daughters. I began by interviewing men who had been inspired by their daughters to become outspoken gender equity advocates. It was a natural connection for me, as the mom of two teen girls. These interviews lead me to more conversations, data, and stories about what motivates men to support gender equity and what makes a successful male ally.

I shared what I had learned in my book in large part as an invitation to other men to join the discussion. For me, the result has been a tremendous learning opportunity—launching conversations, building new partnerships, and expanding my community connections.

The book itself was just the first step. After the book launch, I was invited to be a guest on several podcasts geared toward men. These opened doors for conversations with fathers’ groups, men’s mental health professionals, male experts on gender-based violence prevention, men who are redefining masculinity, and male leaders who are redesigning workplaces for working parents.

My favorite conversation was on a podcast, “Dads with Daughters,” in which we talked about fathers’ motivations, fears, and commitment to creating a more equitable world for our daughters to thrive. It was exactly the kind of conversation—and source of learning and partnership—that I had been missing in my day-to-day life as a law professor.

As a result of the podcast, I connected with a wonderful nonprofit called Fathering Together, which is building a community of engaged dads. One conversation lead to another, and I’m now a board member of the organization. We’ve launched an initiative called “Dads For Gender Equity,” and we’ve hosted a webinar series titled #StandUpDads, which explores how fathers can support gender equity in their homes, workplaces, and communities. All of this started from—and wouldn’t exist without—my decision to write a book.

So if you’re a nonfiction writer, I encourage you to take time to explicitly identify the conversations that you want your book to launch, the personal connections that you hope to make, and the more diverse communities that you seek to build. Then write your book with curiosity. Write with humility. Write with gratitude. And write as an invitation to engage those from whom you most want to learn.

[First Published on the San Francisco Writers Conference Blog]

Justice Ginsburg’s Insights on Male Allyship, Fatherhood, and Dads of Daughters

We are all mourning the loss of a feminist icon—and for me, the loss of a personal idol. In the past few days, I’ve pored over articles praising Justice Ginsburg’s powerful support of women as an advocate, litigator, and judge. This part of Justice Ginsburg’s legacy resonates deeply with me as a law professor, mom, and long-time women’s rights activist. I am one of the many women who stands on RBG’s shoulders.

But in addition to all that Justice Ginsburg did to support girls and women, her lifelong fight for gender equity was also on behalf of boys and men. From the beginning, Ginsburg understood the critical allyship role that men can play in achieving a more equitable world—and she envisioned how that world would benefit us all.

Gender equity requires male allies.

Justice Ginsburg spoke frequently about how her husband, Marty Ginsburg, supported her career aspirations. At various times during her legal career, her work became particularly demanding, including when she co-founded the ACLU’s women’s rights project in the 1970’s. Marty understood the importance of his wife’s work, and he took on greater childcare and household responsibilities to empower her efforts. (This included taking on all of the cooking, which reportedly made Justice Ginsburg’s children quite happy).

Women’s equal opportunities in the workplace are advanced by supportive partners at home, and by fathers who are committed to co-parenting. “Women will have true equality,” said Justice Ginsburg, “when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

Gender equity empowers engaged fatherhood.

Although many advocates have identified engaged fatherhood as a path to greater women’s workplace equality, Justice Ginsburg also recognized an important flip-side to male allyship: a side that supports men as much as it supports women. Ginsburg advocated for gender equity in part to empower men who want and deserve the opportunity to experience parenting without career loss and stigma. She recognized that disrupting the pernicious gender stereotypes of women as caregivers and men as breadwinners can liberate men as well.

One of Justice Ginsburg’s former Supreme Court clerks, Ryan Park, says that learning this lesson from his former boss helped him decide to become a stay-at-home dad while his wife was completing a pediatrics residency. “The gender-equality debate too often ignores this half of the equation,” says Ryan. “When home is mentioned at all, the emphasis is usually on equalizing burdens—not equalizing the opportunity for men, as well as women, to be there.”

Ryan credits Justice Ginsburg for challenging the “assumption that women and men have different visions of what matters in life—or, to be blunt about it, that men don’t find child-rearing all that rewarding.” Ryan looks back on his time with his daughter as incredibly fulfilling—an experience that he believes all men should be free to pursue.

Fighting for gender equity means supporting this rewarding opportunity for men—a goal that Ginsburg fought for as an ACLU lawyer long before she joined the bench. In 1975, Ginsburg represented Stephen Wiesenfeld—a single father of a newborn—in a case that she argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Stephen’s wife had tragically died during childbirth, and Stephen wanted to devote himself to childrearing until his baby was old enough to go to school.

Stephen sought social security benefits that were available for the sole surviving parent of a child under age twelve, but his request was denied because the law only offered the benefits to surviving moms. Justice Ginsburg convinced a unanimous Supreme Court to strike down the law as unconstitutional gender discrimination. She often cited the case as an illustration of “how gender lines in the law are bad for everyone: bad for women, bad for men, and bad for children.”

Dads of daughters have a role to play in advancing gender equity.

Justice Ginsburg also recognized the unique role that the father/daughter relationship can play in building male allyship for gender equity. Of course, having a daughter is neither necessary nor sufficient for becoming a male ally, but it is one way to build men’s empathy for other girls and women.

Justice Ginsburg first had this insight as a practicing lawyer in front of a male-dominated judiciary. “As a litigator,” said Ginsburg, “I would try to get men on the bench to think…about how they wanted the world to be for their daughters and granddaughters.”

Ginsburg also saw the impact of the father/daughter relationship on her male colleagues once she joined the bench. The late Justice William Rehnquist is an example. Rehnquist is known as a staunch conservative, so he surprised advocates and pundits alike with his feminist-inspired opinion in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs.

The case started when William Hibbs sought time off from work to care for his injured wife, and he got fired from his job. William sued the State for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is a federal law offering employees unpaid leave to care for sick family members. The State argued that the law was unconstitutional because the federal government lacked the authority to direct states’ conduct. Although the case was brought by a man, it was seen as a crucial women’s rights battle because the law also provides time off to care for newborns, and far more women take leave than men.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, everyone (including William Hibbs’ own lawyer) predicted that Chief Justice William Rehnquist would vote to strike down the Family and Medical Leave Act as applied to states. Rehnquist was one of the most conservative Justices in the Court’s history, not to mention an ardent states’ rights supporter, and a long-time opponent of women’s rights (having argued against the Equal Rights Amendment and having cast a dissenting vote in Roe v. Wade).

Nearly everyone was shocked when the Hibbs opinion was announced as a 6-3 ruling in favor of Mr. Hibbs—authored by Justice Rehnquist himself. Even more shocking was the empathetic justification that Rehnquist gave for upholding the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Rehnquist began the opinion by deploring our deeply-ingrained gender role expectations. He explained that the “mutually reinforcing stereotypes that only women are responsible for family caregiving and that men lack domestic responsibilities” has negative effects on both women and men. It causes women to shoulder the bulk of caregiving, which causes employers to view women as less committed employees—which, in turn, pushes women out of the workforce and pushes men away from their homes.

Justice Rehnquist’s appreciation of both the sources and the effects of gender inequality was inexplicable to most, given his history on equality issues. Many suspected (incorrectly) that Justice Ginsburg had ghostwritten the opinion for him—including Ginsburg’s own husband, Marty. But Justice Ginsburg had a ready explanation for Justice Rehnquist’s apparent feminist enlightenment: he had become a dedicated dad of daughters.

After Rehnquist’s wife died of cancer, he became a single parent of two daughters and a son. Rehnquist was highly involved in his children’s lives, particularly with his older daughter, Janet, who was an attorney. After Janet got divorced, she often dealt with childcare challenges while building her career as a single mom. The same year that Rehnquist decided Hibbs, he often left Court early to pick up his granddaughters from school when Janet needed help with childcare.

Justice Ginsburg saw firsthand the impact that Rehnquist’s daughters had on his views. “When his daughter Janet was divorced,” she explained, “he became more sensitive to things that he might not have noticed.”

When asked how she stayed optimistic in the face of many other Supreme Court opinions that have failed to embrace gender equity principles, Justice Ginsburg often looked back on Justice Rehnquist’s experience. And she often cited one particular source of hope for the future: “I think daughters can change the perception of their fathers.”

Picking up the baton.

As we mourn the loss of the brilliant, compassionate, and irreplaceable Justice Ginsburg, we should also heed her most important advice: “There is still work to be done.” Advancing gender equity for our next generation of both girls and boys requires a continued commitment to challenging gender role stereotypes and supporting work/family integration policies like paid family leave. In Justice Ginsburg’s words: “It takes people, men as well as women, who appreciate that there is a family life as well as a home life to be lived, and press for change.

***
[First published on Fathering Together]

Covid Family Life ~ Disturbing Stats, Hopeful Trends, for Parents to Know | A Three Part Series by Michelle Travis

A three part series from Pandemic Pods, Workplace Flexibility, Co-Parenting Gameplans, Pandemic Anxiety to Worldwide Teddy Bear Hunt. Michelle Travis, award winning author, law professor, and expert on work/family integration, offers help for parents to cope and find hope in this original series for The Child Therapy List.

Part 1: Work/Family Integration & Covid-19: Blurred Boundaries and Memory Moments

Long before the pandemic, when I was returning to my “non-mom job” after my maternity leaves were ending, I searched for children’s books that would help me talk with my kids about why I would be leaving home each day. I was looking for books that would encourage my kids to be proud of the work that I do outside our home and that would help them connect my mommy identity with my professional identity.

My search came up largely empty-handed, so I decided to write a children’s book of my own—My Mom Has Two Jobs—to support other women who are seeking platforms to have work/family conversations with their kids. The book highlights a series of kids who proudly describe how their moms take care of them in a very special way, while also taking care of our world as teachers, nurses, engineers, police officers, firefighters, waitresses, dentists, doctors, lawyers, secretaries, veterinarians, pilots, and more.

I had no idea how important these conversations would become during the new normal brought on by Covid-19. As hard as it was to talk with our kids about the work/family juggle before the pandemic, it’s gotten even more challenging—and more critical—now that the lines between our jobs, roles, and responsibilities have become entirely blurred.

Many women are now doing their outside jobs from home: taking Zoom meetings from the laundry room; scheduling phone calls in-between nursing sessions; and responding to emails in the middle of the night. Many women have also added new jobs to our already full repertoire: we’ve become homeschool teachers, PE coaches, math tutors, and summer camp counselors. And many women with essential jobs are still heading out every day while their kids are without school, daycare, or camp, which adds its own set of new challenges for kids to navigate.

Embrace the Blurred Boundaries

Blurring the boundaries between our parenting and professional roles can be incredibly stressful. A quarter of women are experiencing extreme anxiety during the pandemic (along with 11% of men), and more than half of women are reporting sleep issues (along with 32% of men). Trying to keep our work and family roles separate merely adds to this stress and is simply impossible when parenting during a pandemic. So rather than trying to reclaim the lines and rebuild the barriers, it’s time to embrace the blurred boundaries of what’s truly become work/family integration. Here are two ways to start moving forward:

1. Talk with Your Kids about Your Work

For many working parents, our outside jobs used to be largely invisible to our kids as we did the bulk of our labor while they were at school, daycare, playdates, or sports practices. During the pandemic, our kids have more free time and many of us our working from home, which means that our kids may experience our outside jobs as a more direct intrusion into their lives: their lunch is delayed because we have a work deadline; their question is cut short because our boss just called; or they have to be quiet until our Zoom meeting is done.

This is a great time to explain to our kids what exactly it is we’re doing when we “have to work.” Let your kids know more about your job, why it’s important, and whom you’re helping. Ask for your kids’ advice when you’re dealing with a difficult work issue or a problematic colleague. Share your work successes so your kids can celebrate too. And encourage your kids to think about the careers they may have one day. This will help the daily trade-offs make more sense to your kids, and hopefully lead to some pretty interesting conversations as well.

2. Talk with Your Colleagues about Your Kids

Many of our work colleagues are dealing with the same work/family integration challenges that we are, but we’ve been trained to keep our work and family lives separate. So colleagues with children often struggle in silence, and colleagues without children often have no idea what the pandemic work/family juggle is like. It’s time to start talking at work about the challenges that working parents are facing at home.

Ask your colleagues who are parents how they and their kids are doing. You’re both likely to find a sounding board and an empathetic ear. Let’s also start normalizing our new work/family integration by celebrating kids’ appearances in Zoom meetings and applauding colleagues who schedule calls outside of homeschooling hours. Talking about our work/family struggles doesn’t make us any less committed workers, but it does pave the way for much-needed innovations in creating more family-friendly work environments.

Don’t Miss the Memory Moments

While embracing our blurred work/family boundaries is a healthy goal for supporting our kids, we should also recognize that the daily grind of work/family integration can take its toll. Most parents have doubled the weekly number of hours we spend on childcare, education, and household tasks—with women reporting an average increase from 35 to 60 hours and men reporting an average increase from 25 to 50 hours.

Despite the daily challenges of Covid-19 as we work, parent, educate, and shelter at home, the pandemic has also provided unique moments of deep connection with our kids. Many dads in particular are spending more time with their kids than ever before, and it’s been transformative. Sixty-eight percent of dads report feeling closer to their kids since the pandemic, and fifty-seven percent said they are appreciating their children more.

But being in work/family survival mode can often make it difficult to notice and celebrate the surprising moments of laughter and learning. It’s important for both our kids and for our own mental health to make sure that we don’t miss these opportunities for connection. Here are two tips to help us exhale enough to enjoy the ride:

1. Know that Less Structured Parenting is Perfectly OK

Here’s a wonderful fact to ease any feelings that you may be having about parenting inadequacy: moms who work outside the home today actually spend more time on direct, hands-on childcare than moms who didn’t work outside the home in 1965. That’s because our expectations of time commitments for being a successful parent have ballooned over the years.

Yet successful parenting doesn’t actually require planning engaging and educational lessons, activities, and interactions to fill every spare moment of the day. Unstructured hang-out time for you and your kids to unwind, relax, and enjoy each other’s company is effective parenting, and it’s more important than ever during the stresses and uncertainty of Covid-19.

2. Welcome Unexpected Joy

I recently got to the end of a particularly tough week of sheltering-in-place. I felt deficient both as a parent and as a professional. And of course, my house was an utter mess. My kids were exhausted from long days of unsatisfying Zoom school, and they were missing their friends. I stepped into my garage and cringed at the space where my car used to fit but that was now filled with countless bags of old cans that we can’t take to the recycle center until the pandemic is behind us. As I headed back inside to lecture my kids about spending too much time on their devices, I had a rare moment of pandemic parenting clarity.

Why not tackle the garage chaos and our pent-up frustrations at the same time? I called my kids outside and announced that it was time to learn the lost art of stomping cans—something I did as a child before recycle centers would happily take cans in their natural state. We set up rows and rows of cans on our driveway and started stomping away. It takes precision and tenacity to stomp a can into a perfectly flat circle, and it’s surprisingly satisfying to master this forgotten life skill. For over an hour, we lost track of everything around us as we stomped cans together. We laughed. We mocked each other’s miss-stomps that sent cans skittering down the road. And we cheered each other’s progress.

As memories from my own childhood flooded back, I realized that years from now, I won’t remember the squabbles with my kids over too much screen time or my interrupted Zoom work calls. I doubt that my kids will either. What I’m going to remember about parenting in a pandemic is the therapeutic art of smashing soda cans with my kids. That’s work/family integration at its finest!

***

Part 2: Work/Family Integration & Covid-19: Thriving in Transitions

This is a back-to-school season like none other. For most, it’s back to the kitchen table for online classes or homeschooling, or it’s back to driving by shuttered schools to pick-up and drop-off assignments. For a few, it’s back to class with masks, without friends’ hugs or high-fives, and probably with quite a bit of fear. And for far too many, there’s no “back to” at all—childcare centers nationwide are operating at less than 50% capacity, and we’re facing an estimated permanent loss of nearly 4.5 million child care slots.

As a researcher whose been studying work/family issues for two decades, I’ve never seen such daunting challenges. But I’ve also never seen such resilience, creativity, tenacity, and resourcefulness.

Author Rebecca Solnit has studied the human response to a wide array of natural disasters—earthquakes, fires, floods, bombings—and she’s discovered that we always rise to the occasion. Not only do people become “urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them,” but we become tremendously creative when disasters strike. “It is when people deviate from the script,” say Solnit, “that exciting things happen.” It turns out that parents in a pandemic are no exception.

Thriving in Transitions

In the midst of our exhaustion and worry, I find myself taking inspiration from parents’ crisis-borne creativity. Here are just a few of the resourceful things that parents are doing—and sharing with the rest of us who want to rise to the occasion as well.

1. Microschools and Learning Pods

Many resilient parents—particularly working parents—have creatively reinvented the one-room schoolhouse by joining forces with other neighborhood families to form learning pods. These family groups hire educators to form microschools in someone’s backyard, garage, or a nearby park.

Microschools (sometimes known as “pandemic pods”) are giving children a way to feel connected to the learning process again. They’re allowing parents to meet the demands of their own jobs. And they’re offering rewarding and safe places for many out-of-work teachers to do what they do best. They’re even giving new start-up companies, like Weekdays, a way to use their entrepreneurial skills to support families by connecting pods with educators, offering training, and providing curriculum.

This all began with a few caring parents who got resourceful when their childcare and school options disappeared. A few of those tenacious parents launched a facebook group on pandemic pods, which now has over 40,000 members sharing advice, resources, and support with one another.

2. Using Tech to Build Human Connections

As parents, many of us are worried about the increased screen time that our kids are spending during the Covid-19 lockdown, and how that might affect our kids’ mental health. Kids have increased their screen time by 50-60% during the pandemic, which means that kids aged 12 and under are often spending over 5 hours on screens per day. But resourceful parents have recognized that not all screen time is created equal. Technology can actually be a pathway to the human connections that kids are missing so much during this isolating time.

Thanks to some very industrious parents in my community, my daughter has had Zoom socials that have gotten her off the couch, interacting, learning, and laughing along the way. My favorite has been the Sunday afternoon baking playdates. On Sundays, the kids join a Zoom call, and one child leads the others by reading a recipe and instructions, while they all hone their craft in their respective kitchens. The sessions usually end with bragging rights for whoever made the gooiest brownies or the most beautiful lemon cake.

My daughter’s favorite Zoom-connecting activity has been a scavenger hunt. All of her friends gathered on zoom to receive a list of random items that one creative parent had compiled—a ping pong ball, a rubik’s cube, a pair of orange pants, a birdfeeder, a map, a piece of art they created as a toddler, and a spider’s web, just to name a few. Each child had an hour to locate as many items as they could—which meant an hour running around their own homes, yards, and neighborhoods taking photos of their discoveries. Then they gathered back on Zoom to share their findings and declare a proud winner.

Resilient parents are sharing ideas for online and virtual playdates, social games, sleepovers, birthday parties, grandparent storytime, and many other ways for us to use screen time to combat isolation rather than contribute to it.

3. Back To Basics

Another pandemic trend that is bringing me joy is resourceful parents’ back-to-basics approach. With so many scheduled activities, lessons, sports practices, and other gatherings cancelled, parents are recalling the simple but rewarding ways that we used to fill our own days as kids.

During the early weeks of the pandemic, sales of sidewalk chalk rose by 56%—and our neighborhoods have never been so colorful. Sales of jigsaw puzzles and board games have skyrocketed, and the demand for arts and crafts supplies is through the roof—including a 313% increase in sales of finger paints. Even MadLibs and water balloons are making a comeback. Many kids are also being introduced to the therapeutic joys of gardening, which has had an enormous pandemic resurgence.

In all of these trends, we’ve seen generations connecting in new ways, parents reliving a piece of their own childhoods, and kids finding joy in simple pleasures that I thought had become a thing of the past.

4. A Worldwide Teddy Bear Hunt

The pandemic has not only connected families and neighborhoods, but also parents around the world who are facing the same challenges. As parents started realizing that our only outings of the day are socially-distanced stroller walks and family bike rides, word spread that we could help each other by making these outings more fun for one another.

Suddenly, stuffed teddy bears started popping up in windows and yards, and on porches and trees around the country, turning mundane family walks into exciting “bear hunts.” Kids have begun keeping a tally of their bear sightings, and sharing them with other kids on the internet. To date, teddy bears have been spotted in 13 different countries—including Australia, Japan, Germany, and Scotland—and in all 50 U.S. states.

This worldwide support system—parents uplifting parents around the globe—happened without dictates, laws, or official sanction. It happened out of the innate caring and creativity that parents are sharing with one another during this extraordinary time. On difficult days of juggling work and family, worry and fear, and a whole lot of exhaustion, it’s this generous spirt borne of parenting during a pandemic that gives me hope.

Part 3: Work/Family Integration & Covid-19: Silver Linings

I’ve been studying work/family issues as a researcher for two decades—and I’ve been living work/family issues as a mom of two teen daughters for nearly as long. When I first started my research many years ago, I used the phrase “work/family balance” to describe my endeavor. I’ll admit that the phrase always left me feeling frustrated. But it took me awhile to figure out exactly why.

Parenting in a pandemic has crystalized for me why I no longer think about “work/family balance,” but instead focus on “work/family integration.” Our quest is not to achieve perfect equipoise between our work and family roles and responsibilities—a quest that we’re doomed to fail. Our journey is about finding ways to weave together all of the aspects of our lives to allow both ourselves and our children to grow and thrive. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from our pandemic parenting experience.

1. “Balance” Sets Us Up For Failure

The term “work/family balance” conjures the image of a scale, with work on one side and family on the other. The problem with that image is that it suggests that we achieve success only when the scale is in perfect equilibrium. As parents (particularly in a pandemic), we know that’s virtually never the case. There are days when we feel we’ve neglected our kids to meet a work deadline; and there are days when we feel we’ve failed to impress at work because we’ve prioritized a homeschool lesson. But the sum of each of those individual days of imperfect balance can indeed be work/family success—and we need to reframe our goals to recognize that.

2. Balance Implies Only Direct Tradeoffs

The concept of a work/family “scale” is also problematic because it only allows us to think in terms of direct trade-offs: more work time means less family time, and vice versa. It doesn’t allow us to imagine the possibility of synergies between work and family. It ignores that when we feel satisfied in our careers, we can be more engaged parents. It ignores that the empathy we learn as parents can make us better leaders at work. And it ignores the times when the conflicts actually pay dividends—like when one of my husband’s work colleagues needed a new babysitter, and we wanted to find a first job to get our teenage daughter some experience.

3. Balance Ignores our Lived Experience

Most importantly, work/family integration better captures our daily lived experiences than “balance.” As much as we might strive for compartmentalization—and as much our bosses might hope for it—the work and family aspects of our lives are truly intertwined. Parenting during a pandemic has definitely highlighted that reality. But at the same time that our daily work/family integration can feel overwhelming, it’s also offering some silver linings for working parents—and for our kids—in the future.

Work/Family Silver Linings

1. Increase in Workplace Flexibility

One of the long-term benefits that we can capture from our Covid-19 experience is greater workplace flexibility in the future. By necessity, many employers were forced to experiment with work-from-home arrangements—which many working parents have been seeking for years. Employers have discovered that remote working is actually quite successful: employees are just as productive, and concerns over supervision and teamwork challenges have been thoroughly debunked. What’s more, employers have discovered that remote working saves money with less overhead costs and reduced needs for expensive office space. This has made many employers far more committed to workplace flexibility even when the pandemic is behind us.

Of course, remote working hasn’t felt like a step forward for many working parents right now, because it’s come hand-in-hand with the shut-down of schools, the loss of babysitters and other paid caregivers, and the disappearance of after-school activities, sports practices, and summer camps. But once those aspects of our children’s lives are back up-and-running, we’ll be able to reap the benefits of workplace flexibility that we’ve been seeking: including less commute time, and more ability to fit our work around our children’s needs and school hours.

2. Increase in Engaged Fatherhood and Co-Equal Parenting

The new work/family integration brought on by working and schooling from our homes has also brought many families closer to co-equal parenting goals. Many fathers are taking on more childcare and household responsibilities, and they’re feeling positive about the results. The majority of fathers report that since the start of the pandemic, they feel closer to their children, are appreciating their children more, are more attentive to their children’s feelings, and are having more meaningful conversations with their kids.

This has lead to more meaningful discussions between parents about co-parenting gameplans. Parents are having more regular conversations with one another about sharing the childcare, schooling, and household workload, which benefits everyone in the family—parents and kids alike. It also has the potential to advance gender equity at work, as more men seek long-term workplace flexibility as well.

3. Increased Conversations about Childcare and Paid Parental Leave

In addition to increasing valuable conversations within families, the pandemic experience has also increased national conversations about the need to invest in childcare and paid parental leave. The crushing impact that Covid-19 and our childcare crisis has had on working moms in particular—as well as on parents laboring in essential jobs—has renewed serious calls for policy reform. It’s time to translate the painful lessons from the pandemic into a meaningful investment into our child care and early education infrastructure and our family leave policies, which would go a long way to supporting the long-term well-being of children, parents, and our economy.

4. Increased Conversations about Children’s and Parents’ Mental Health

The pandemic’s unique form of work/family integration has also increased important conversations about both parents’ and children’s mental health. This has been an incredibly stressful time for families—a time of worry, isolation, over work, and unknown. The CDC has actually issued guidance and resources for dealing with the stresses associated with Covid-19. But the silver lining is that we’ve actually been talking about these affects, which hopefully will open up pathways to long-term attention on self-care and mental wellbeing for us all.

[First published in The Child Therapy List]