Lesson of the Day: ‘America’s Mothers Are in Crisis’

Lesson of the Day: ‘America’s Mothers Are in Crisis’

Read this excerpt that details the pandemic routine of one of those mothers, Dekeda Brown, 41, who lives in Olney, Md., and is married with two daughters, 11 and 15:

Dekeda was sitting at her dining room table — her “war room,” as she calls it — with two laptops open, typing like a court stenographer. In her left ear, she was listening in on a conference call for work; in her right was the voice of her 15-year-old daughter’s special education teacher, giving a math lesson. Leilani, who has severe nonvocal autism and sensory processing disorder — meaning, she cannot speak words, needs help with most daily tasks and finds everyday stimuli excruciating — communicates with the teacher by touch-screen.

It was late afternoon, and Dekeda’s husband, Derrick, 46, had just walked in the door from work. He is a building engineer at a medical office. He waved hello, called up the stairs to London, 11, and made his usual beeline to the fridge.

Dekeda opened her mouth to remind him to wash his hands, but he began motioning toward the computer. “The teacher called on Leilani!” he said.

Quickly, Dekeda unmuted the computer and apologized, then helped her daughter type her answer into the screen. Moments later, she heard a pause in her other ear. It was from her boss. “What do you think, Dekeda?”

“This went on for an hour,” Dekeda said, of the toggling back and forth, trying not to mix up the mute buttons, apologizing to each party. “At the end, I retreated to my bedroom and cried.”

How does this in-depth profile of Dekeda’s life add to your understanding, or change your perspective gained from the rest of the series? Which lines, moments or quotes stand out, are most affecting or memorable? What connections can you make between Dekeda’s current life and the issues working mothers are facing around the country?

If you have time, you can read the entire article before responding to the questions above about any of the women profiled.

Option 2: Explore possible solutions.

In “Working Moms Are Struggling. Here’s What Would Help.,” another piece in the series, Claire Cain Miller writes that mothers need support now more than ever — in the form of government policies, employer assistance or partners who share in more of the work. Here are a few excerpts:

How employers could help

Offer part-time schedules or unpaid leaves. In the United States, it’s unusual for white-collar employers to offer part-time schedules — and they pay disproportionately less when they do. But European countries with laws requiring that workers be able to go part time have been better able to keep women in the work force.

Pay for child care. At this point in the pandemic, mothers don’t just need time; they need money. They could use it in the way that best suits their family — for child care, tutoring or to support themselves during an unpaid leave. But few companies have paid for child care.

How government could help

The United States is the only rich country without paid family leave, and one of few without subsidized child care. If it had those policies in place pre-pandemic, parents’ lives during lockdown would have been much easier.

In Sweden, for example, new parents get 16 months of paid leave to use until their child is 8, so some have been drawing on it during the pandemic. Parents also have four months of paid leave to take care of sick children up to age 12, which the government allowed people to use when schools were closed during the pandemic. In many European countries, child care centers are publicly funded, so there was no doubt they would still be available when it was safe to reopen.

How individuals could help

Men, do your part. While mothers and fathers have both increased the amount of time they spend on child care during the pandemic, the share they each do hasn’t changed all that much. There are concrete ways men could do more: Work in the common area of the home and give the separate home office, if you have one, to the woman. Take over an entire child-related task, like coordinating pediatric care, communicating with the school or planning a virtual birthday party. Get the children out of the house.

Ms. Goldstein’s advice for women: “Whatever the biggest gendered problem is in your life, make it a man’s problem. When men start to feel these disruptions and stressors the same way women do, that’s when we’ll start seeing real systemic change for the better.”

Read the entire article, then tell us what you think: What is your opinion of these solutions? Which do you think are most pressing or practical? What other ideas do you have to address the current crisis?

For more ideas and solutions, you can read “Let’s Hear It for Sabbaticals, Subsidies and Nanny Reimbursement,” which provides eight examples of governments and companies around the world that have come up with effective ways to support working parents.

Option 3: Interview a mother in your life.

Imagine you have been hired to create a new article for this series. Who would you profile and why? What questions would you ask? How can you help peers and the public understand and appreciate the lives, hardships and resiliency of mothers navigating the daily grind during the pandemic?

Using text, audio, photos and/or video, tell the story of a mother navigating the coronavirus pandemic. You can choose to spotlight your own mother, someone in your extended family or another mother in your school or community. Remember to ask permission if you plan to record or share the person’s name publicly or with your class.

First, brainstorm in advance a list of questions you could ask in order to learn about their experiences, like: What was your life like before the pandemic? What is your daily life like now? What are the particular challenges of being a mom at this time? How has the pandemic affected your mental, physical and emotional health? What would you like others to know about being a mom during the pandemic? How could others — employers, the government and fathers — help mothers during this crisis?