Dispatches From the Gender Gap: Work-From-Home Moms in the Time of Coronavirus

Elroy Mariano

“Mommy…are you gonna go to yoga?” It was when her 11-year-old son asked her when she planned on leaving the house again, “after five treacherous days of sheltering in place with a husband and three kids,” that Roxana Orbegoso, a physician in Scottsdale, Arizona, knew the reality of the global […]

“Mommy…are you gonna go to yoga?” It was when her 11-year-old son asked her when she planned on leaving the house again, “after five treacherous days of sheltering in place with a husband and three kids,” that Roxana Orbegoso, a physician in Scottsdale, Arizona, knew the reality of the global pandemic had sunk in with her children. “‘Because, Mommy, you need to go to yoga,’ he says. And I was like, you think?”

While staying home to combat the spread of COVID-19 is something of a privilege, when so many Americans still have to go out to work, for many mothers now working from home, this has meant an increase in their responsibilities unequal to that of their husbands. In ordinary times, most working mothers who are married to men spend almost twice as much time on childcare and household chores; and the exigencies of the current crisis have not seemed to have had a significant impact on the domestic gender gap.

“I’m trying to juggle the kids and my job and being on the phone and the computer all day,” said a New England mother who works in media, “and my husband walks in and he’s like, ‘Hey! There are candy wrappers on the floor! Have the children been eating candy?’ And I’m thinking, Gee, I don’t know, why don’t you pick up the fucking wrappers and then we can discuss it?”

“We don’t see [my husband] during the day,” said Eleanor Banco, who runs her own public relations firm and is sheltering at home in New Canaan, Connecticut, with her husband and two children, ages six and four. “He has his coffee and then says, Ok, guys, I’m going to work, and literally goes in his office and closes the door…. He’s pretty strict with keeping his office time pristine.” She said he comes out for meals.

“I’m not sure if it’s something men will ever understand, that we do more,” said Dawn Gallagher, a content creator for the beauty industry who lives in New York City. She had to break from the conversation to help her 11-year-old daughter understand a homework assignment emailed from her school. She said her husband was “on the computer doing his thing.”

“We’re multitasking at all times right now,” Orbegoso said. “And it’s exhausting.”

“Everyone needs to be fed, everyone needs to be entertained, everyone needs to stay on some type of schedule, and everyone needs to stay out of each other’s way,” said Amanda Swadish, a trainer in Scottsdale and the mother of two boys, 9 and 11. “With two boys, if you don’t keep them occupied, it’s Fight Club—and we don’t want that,” she added.

To occupy her sons during spring break, Swadish devised a “ninja-warrior camp” for them in the backyard. “They had to jump rope, do high-knees, Hula-Hoop, bear crawls,” she said. “Whatever can fill their imaginations and move their bodies and keep them positive…. I just feel like I’m figuring it out every day. I was like, look at all these art supplies in this drawer! Guess what, we’re having art class today!”

Her efforts to distract and uplift her kids occur in between teaching her own classes and private students online, rather than in the gyms and homes where she normally trains. But she said she’s used to not having her husband do an equal amount of household chores, as he travels “about 70% of the time” for work. Now that they are quarantining together, however, she said she had not noticed a closing of the childcare gap. “My husband’s like, ‘I gotta work every day,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I get it.’”

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