What Will Women Do? If kids are in school, women can go back to work. Will they go?

From the Newsletter

My beloved children are finally, FINALLY, back in school, and the world is good. They are happy and busy, which means that I’m not constantly worried. I’m also not frantically working to fill the gaping holes in their lives, I have time to myself. This Tuesday was actually the first day since March 2020 that I had a full day to get work done without driving Ian somewhere in the middle of the day. 

After I left academia ten years ago, I gradually transitioned to life as a freelance writer. I researched, pitched, interviewed, wrote, edited full time for many years now. The money sucked, but the job was very interesting and flexible; the flexible schedule meant that I could still do all the special ed mom chores. After the pandemic hit, I scaled back big time. I didn’t have the time or the brain space to do the job properly. I wrote an essay about how I couldn’t write — very meta, I know. 

I did get some work done. For example, I wrote a piece about boys and mental health and an essay about Ian going to the prom with brother. I started this newsletter. But I wasn’t popping out 1 to 4 articles per month like I had in the past. 

So, this week, for the first time in ages, I had blessed freedom. I sat back and wondered what I should do next. Will I go back to the freelance rat race? Or do I want to do something very different? 

I decided to sit on those decisions for a bit. Take my time to weigh my options. In the past, I have let fate steer my ship and just said “yes” to the first opportunity. Going forward, I want to be more intentional about my career and writing, so I’m not going to take the first bus out of the station. We’re heading down to the Jersey shore for a week, so I’ll be thinking these issues through in a beach chair with a frosty drink. 

And I imagine that the millions of other women, who had to put their careers on ice the past two years, are making similar decisions. Will they return to the office? Will they have to be still available if the kids are sent home with quarantines? Do they still have the energy for the nonsense that happens in any work place? Will a local, part time job pay enough? Our collective PTSD is going to shape decisions, for sure. 

The impact of school closures went far beyond students and teachers. The ripple effects of school closures hit parents, workers, the general economy. There is a growing acceptance that we can’t shut down schools and economy again to control COVID outbreaks. COVID is here to stay, and we’ll have to work around its inconveniences and tragedies. 

Where will I fit into this new reality? I’m not sure. But I am beyond blissful that I have new options in front of me.

16 thoughts on “What Will Women Do? If kids are in school, women can go back to work. Will they go?

  1. I don’t know. Last night some relatives were grousing about traffic jams around elementary, middle and high schools at and before drop off/pickup times. We were guessing at some causes.

    1) The schools are not allowing kids to be dropped off early, so parents are waiting to drop off their children As Soon As Allowed, which is much later than pre-Covid.

    2) Parents are nervous about their children being on the bus, so they’re not using the bus. Literally, they are lining up in their cars up to an hour before students are released.

    3) A lack of carpooling, due to a fear of Covid.

    4) School bus shortages, due to a lack of bus drivers?

    At any rate, there are a certain number of mothers who are not rushing back to 9-5 work.


      1. Carpool lines around here were brutal before the lockdown, or at least back when I drove kids to school sometimes, which means 2018 or so.

        Happiest day of my life was not when my kids were born, but when they got their driver’s licenses.


  2. The buses working poorly is huge; people in our district are reporting 1+ hour delays as school bus drivers are in short supply and driving multiple routes. The district offers public transportation cards to all high schoolers, but I’d drive my kid before using the public transport option (because I can and because I”m used to it. Since they attend private school K-8, we never had bus service). So, I’m guessing all of the above in your list for people who have a choice.

    Glad the kids are doing well and you have time to take a breath and think.


  3. Guess that choosing not to work is an option for people who can afford to make this choice.
    There’s a whole swathe of families for whom this is not an option: either single parents, or require 2 pay cheques to survive.

    This pandemic and consequent closures have made it really clear that childcare (ECE and/or school and/or after-school/holiday programmes) – are essential to enable essential services to operate.
    if you want nurses, vaccinators, cleaners, supermarket workers, etc (all overwhelmingly female with family responsibilities) to come to work, then there needs to be a childcare solution (affordable and operational) during any lockdowns.

    Have to say, that we seem to be making little progress on this. It seems to blindside our government every time we go into lockdown.

    I’ve really noticed that schools are a lot more hardline about kids coming to school with any level of sickness. In the past, I’d let Mr 13 go with a sniffle, or a snotty nose (tail end of a cold). Now, the school sends them home. Luckily, I *can* work from home, but a whole lot of families are going to burn through sick leave at this rate.

    Public transport takes a huge down-tick every time we have an outbreak. Why would you choose (if you have any other alternative) being stuck in a mass-infection box., with a whole lot of nutbar people who choose not to mask, vaccinate, etc.

    I hate carlines. Mostly kid travels by bus. On the odd occasions I need to drive him (baritone sax rehearsals) – I drop him on the road outside the school, and let him walk in. If I’m picking him up, he knows that I’ll be 30 minutes after school end – i.e. everyone else has cleared out.


      1. MH said “I think the U.S. has had more shootings over mask rules than New Zealand has had covid deaths.”

        Entirely possible – but we’re a tiny country – with (apart from Auckland) a very spread out population.

        Interestingly, in the latest Delta surge and subsequent lockdown (which we, in Auckland, are still enduring) – *all* of the hospitalizations are for people who were not vaccinated.

        Now, that’s not a blame statistic – although the single death – a woman in her 90s with significant co-morbidities – chose not to be vaccinated.
        Most of NZ didn’t have the *opportunity* to get vaccinated before the outbreak, as the govt vaccination plan was very strictly controlled, targeted and limited – and rather leisurely – what’s called here, the vaccine ‘stroll-out’.
        Government is now acting with urgency to boost supply, and vaccination rates are ticking up (I was ‘allowed’ to have my first jab last week – yay!).

        But it gives hope that we can move out of this lockdown yo-yo – and potentially rejoin the rest of the world (not to mention letting Kiwis come home again)

        And that brings up an interesting issue. Here in NZ, there are strictly limited numbers of places in quarantine, and you can’t buy an airline ticket to come here, unless you already have an MIQ spot booked. They are in *huge* demand. Probably about 1 place for every 10 people who want one.
        The places are released by the govt – and people overseas have to scramble to get one. Stories of people constantly refreshing their browsers on the site for weeks, bots have been developed to crawl for them, and students hired to find the space. Hugely stressful for people. And many have given up (elderly or with poor computer skills).
        Government is now proposing to introduce a *lottery* for the places (really, words fail).

        However, against this background, there is a court case being prepared which challenges the government’s right to lock out New Zealanders from their legal right to return to their country – effectively, indefinitely. After-all – it’s been 18 months – and no sign of things changing.

        The individual fronting this, initially, has now been granted a medical exemption MIQ space [it’s perfectly obvious that the Govt didn’t want to appear in the papers denying a woman with a high-risk pregnancy the right to come home – even though that’s what they’d done for 3 months, before she went to the papers]
        But it’s been picked up by others. People whose visas have expired, or who have lost jobs and homes in the pandemic, or who have mental health issues, or are facing huge medical bills if they remain overseas, or who are just elderly and want to come home.

        NZ’s strict border control comes at a cost.


    1. In the US, several million women had to leave the workforce because of school closures. We are at our lowest levels of full time employment for women with children since the 1980s.

      Schools just opened up here, so it’s too early to say how outbreaks are going to impact on school attendance.


    2. The last hurricane which flooded a big part of my state wiped out Isn’s old high school. They won’t open until January. The water level was at the top of chairs in the auditorium


  4. Guess that choosing not to work is an option for people who can afford to make this choice.
    There’s a whole swathe of families for whom this is not an option: either single parents, or require 2 pay cheques to survive.

    Yes, this. I suspect there will be a big backlash against the anti-latchkey-parenting laws and a big return to latchkey kids, since that’s what so many parents who *didn’t* have the option of working from home were doing anyway.


  5. I wonder if pods/multi-generational homes are going to become more of a thing too, especially up here in the greater Toronto area where housing costs are nuts.

    Rather than working a job and a half to save up for a down payment on a tiny condo or afford renting a place of one’s own, I think a lot of people either moved ‘home,’ whatever that was for them, or combined into roommate situations – and if people are renting a room, they may kind of break the model where you rent with similarly-aged 20-somethings on your way to your own place, and rather look for ways to share housing with family permanently.

    I might be biased since my MIL has been living with us for 4 years, but I know of a lot of families who combined households to do virtual learning/no day care – 20-somethings moving in with siblings or aunt/uncles and helping with kids, elders either opening their homes or moving into in-law apartments (the latter didn’t sell yet, but you wonder.) Some people hired live-in nannies – would have been au pairs but with the restrictions on international travel, plus business being closed, they were able to find people, especially if they were flexible about supporting online degrees. Some of my after-school program staff were offered serious money to nanny + isolate, pre-vaccine availability.

    For some wealthier clans I also know of 20-something children who moved into the family cottage more permanently.

    It’s a kind of shadow economic restructuring.


    1. The previous owners of our house popped on two extensions, so one autistic adult or two 90-years or one young couple starting out could have their own mini-apartment. We could turn one large closet into a kitchenette. It might happen.

      I think you’re right about multi-generational homes being a big thing going forward. The housing prices are insanely high for a new buyer.


    2. Wouldn’t it be easier to just not all live in the same city? I’m sick of having Pennsylvania elections hanging by a thread because of the “Alabama in the middle” thing. Locals are complaining about Californians and the like moving in because housing prices are rising, but it’s diluting the we’re diluting the violent + crazy vote and you can still buy a house for $250,000.


  6. We have the insane house prices as well. Not all COVID, property was already on a skyrocket here in NZ.
    But with the average house price, here in Auckland, around 1.25 million – and the average household income is $140,000 – almost all couples with a mortgage need both working (and working at a serious job) – just to pay the bills. Rent is also at all time-highs (due to a major shortage of rental accommodation for lots of reasons) – and the numbers on waitlist for public housing (even with a good steady blue-collar job) are through the roof.

    Unless this lockdown changes things, we have minimal unemployment – if you want a job, and you’re at all employable, then you can take your pick.

    We are seeing *some* intergenerational housing. Mostly 20s/30s moving back into the family home. However, a *lot* of older couples have downsized – and don’t have the big house any more. And a lot of Auckland is immigrants (from the rest of NZ – not just overseas), so family isn’t always here.
    I’m unusual, I live around 5 minutes drive from where I grew up, and 5 minutes in the other direction from where my Mum lives (she sold the big family house when my dad died).

    Mostly what we’re seeing in poorer neighbourhoods is 3-4 families crammed into a 3 bedroom house. Kids sleeping 6 to a room. Lounge and garage turned into bedrooms. Massively overcrowded (modern day slums, really). Huge health issues (rheumatic fever has become endemic over the last 20 years – which is shocking in a first world country) – and, of course, the ideal spreading environment for Covid – especially as the majority of adults work in significant *risk* jobs (factories, cleaners, bus-drivers, nurse aides, etc.).

    Shared housing (as in ownership) is really rare in NZ – our banks don’t like it, and it’s really hard to get a mortgage.

    And shared rentals are much more often 20 to 30 somethings, (or older singletons) with no kids. Again, the property rental companies don’t like renting to potential risks – and want ‘earning’ adults for tenants.

    The exceptions seem to be families renting out a spare room – for a bit of under-the-table cash. Which became normalized for Air BNB and overseas students – and has now translated to a permanent arrangement.


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