It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday, and I’ve already been at my desk for an hour.
It’s no secret that the pandemic has crushed women. We’ve seen headlines about how it’s destroyed women’s progress in the workforce, how moms have had to choose between their children and their jobs. The pandemic has crushed me as well—but my husband and I were forced to take a totally different approach to handling the past year.
As soon as Covid reared its ugly face, my husband’s company closed its doors. As a musician in a 110-person orchestra, he went from performing in front of thousands four days a week to losing a significant portion of his income and being told to stay home indefinitely. That meant we were going to have to figure out a way to earn money to make up the difference, stat.
Despite snagging two graduate degrees, my career in journalism has always made me feel like I needed a support person. Translation: in order to pay for housing and food, I have up until now relied on someone else. For the past 14 years, that someone has been my husband. We split our duties fairly evenly, though our duties appeared to be gender-based. He worked and managed the bills; I worked and managed the household and the children.
We have a single bank account that we share, but my income played more of a supplemental role: his income paid the mortgage, the bills, and the kids' expenses, while mine paid for vacations and any extras. We knew that we would need to pivot, but the children were now learning from home.
As my female friends lost their jobs or quit them in an effort to get through the pandemic while taking care of their family, I found myself hiding from my children.
I’m a freelancer, so the more I work, the more income we have. This meant that as I began taking on more work to support us, he would have to be the go-to parent: the one who helped the kids with homework, the one who shopped and cooked, the one who would replace me in all the things at home I no longer had as much time to do. Our roles were reversing, and despite being a self-described feminist who thought I could do it all, I wasn’t pleased.
Never had I felt so much pressure to make money. I had to support a family of four (plus two cats and a dog). I had always been in the lucky position of wanting to work—but needing to work was a whole different game.
My husband stepped up: he instantly became the person who took care of our children's every need. He cleaned the house. He went to the supermarket, and he cooked full dinners for us nightly.
I didn’t step up as quickly. It’s terrifying to feel responsible for your entire family’s wellbeing. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I could yell, and I did a whole lot of that, in addition to muttering under my breath about my fears that this new lifestyle was unsustainable.
As my female friends lost their jobs or quit them in an effort to get through the pandemic while taking care of their family, I found myself hiding from my children. It was the only way I could function, as we were crammed into a home not meant to house four people who literally never left that house.
In the basement, where I set up shop, I felt incredibly resentful. I wanted to be the person to take my children to the park, to help them with their virtual learning, to comfort them when they cried. Instead, I was trapped in a small room, alone with my computer. I was a working woman, I told myself. I am strong and I can do this.
And then, it happened. I started pitching and writing more than ever before, and the money started flowing. That feeling that you’re supporting your entire family with your work may be the most empowering feeling I’ve ever experienced. My work paid for the meal we’re eating; my money is buying the clothing we are wearing; my money is purchasing all those tiny LOL Dolls that my daughter hoards. It’s me, and I can do it.
Once you feel like you can financially support yourself, you may also feel like you can do absolutely anything.
I’m very lucky, as I had a husband willing and able to do absolutely everything around the house and for our children when he was home for the pandemic. It’s rare to find a man who will do this: this past year has highlighted how often those duties go to women. This is why more than 5 million women lost their jobs during the pandemic—compared with just 4 million men.
We need to stop splitting gender roles. Couples should divide career, family, and other work (the latter of which often is much more difficult and stressful than a paid job) fairly and according to what makes sense for them, no matter the gender makeup. It’s the only way we can move forward and progress as families, as women in those families, and as a country.
And while I initially stepped up my freelance career with the specific goal of keeping my family afloat, I did discover an empowering bonus: once you feel like you can financially support yourself, you may also feel like you can do absolutely anything.