Why I Took a Step Back From My Career During COVID-19

One working mother shares how she navigated child care issues during COVID-19 and how she made the decision to step back from her career.

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We are aware that there many different realities right now throughout the country in the wake of COVID-19. This is just one story of one mom and her circumstances and choices. We acknowledge that everyone’s circumstances vary and every family must make decisions that are best for them.

By September, I found myself in a similar place as others across the country—and the globe—battling extreme ‘quarantine fatigue’. Since spring, I’ve avoided restaurants, museums, grocery stores, friends and family. And while I know my situation is not unique, it’s certainly intensified by my two small children. My oldest, who just turned two, had been out of daycare since mid-March—I was two weeks away from giving birth to my youngest with a statewide shelter in place order in effect. While my planned C-section went incredibly well, having a newborn during a global pandemic meant that we had to be incredibly cautious. This meant that we were left with a toddler and a newborn and absolutely no childcare: no daycare, no nanny or occasional sitter, no in-home guests like friends or family and no classes or other outlets for our oldest to burn off some of his crazy two year old energy. And while many suggested, “Well, that’s just parenting!” I cannot stress enough how unnatural it is to parent children without any social outlets (for you or them), familial support and in constant fear of contracting a potentially deadly illness.

On top of all of that, my husband and I were still juggling our jobs. My husband’s role in construction and development was incredibly busy (and we are thankful!) which meant that I had little to no daily support with our kids—and that he was forced to try to be professional and productive while complete chaos was often erupting in our two bedroom apartment. My part-time remote job, which was always meant to ramp up into more hours and responsibility, was hanging on by a thread. After an unpaid 6 week maternity leave, I was eager to hop back in and ‘exercise my brain’ with people and tasks that did not involve my husband or children. However, without any of the usual mechanisms that makes paid-work possible for parents, I quickly learned that it would be harder than I imagined. I began to rely heavily on movies, constant snacking and half-assed supervision to get through my workdays at all.

It was in the fall, after 6 long months, that I began to consider taking a leave from my job—something that pained me since I so much loved and identified with being a ‘working mom’. It wasn’t a decision that I took lightly but when I weighed the consequences of the lifestyle I was currently living, it was something that needed to happen.

  • I was burnt out. Both personally and professionally. I was no longer able to sustain the weekly calls I used to power through while preparing and feeding my kids lunch or the late nights and early mornings I used to complete the work I inevitably failed to get done during the daytime. I was also fresh out of ideas on how to provide my son (barely two years old) with engaging and educational activities while also avoiding public places and with limited time to actually participate in those activities alongside him.
  • I became resentful. I was resentful of my partner for being able to work uninterrupted and avoid the long, grueling day of child-rearing, resentful of my friends without children who got to spend this time free of the added stress of caring for little lives, resentful of our families who lived states away and were unable to help us during such a tough time (for reasons of safety and distance). I even became resentful of our less cautious friends and wished that I was care-free enough to head to a small gathering or hop on a plane to get some sun.
  • I started to become a parent I didn’t like. I was stretched too thin to employ any of the parenting techniques that my husband and I had agreed upon and, often, resorted to yelling and attempted timeouts or other punishments. I knew my son was acting out due to lack of stimulation, but I just didn’t have it in me to try any harder than I was. I feared that my kids would remember this time as one where I was scary, constantly upset or on-edge.

I asked myself a few questions like: Can my family survive without my salary? Are there areas I can cut back to accommodate for a loss in income? Would the benefits outweigh that loss? Did I exhaust every other option?

After much debate, my husband and I decided that we would be fine financially losing my income temporarily, and I recognize how fortunate we are that we were able to make that decision. The benefits to my mental health—as well as the benefits to my children by having a present and fully-focused parent at home—were worth it. The lack of monthly daycare expenses since March gave us enough wiggle room to comfortably do without my monetary contributions, but we also wanted to make sure it didn’t set us back. We continued to save the same amount of money monthly and removed unnecessary expenses from our budget. We also passed on ‘pandemic splurges’. You know those awesome ‘corona-cation’ rental houses on the beach for a change of scenery? Yeah, not for us. But at the end, we were super confident and comfortable in our decision and—with the blessing of my amazing management team—I took a much needed two month break from my position.

I am lucky enough to work for a company that revolves around parents. Without too much explanation, they were understanding and supportive of my need to temporarily step back. We put together a plan for me to back away the next week, as well as a tentative plan to check in in two months time. I am definitely aware that this is a privileged position that many do not find themselves in at work. 

My suggestions to those in different circumstances would be to use whatever you can: 

  • Can you take some accrued paid-time off? 
  • Are there state or government leaves that may apply to you? 
  • Can you negotiate even a short stint (a week or long weekend to recharge)? 
  • Can you manage shift coverage with a team to get some relief? 
  • Can you just scale back a bit to lessen the load? 
  • Can you form a safe pod to help get a break? 

All of these are viable solutions to help improve your mental state if you, like me, went to bed every evening troubled by how you may have failed during the day as a parent, a partner or employee.

While it definitely wasn’t easy, I am incredibly happy with my decision. Though short, it was an invaluable and a much needed ‘hard reset’ for my family and I. Most important was the reminder that you cannot pour from an empty cup. You can only be a good parent, partner, employee, friend if you are being good to yourself. It was a reminder that in trying times like these, we all need to be gentle with ourselves, be realistic, control the controllable and place value in doing whatever we need to survive and to thrive.

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