If you’re a working mom who already felt constantly pulled between two busy worlds, coronavirus school closures (and adding a “teacher” job to your daily To Dos) can be incredibly overwhelming. We turned to Lauren Smith Brody, the author of The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, And Big Success After Baby, the groundbreaking book that looks at what happens after moms go back to work, for her best advice for this tumultuous time.
If you haven’t heard of it yet, the concept of Lauren’s book is that you have your first, second and third trimesters during pregnancy, you have the newborn haze phase (aka the “fourth” trimester), and then the working mom is born in a “fifth trimester”. A career magazine editor (most recently she served as executive editor of Glamour), her book was an immediate Amazon bestseller in numerous categories, and Lauren realized she had found something missing for many women and companies hoping to retain women—support during the fifth trimester.
The book turned into a movement—and a second act for Lauren, as a consultant, coach and speaker on this important subject. After speaking with over 700 working moms in all different industries, she’s considered one of the premiere experts on this topic, and has tips in her book on everything from mom guilt to figuring out childcare to how to ask your employer for what you need to thrive (whether that’s a flexible schedule, working from home or something else).
So how can you deal with the next few weeks/months, if you’re already feeling like coronavirus is the straw that may break your working mom back? Lauren says to go easy on yourself as much as you can. “Our kids will look back on this time with fascination and pride. They are going to remember how you made them feel (safe, cared for) and how you modeled what it’s like to keep going even when you’re scared,” says Lauren. What they won’t remember? If you aren’t juggling everything perfectly at the same time. “So, please don’t feel guilty if you have to put them in front of a screen while you do calls, or if your Wi-Fi can’t handle Zoom calls for two working parents and two siblings at the same time,” says Lauren.
To avoid feeling like you’re doing everything half-way (aka trying to play/teach/work) divide your time and conquer your tasks, with your spouse if possible. “You want to be absolutely as efficient and deliberate about your time as possible. Block out shifts with your partner if you have one, and to make working in bursts work best, always do the hardest thing on your list first,” says Lauren. And just like any time you work from home, let your office know when and how you’ll be reachable—and won’t. “Don’t try to answer emails and Slack in real time, but set aside a block of time twice a day to handle them, and let people know when that time is so you become quickly predictable,” suggests Lauren.
She adds that you don’t have to pretend you’re not dealing with a lot at once—in fact, that can pave the way during the fifth trimester (or coronavirus closures) for not only you but other women. “Every single thing I teach about the fifth trimester is really about getting through a rough, under-supported transition. This crisis is just another one of those, and women have a lot of power right now to make change simply by showing the hard stuff,” says Lauren.
And if you’re dealing with the bulk of homeschooling plus trying to do your job (while your husband may not even know how to download Google Classroom, or what the craft project of the day is) you’re not alone. “Generally, I think, unfortunately, we will see women taking on more of the homeschooling duties or dialing down their jobs if they make less than their partners. If that’s you, remember that’s not due to lack of ambition or gender roles as much as it is the gender wage gap. If Dad makes more money or has better long-term chances of making more money, or is the one with the health care benefits, you’d better believe that many of us are going to do everything they can to protect Dad’s job (it’s basically a macro version of what we see happens with maternity vs. paternity leave),” says Lauren. That’s obviously not good news, but Lauren says that if you’re feeling like you’ve just time traveled back 40 years, have a deliberate conversation with your partner about it so it’s a temporary division of labor that you settle on as a team, not just something you slip into as a default.
She also offers a glimmer of hope for the long-term, not only for companies but also for your partnership at home. Basically, it’s the second shift, laid out for all to see. “I that there’s a giant silver lining of all of this which is just the pure visibility of what had previously been invisible labor in the home. Mom may be stocking the freezer, but Dad is awfully aware of what’s in there now too. Mom may have been ordering the diapers, but now Dad is equally aware of just how often those little tushies get changed all day long. I do think, looking into a crystal ball, that that visibility as a symptom of all being home together all day long will carry over beyond this crisis and help shift some gender norms,” explains Lauren. “And certainly, every workplace that thought that it couldn’t possibly allow remote working and flex hours is about to learn otherwise. Hopefully, that lesson will stick.”