Progressing into Retreat; Working Moms and COVID by Lou Cespedes
As protests raged this week outside our normally quiet community, I couldn’t help but think of the advances our society has made, and how fragile and elusive those gains are. We are in the throes of social change, both with the pandemic and in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police. As news cycles shift to the upheaval in our country, it may be all too easy to forget we are also still in the middle of a healthcare crisis, particularly in our own community of E. Flatbush. It appears we are at the epicenter of both crises, but there is another crisis brewing on the horizon. This crisis is not on our streets, but at home.
Governor Cuomo has clearly stated that September is “a long time from now”. For parents, it’s an eternity. Summer will present a series of challenges that are too hellish to tell here, but considering eminent budget cuts because of the pandemic, as well as schools remaining closed, it’s not difficult to imagine the synergy of children without supervision and parents going back to work. There is no escaping our current reality; we are buffeted by forces we cannot control, economic circumstances that are destroying our community, and now we are asking parents to return to work without any safety nets or child support services. This is gut wrenching for obvious reasons, but that is not the purpose of this piece. There is a much greater issue afoot, which deals directly with the dynamic of households in our community.
Women are disproportionately affected by the crises we are facing. For a great cross section of women, particularly working women, professional women (already suffering from inequities in the workplace) are now faced with an impossible decision; stay home with their children and face an uncertain career future, or go back to work and run the risk of illness and spending enormous amounts of money on childcare. For many single mother’s there is no choice at all. What is truly most worrisome for parents is the idea of unattended children, but as a society, we need to question if that burden needs to be met by the women in our community, and what our role as men should be. During the quarantine, I’ve had many uncomfortable realizations, mostly dealing with my own daughter’s demands for attention during work hours. I’ve done as much as I could, but my wife has been battling with making sure my daughter attends Zoom classes, that she is keeping up with her lessons, getting enough playtime, cooking and feeding our daughter properly, while worrying about how to re-enter the workforce without school.
I have learned to fill in, but nowhere near what is required. Men must radically transform how we advocate for and how we function within the family post-COVID, and we need to provide greater security and structure for women to succeed. In a mostly West-Indian community, where “chauvinism” prevails, our inability or unwillingness to address male roles is contributing to the systemic failures our families face as the demands on Mom become unsustainable. So, what to do? What are the alternatives we can seek to create within the community to change conditions on the ground sufficiently to give mothers a real opportunity? I have a few ideas and suggestions.
First, let’s accept that the solutions we need aren’t coming from the City of New York, and we need to rely on ourselves. There are some models and structures provided in other communities that I find very effective. One example is Park Slope Parents. They are primarily an “advocacy” and information resource for a large cross section of Brooklyn, some members live in East Flatbush, my wife included. This platform is exceptional in that it links parents, provides blogs, provides critical information on schools, both public and private, as well as giving parents a forum to discuss difficult issues. It is not however a “tactical resource” in that it does not provide tailored or general solutions to any particular issue. PSP may refer you to services, but it doesn’t provide them. However, the model works, and I believe creating such social network platforms might be a great conduit for parents in E. Flatbush to “pool resources”.
This idea of pooling is central. No one parent can solve problems on their own, but parents can use the current crisis and school closures to tailor solutions for themselves if they had a social resource platform. One example was a conversation we had at home about the kids and playdates during the quarantine. All our friends with children isolated, but the kids needed interaction. We thought of the possibility of sharing our homes, and hiring teachers to home school, pooling our money to hire one or two teachers that needed the work. The teachers and kids would rotate, giving parents time off and crowdfunding to pay for a teacher. We eventually abandoned the idea thinking it too risky, but the idea is good, and we think the summer is a great time to try. Money being the greatest hurdle, if we could create reliable systems that can be rated and vetted by parents, we can create trust, and give Moms piece of mind and support networks, for them to thrive and for our kids to build skills and relationships in our own community.
Finally, a word for the Dads. You all have no clue what it takes to be a woman. I say that sincerely as a man that has been blessed with many skills and attributes that are of great benefit to my family and closest friends. I am in awe of the discipline mothers have exhibited throughout this pandemic. For men, the luxury of cluelessness is quickly dwindling. As unemployment and inequality sweep through our community, it is urgent for men to have a greater awareness of their children, their time, and their priorities. I have certainly learned, and I am grateful, but I also acknowledge I have been afforded the resources and privilege to “work from home”. Many men don’t have that luxury. One final idea I’d like to share, is that Dads need these resources and support networks as well. In creating them, I believe they will yield much needed answers to address the shortcomings families or individuals may be struggling with, whether jobs, relationship advice, mental health, finances, or just learning from other men about the challenges mother’s face.
We cannot allow the women in our community to progress into retreat – or allowing for their gains in the workplace to be lost. We cannot abandon them to manage the health crisis, and the professional/employment crisis and the education crisis on their own. We must respond as men and a community with coherent solutions. The road toward secure communities and financial futures is paved by the women of our community and in our homes. They are “essential”. Let’s help them, so we may find our way.