Methods: This study forms part of a larger longitudinal, mixed-methods study that examines family stress and resilience among parents of children ages 0-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seventy-one mothers who had at least one child under age six at the time of the study were interviewed between June and August 2020 via Zoom. The research team used a subsample of n = 44 for the current study, deciding to stop coding transcripts after saturation had been achieved. All interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using grounded theory methods in Nvivo12 qualitative computer software.
Results: Qualitative analysis of open-ended interviews with a diverse group of forty-four mothers in the United States generated four main themes: 1) increased stress, 2) coping mechanisms, 3) adapting parenting roles, and 4) gendered division of labor. Findings indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in increased stress for mothers from increased demands to balance childcare, domestic work, and employment. Mothers seek to cope with stress through a variety of problem-focused and emotion-focused methods, and some report spousal support. The interviews highlight that mothers report lower expectations of men in their contribution to parenting children in two-parent households under pandemic conditions.
Conclusions & Implications: Identification of the unique strains put on families by the pandemic is revealing of problems with resiliency in the systems of employment, childcare, and education. The crisis reveals structural vulnerabilities. These results imply concerns about vulnerabilities in support for working women with children. One potential source for additional support to working mothers in heterosexual relationships is from greater father involvement, potentially by educating fathers about supportive norms and socializing or incentivizing men to become more involved in sharing domestic responsibilities.
The second source of support might come from policy reform in directions more favorable for working mothers such as recognition of childcare as a right and expansion of paid leaves for childcare and flexible forms of work. Results also suggest the need for more flexible home schooling and educational options, where childcare could be more holistically integrated into family life and remote working. The implications of the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic reflect onto the structural vulnerabilities of working mothers in the US systems of work, childcare, and education.