The past year and a half has been a whirlwind for many working parents, with the Covid-19 crisis forcing remote work and remote school to take place in the same location. For many working moms, who carry the brunt of caregiving and household chores, balancing the demands of work life, home life and ongoing child-care responsibilities has seemed like a nearly impossible task.
In September 2020, one in four working women and one in three working mothers said they were considering downshifting their careers or dropping out of the labor force entirely due to added demands from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Lean In and McKinsey & Company report. In addition to mothers feeling the need to downsize their careers because of the pandemic, many women were forced to leave the workforce due to their overrepresentation in hard-hit industries like the service-sector and child care, where jobs were either cut or employees left due to a lack of paid time off and flexibility.
"I'm a single mom of a 3-year-old," Lauren Fine from Denver tells CNBC Make It. "So, losing my job at the height of the pandemic when I have an autoimmune illness is very scary, [and] the idea of going back out somewhere to work in person is not really an option." Fine, 38, explains that since losing her job at a local non-profit in June 2020, she's been working multiple remote part-time jobs to make ends meet. Thankfully, she says, "I have not felt like I was going to lose my house or not be able to feed my son."
After losing her job, Fine says her initial plan was to start looking for another position immediately that would allow her to work remotely. But, she says, "being home with my child full-time without child care and trying to job hunt just felt almost comical honestly."
"I remember having an interview in my parents' basement, trying to close the door and my kid is yelling to come in," she says. "At that moment, I was like 'I don't have a choice right now. This is it.' The reality was that the other components of my life outweighed [a full-time job]."
In addition to feeling overwhelmed by the demands of child care and job searching, Fine, who also takes care of her elderly parents, says she found the interview process for many companies to be extremely stressful.
"There was a job where I made it to the fifth round interview and didn't get the position," she says. "And I was like do they even know how much time and energy and effort had to go into this? Like, to do a work sample and then be on multiple different interview calls to meet with their team, that was really hard as a single parent in the height of the pandemic."
Prior to the pandemic, Eraina Ferguson was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years who worked periodically as a writer and freelancer. Unlike many moms who felt the need to downshift their careers during the pandemic, Ferguson says she felt the urge to return to work full-time after being in the house with three school-aged kids who were doing virtual learning and a 21-year-old with special needs.
"In September  I found myself angry," says Ferguson, 42, who was feeling burned out and tired from the demands of home life. "I called my husband one night when he was working late and I said, 'I want to go back to work. Like, I need to go back to work.'"
At a time when millions of women were leaving the workplace, Ferguson, who holds two master's degrees, started her job search to re-enter the workforce in hopes of finding a full-time remote position. In October 2020, she landed a copywriter role at a digital marketing firm. But, after about three months on the job, Ferguson says she had to quit because of scheduling conflicts.
"The schedules just got crazy," she says. "I hired a nanny, but I was still getting up at 5 a.m. and working until 1 p.m. because I was working for an east coast company." At the beginning of the pandemic she and her family were based in Los Angeles, but they have since relocated to North Carolina.
Currently, Ferguson is enrolled in a UX Design program with the education company Udacity, where she worked as a recruiting marketing intern for the summer. Recently, she's been offered a full-time marketing manager role with the company and plans to one day land a full-time role working in tech.
When looking back over her job search journey, she says she's thankful for where she is today because there were times when she feared that her break from the labor force would impact her job hunt.
"That's the hard part because you find yourself penalized in some ways because some companies won't even look at your resume," she says of her hiatus from the workforce. "But, thank God for my network. They have been amazing with looking over my resume and giving me feedback to make sure I tell my narrative a certain way."
In April 2020, Alexis Taylor became a permanent full-time employee after being a contractor at her company for almost two and a half years. Her company had just started working remote in March, which helped her to hide the news that she was pregnant for a few months.
"This is going to sound terrible, but I was like this is so inconvenient," says Taylor, 35. "I was like, 'I'm trying to find a new job, I'm pregnant and I've heard about the motherhood penalty."
Taylor, who was looking at opportunities both externally and internally at her company, says she's thankful that most of her interviews were done virtually because it made it easier for her to hide her pregnancy. But, she says she still felt a certain level of guilt about taking her current job knowing that she would have to take maternity leave soon after.
"When I actually told my team, everyone was excited and they threw me a virtual baby shower," she says. "But it was very nerve wracking, especially being new to the position."
Though Taylor served as a contractor for the company for more than two years, she says the fact that she wasn't a full-time permanent employee for at least a year held her back from taking advantage of the company's full maternity leave policy.
"So the way my company does it is bizarre," says Taylor, who ended up taking three months of leave. "You have to take short-term disability first and then you go into maternity leave. And you can't leave the company for about a year after or you'll have to pay back the maternity leave."
As a new mom who returned to work in February, Taylor says she's thankful to have a supportive spouse who has helped her to balance the demands of work life and motherhood. But, like many working moms, she wishes more companies had policies in place that would make it easier for mothers to take time off when needed, work flexible hours when necessary and still advance in their careers how they see fit.
"A friend of mine, who recently got promoted to VP at her company, is a mom of two kids," she says. "And I was like, 'Do you think that being a mom impacted your pace of advancement?' She was like, 'It sucks to say, but yeah.' And she gave me some tips on how to really record all of the accomplishments that I'm doing and make them known because even though I am a mom and my son is paddling behind me, I'm still getting this done."