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The pandemic’s crushing toll on working moms

In a new survey, fewer than a quarter of working moms said they get the recommended average night’s sleep, and many don’t have time for basic self-care.

The pandemic’s crushing toll on working moms
[Source Images: J_art/Getty]

“The juggle is real.”

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That wordplay is probably the only part of a new report on how the pandemic has affected working moms that can put a smirk on your face. Entering year three of COVID, the millions of U.S. women who’ve had to balance work and home duties have never not faced a very real struggle. But this new survey affixes some alarming statistics to the question of exactly what that toll has been.

It’s a collaborative effort of three “mom-led” companies (Kuli Kuli, Sylvatex, Uncommon Cacao) and researchers from four universities (UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Northeastern). They spoke with 1,048 working mothers, and while the “supermom” archetype has rightly drawn a new round of criticism during the pandemic, their findings suggest that being a working mom in America these past months would certainly have benefited from having some amount of superhuman strength.

Sleep deprivation is a surefire way to not only burn out but also welcome problems with health and executive functioning that span from sluggishness and impaired memory to, eventually, greater risks for high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Yet fewer than one-quarter of the working moms surveyed said they get the recommended average night’s sleep: seven to nine hours. Over half of them—53%—said they get fewer than six hours. One in six said they don’t even get five.

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Asked about their sleep schedules, a third of the women said that they now wake up “much earlier” each day in order to get work done; 19% said they stay awake “much later” for the same reason, and 15% said that they do both. And women from minority groups were between one-and-a-half and two times likelier to report getting less sleep.

Unsurprisingly, the one-two punch of busyness and exhaustion affects what women feel they’re able to accomplish each day. One in four moms complained that they no longer have time to engage in “common self-care practices” like walking or any kind of exercise, eating healthfully, meditating, and maintaining social connections. Most concerning, the lower their income, the more likely women reported neglecting basic self-care.

Of course, the negative consequences haven’t only impacted personal well-being. “The women who participated in our study said it was near impossible to keep the two spheres of work and home separate,” the researchers wrote in the survey, “let alone show up for the responsibilities to the extent they desired.”

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Many of them said they experienced workplace discrimination as a result of juggling work duties and family or childcare duties at home. The survey also includes stories from participants in which they talk about being overlooked for promotions and, in certain cases, even being fired. The need to manage new responsibilities left them exhausted, in turn negatively impacting work performance—or, perhaps even more frustrating, the researchers note, created “a perception” that this stress meant they wouldn’t be able “to fulfill their work obligations.”

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