Last in Line: Why Don’t Women Take Better Care of Themselves?Apr 30, 2022 11:00AM ● By Susan Ahlstrom
In March 2020, Julia was finally beginning her new management position at a solar energy startup, when the office went remote two weeks into her new gig. After taking several years away from corporate life to be more available for her three young children, she was ready to return to her full-time marketing career and let go of the part-time freelance work she had been doing. Going part-time was a decision that she and her husband had made together, so she could better manage work, on top of her many other roles: mother, cook, housekeeper, chauffeur and soccer coach, to name a few.
She set up her workspace in the guest room, and with her husband working remotely from the den, the two of them could keep their eye on their three students—each logging in and out of Google Meet from the living room, kitchen or bedrooms. It was a scramble to get everyone situated and organized, but thankfully the superintendent had announced that it would only be two weeks being remote, and then the kids would be back in school. Well, that’s what we thought, wasn’t it?
Julia was actually very good at effectively utilizing the limited space in their house. Like most women, she was also good at multitasking to get the most out of each day. Her priority was to help the children feel some sense of stability during this disruptive and scary time. Julia and her husband agreed that it was important to let the kids be kids and minimize their exposure to the constant news updates and climbing death toll rates. When the pandemic hit, it was all hands on deck—along with her head, her heart and her mother cub sensibilities. And then she got the call that her father had COVID.
When school went remote, women all over the world went to work to stabilize whatever sense of structure they could for their families. Extra precautions were taken when shopping, extra coordination was necessary with computer setups and internet resources, extra meals had to be made because everyone was home all day every day, and of course, there were lots of extra communications from the district, the town, the state and the extended family. As the one who generally managed central communications and social plans for the entire family, she naturally amped up that part of her game as well.
It’s no secret that women bore the brunt of the responsibilities for home and family during the pandemic. It would be unfair to say that men across America didn’t do their share, but if we’re honest about how our culture continues to operate with women doing most of the caregiving (whether children or eldercare), we’d be hard pressed to make a case otherwise, considering that this was a period of time when concern for health and safety were at the heart of the home.
A 2021 report from the nonprofit Brookings Institution, titled “Women, work, and families: Recovering from the pandemic-induced recession”, highlighted the increased time women spent on child care and education throughout the pandemic. Mothers were more likely than fathers to take leave from their jobs to step up at home. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two out of every three caregivers in the U.S. are women, providing support not only to children, but also to adults with chronic illnesses or disabilities. As the sociologist Jessica Calarco said, “Other countries have social safety nets. The U.S. has women.”
And we wonder why women find it hard to justify taking time to take care of themselves? It’s as simple as the fact that at the end of the day, there is no time for self-care. Often when there is time, the overwhelming desire is to find quick and easy downtime, like tuning out to binge Netflix, or as many have found, having a glass of wine (or two) at the end of the day. Both are examples of subtle daily habits that can quickly take a toll on overall health and well-being.
Finding the stamina to do what is “good for us” at the end of a long work day, and even longer remote work and school day, is challenging. Oftentimes, the last thing we want to do is go to the gym or suit up for a two-mile run. Although many more Zoom yoga and workout classes are now available, it’s not quite the same as the benefit of taking a break from home and family to connect with others or regroup.
Self-care takes time. In fact, it takes a concerted effort to make time. It takes planning and a real commitment to allow oneself to “put your mask on first” as they instruct on airplanes. Women don’t always feel that they deserve to take time to rest and refuel, especially when their loved ones still need them.
Making space for regular, dedicated quiet-time practices is essential for maintaining good health during stressful times. Activities like savoring a cup of tea, taking a warm bath, listening to a favorite playlist or connecting with a good friend for an hour can make all the difference. Family members can help by encouraging the women in their lives to take time for themselves. Self-care is family care; it’s a loving and healthy thing to do.
Susan Ahlstrom, MS Counseling, is a Wellness Coach, Certified Accredited EFT Practitioner and Reiki Master. Connect at 203-313-4613 or LighterAndBrighterWellness.com.