There’s a certain vindictive kind of irony in this whole 2020 situation, but I promise that none of us are pointing it out. Nope, we’re too busy trying to keep our heads above water and just survive this year. No pun intended, don’t get any ideas there, Coronavirus!
Who’s we? Us. The vast, enormous army of caregivers. You know, the ones our entire society runs off of? The unpaid labor of the nation? Yeah, those. Us.
Can’t avoid this mess
This year blatantly exposed the enormous fault lines that run through our society, and that hit me pretty hard. The cracks of selfishness, greed, and unsavory human nature we’re generally able to pretend don’t exist? Not this year. They’re right in our faces.
Years before kids, I had some rather nasty things to say about how little our society values those who take care of the vulnerable. In other words, caregivers. My opinions only strengthened when I actually became one.
In fact, those opinions became my own personal soapbox topics. The high cost of childcare. Little things like emotional labor or glass ceilings. The correspondingly low wages paid to those who actually DO the childcare or elder care. The blatant sexism of a workplace that both assumes women always bear the brunt of childcare and simultaneously penalizes them for it. A society that judges women for wanting to have a family AND have a career too, and be successful at both. A society that, at its core, is completely happy to keep the playing field uneven as long as they benefit from it, for everything from handicapped access and educational opportunities to enabling racism and sexism.
Sorry, soapbox. Yup.
Can we fire the screenwriters for 2020?
2020 put everything together and spun it all out in a pulverized mess. Society depends on unpaid labor and sacrifices? Ok, let’s make that labor strain until it’s pulling apart at the seams. Want to have a career and a family? Nope, you’ll have to decide in 2020 which is the most important. And surprise, surprise, guess who are dropping out of the workforce in horrific numbers? Men? Nope. Ha! How silly of me. No, it’s women.
Your career depends on the tenuous thread of childcare? Let’s see what happens when that’s taken away. Oh, and for good measure, pretty much any social safety net of family and friends who can help aren’t available either. Have fun with that!
Let’s throw in some wine jokes with that mess, top it off with a side of working from home, and voila! The perfect storm of caregiver hell.
Not a good solution
Newsflash: we don’t need wine. We don’t want wine, at least not as a solution. The weak wine jokes mask a darker, understood fact – that we have no solution or answer to our national dilemma and we’d rather joke about becoming alcoholics than succumb to the despair we really feel during a crisis like this.
Caregiver burnout is a very real thing. This year, our entire nation is suffering from it. The impact of caregiver strain is even affecting non-caregivers, who struggle, as one news article quaintly put it, to “pick up the slack” from their co-workers with children.
2020 has laid bare the awful, unvarnished truth: that society can only function if caregivers are available. Up until now we’ve bumbled along with the vague idea that the “village” will handle things, while all along caregivers are the ones sweating it, living a massive balancing act of career and family.
Not feeling super optimistic here
Once we get this whole pandemic thing tucked under our belt, I’m hoping that we’ll turn to tackle the thorny issues that popped up during 2020. I just don’t have much hope that caregivers will get any kind of break – because things will go back to “normal.”
My husband and I have this conversation often, and he knows how I feel about the whole devaluing thing, my lost career, and how our (valid) choice to homeschool affected me. In our last conversation I stopped, thunderstruck by a realization, and told him that it’s not about me not having a career. It’s the fact that, without me as caregiver, he wouldn’t have his career.
Those few moments I grab here and there to ponder life’s unfairness produced this post. They also produced one last thought – how can we expect to find a solution to the caregiver issue if we cannot even admit that our society simultaneously devalues and depends on unpaid caregiver labor?
Short answer? We won’t.