CLEVELAND — It's a new year, but a lot of the same old as the pandemic roars into 2022.
We talked about the extra stresses on working moms last year in our series The Mother Load – which raised concerns about women leaving the workforce and therefore losing gains toward equality.
Now, research has shown women have returned to work, but not on the same terms.
We recently checked back in with the four Northeast Ohio moms we talked with last February. At the time, Laurel Hoffman, Ashley Hall-Green, Jamie Cohen and Reena Goodwin were all reeling from balancing the different demands of their pandemic lives – from job responsibilities, to layoffs, new careers, and of course, their kids.
Now in 2022, these moms bearing pandemic burdens say they're still feeling the weight.
"In my head, it's still sometime in 2020," Hoffman told 3News anchor Sara Shookman last month. "How we had another year go by already, it doesn't make any sense."
But for all that's stayed the same, the moms we first met a year ago told us they've learned a lot as the pandemic continues.
"I definitely am out of the head space of, 'I can't wait until it's over,'" Hall-Green admitted. "I think that now I'm in the head space [of,] 'What can I do to make this even easier?'"
Since we last spoke, Hall-Green taken on a new principal role at East Academy in South Collinwood. She's used routine to balance the needs of her own four boys – along with the entire school. And, she says, she knows she's not alone in finding ways to pivot.
"I think that the pandemic, especially in relation to school and to motherhood, has caused us to be more innovative than we ever have before," she said.
In the classroom especially, Hall-Green says the strategic moves are nonstop – forcing funding into schools that desperately needed the resources.
"Teachers are literally meeting kids where they are right now and doing the best that they can to get them to where they need to be," she explained. "Exhausting all resources, and if people knew what exhausting resources looks like, I think that the appreciation for teachers would get even greater."
Goodwin is noticing innovation in a shift to digital communication across industries, not just her own business Facteur PR.
"What has really come into play has been this idea of efficiency," she said. "One of the good, really interesting things that sort of has come to light in COVID is this idea of not necessarily really having a location."
When we first spoke with Goodwin, she was running her PR firm from her home in University Heights while caring for her two young girls, after their day cares closed in the early months of the pandemic. Now, she and her family are no longer in Cleveland.
"We really needed support from our immediate family," Reena told us, "and so we ultimately decided to, you know, take a risk and move back to my hometown of Cincinnati. COVID definitely influenced our decision to move. I don't know that without the pandemic we would have done so under the same circumstances."
Single mom Cohen is so busy with her new job that she didn't have time for an interview. She's now running warehouses for a durable medical equipment provider. With her daughter in kindergarten at a public school – Jamie told me she's found all the school closures and quarantines just as challenging as finding childcare.
"We still don't really know how long this is gonna to last," she said, "and childcare is the bigger issue."
When we first met Laurel, she told us she was still adjusting from being laid off from her job. The mother of two young boys, she was grappling with where she wanted to take her career next. She has since found a new remote job she loves, and says she's taken control of her mental health along with her schedule.
When we caught up with Goodwin again last month, she told us her priorities have changed.
"For me, this year was about reclaiming myself."
Now, she says, she looks back on losing her job very differently.
"I'm so happy I did, she stated. "It was genuinely the push and the weirdest direction that I needed where I got to be a mom, and it was most important in the most heightened parenting experience of all time."
She's more assertive now – with her time and her needs.
"I've just managed my day to make sure that I can work when I'm working and then be a mom when I'm being a mom," she explained.
These women's stories illustrate how our choices are shaping our homes, as well as our culture. Researcher Betsey Stevenson with the University of Michigan says instead of setting women back as we feared, the pandemic could help propel parent work-life balance forward.
Stevenson's report for Brookings and the Hamilton Project last fall shows only a third of mothers plan to continue to work as before, while just as many plan to reduce their hours or find a less demanding job. Additionally, 14% want to pursue a better career.
The Great Resignation continues – record-high demand for workers have given people the power. These women are feeling it, and Huffman says it's about creating boundaries that may not have been in place before the pandemic.
"People can stand up for themselves a little bit more and take those chances of saying, 'No, I am attending to my family," she said. "Like, it has to happen."
For Goodwin, she sees this is a time to make a lasting impact for all working parents.
"I think this is definitely turning point," she declared. "For everyone, for society, not even just women."
Hall-Green says it starts by seeing it.
"We kind of need to know that people can see what we're doing, because it's hard, it gets difficult," she said. "Moms need recognition."