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What Should We Preserve from the Pandemic?
In our year of emergencies, some norms shifted. How do we build back better?
This Thursday, I’ll be sharing your recommendations for charities that take interdependence seriously, so please send me your suggestions by Wednesday.
Also on Thursday, I’ll be part of an event co-sponsored by Plough, Breaking Ground, and this newsletter to discuss my piece “Dependence” for Plough’s family issue. You can register for the event here, and we’re taking your questions ahead of time, so they can help shape our remarks.
One of this newsletter’s readers sent me an instagram post by Meg Conley, which begins “I think the thing I am most ashamed to say out loud right now is: I am afraid of what my world will look like when the pandemic ends.”
Meg, who has an excellent substack of her own on stay at home motherhood, goes on to reflect on her experience of having her husband work from home. I’m excerpting her thoughts below:
Riley’s been home with me since March. He doesn’t go back to work in an office until September 2021. My life is better with him home. I used to think I hated being a stay-at-home mom. I thought it made me desperate, made me stare at ceilings, made me call therapists because I thought too hard about turning my car wheel the wrong way, even just once.
But I just hate stay-at-home motherhood in America. I hate that every government + healthcare benefit I access is dependent upon me being a “dependent” to Riley. I hate the isolation. I hate an 80 hour work week that requires partners to excuse themselves from the daily practice of caretaking. I hate feeling outside of the good gates of American Aspiration when I feel I aspire in the work I do in the home. I hate witnessing without ever being witnessed.
With Riley home, I am not alone. He still works but comes in to make the kids lunch. I write while he plays UNO with the kids. The sounds of the triumphs and failures of our home break under his office door. We are better for it. The world doesn’t have to go back to the way it was before Covid-19 brought us all to our knees.
The coronavirus pandemic is a national tragedy. But I don’t think Meg is the only person who has received unexpected gifts in the middle of this terrible year. Because of the emergency, many rules didn’t make any sense, and some employers allowed a much greater degree of flexibility than they ever would have in normal times.
I hope that not all of these good things will fade away when the vaccines are widely distributed and we can gather safely, both at work and with friends. In my own home, I made a mutual aid listserv for my street and got to know my neighbors (and one of them lent us medical supplies when I had a sprain), and I joined the larger, more active mutual aid listserv for the whole town.
I’ve admired the work of Breaking Ground, a site that began in the midst of the pandemic to collect ideas about how we can do better than returning to normal. (And I contributed a piece on the way the pandemic restored some vulnerable people to visibility).
I’d like to hear from you about what, if anything, changed for the better for you in the midst of the disaster—some way the normal rules shifted and made space for something more humane.
One of the things I’d like is for remote working and flexible hours to be a plausible option at most jobs (and not a perk that comes with canny negotiation or seniority).
If an employee can get their work done in less time than a full work day, it’s good for that to be treated as a victory, rather than stretching the work to fill the day. And it’s good for employers to cultivate resilience through flexibility, so things don’t fall apart when an employee is sick, or needs to take time off for bereavement leave.
People aren’t clockwork, and reliability can look more like adjusting well to disruptions than never deviating from the schedule or the quota at all. And that’s a skill that all parents (stay-at-home or otherwise) have to learn.
P.S. If you’re an employer or a manager who is planning to make permanent changes to how you manage your employees after going through pandemic-related changes, I’d be interested in doing a Q&A with you.