I hear the anecdotes everywhere: so-and-so’s husband lost his job can you believe it?; my neighbor’s book group spent two hours talking about mortgages, private school tuition, and how to update a resume instead of dissecting Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; my cousin, who planned to go back to work next year, just took a job she doesn’t want because it is so rare to get any job in this economy.
The staggering aspect to our current recession, compared to the gentler recessions I’ve lived through, is how pervasive the hurting is. What’s hard to grasp in the midst of widespread personal panic is that the breadth and depth of the economic hardships are transforming our society’s concept of work/life balance and family gender roles in unexpected ways, possibly for good. A few months of a shattered economy can be more influential than four decades of feminism.
The big news so far is that the vast majority layoffs to date are among men -- 82% of job losses are men's jobs, the New York Times  recently reported. Many economists are predicting the hard times will last for the next three years, with many more layoffs to come. Call it a recession or depression or just plain terrifying – what’s clear is that our economic traumas are here to stay.
What’s not clear is exactly how moms, dads and other job seekers will respond to the aftershocks. Maybe the layoffs among men will result in men being more open minded about taking temporary and part time jobs. Or not. Maybe entire families and ethnic cultures will value and support women’s paychecks and careers instead of belittling and limiting them. Out of necessity, our society could become more accepting of moms being the family breadwinner and dads staying home with the kids.
Maybe some women who were happy – or reluctant -- to depend financially upon their children’s father in order to stay home will reconsider that decision. As some head back to work, perhaps they will feel particularly grateful for the time they had at home. Teenagers and younger children watching their parents struggle to find work and pay bills will inevitably have their work ethics and educational and career goals influenced. And I wonder about women carrying the biggest burdens: moms who are their family’s primary breadwinner AND primary childcare provider. They surely “have it all” but that’s not always such a glamorous reality, especially with the pressures facing them right now.
Most of all, I wonder how this recession will change the way our country overall defines “working motherhood.” Perhaps, once and for all, we as a society will accept what millions of women already know: that providing economic stability for one’s children is always job one for any “good mom.”
Listen to our own Amy Kereos in NPR's "Surveying the Changing Workplace " about this topic.