June 2, 2021 • Working Motherhood

A Woman’s Work Is Not Optional

Meet Lyz Lenz, a staff writer for The Riveter

I’ve always had to fit my work into the crevices of my life. For years, I was the primary caretaker of my two children and like so many women, I had to do the accounting of whether the cost of daycare was covered by my income. It never was. I’d been forced out of the workforce by the recession in 2008, had gone back to school and juggled freelance jobs and teaching. Not the most lucrative of careers.

When I was still married and had young children, I worked early in the morning bouncing the baby in his seat, typing furiously to meet my deadlines. I’d turn on Curious George while I interviewed sources. And late at night, while I transcribed my interviews, I’d hear my baby wailing in the background.

It was a trap, of course. Why not his income? Why not see the caring of our children as a shared responsibility rather than solely mine? I’m not alone in this. According to a New York Times survey of out-of-work mothers in the pandemic, only 2 in 10 women discussed with their partner who would quit. For the other 80 percent, it was the wife’s work that was disposable.

I once took my kids to the park, hoping they’d play while I interviewed a woman for a story I was working on. They didn’t. Instead, my toddler son followed me around sobbing, while I tossed him fruit snacks. I have spent my life writing in the car. Scribbling notes on napkins and in the notes app on my phone.

When I ended my 12 year marriage, and my children were in school,I suddenly had time to work in a way I never did before. I wrote and published two books in three years. I worked relentlessly, happy to finally have a chance to do the thing I felt like I was good at. And if not, good at, the thing I loved: Telling stories. 

I wasn’t given this time, I had to take it. I had to break my life apart and build it back up again. I had to have court-mandated equal custody, to finally achieve the equality I’d wanted.

Women and work have become a more prescient topic during the pandemic. Because it’s women who have been forced out. Women, who as mothers, teachers, nurses, and home health aides, have borne the brunt of the pandemic for 82 cents on the male dollar — and that’s for white women. Want to get truly depressed? Read the stats for women of color here: National Partnership for Women and Families [PDF].

A recent Atlantic article frames the loss of women from the workforce as a choice, but I wonder what choices we have when everything is falling apart?  When a woman is forced between the dichotomy of home and work, how can we call that “choice”? The dichotomy is also a false one, one that erases the fact that men are not stepping up and most companies are not giving parents a break. And there is also the problem of framing women’s work as a choice and men’s work as necessary. This whole notion of choice also erases the class of women for whom work is not a choice but a vital necessity.

Hi, my name is Lyz Lenz. I’m 38, a divorced single mom of two kids, 10 and 7, and a writer and author. I live in Iowa. I’m a midwestern mom with an East Coast mouth. And this is the intersection where my newsletters will sit, at the tender raw blister of the constant rub of women, work, childcare, and an American system that makes it all a bloody mess. I hope to interview women who are doing amazing things and share stories about how we can look at this dumpster fire of American womanhood and what we can pull from the rubble.

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