Zenoid Perspective: The Wheels On The Bus Are Off

Leading up to International Women’s Day, Zeno’s Jackie Cox Battles kicked off PRWeek’s series of perspectives from women in PR facing the professional and personal challenges of surviving the pandemic. This is her story. 

I pride myself on being a pretty positive and resilient person. It’s all about perspective. Choose happiness. Life is what you make it. Be grateful. And though I still subscribe to this philosophy, the pandemic has turned me from optimist to realist forcing me to address a silver lining that has dulled or disappeared entirely.

As a working mother of four, with three remote learners and a 17-month-old, the demands of this moment feel insurmountable. A cycle has emerged like a giant wave whipping me around and leaving me disorientated and exhausted. And just when I come up for air, the next wave comes crashing down.

It starts on Sunday with building anxiety for the coming week. I compare it to when the twins were infants. Every day at sunset fear would overwhelm me of what the night would bring. Would I sleep? If so, how long? Or would this be another night of nonstop feeding, juggling both babies, sometimes at once. The difference is that phase lasted four to five months, and this situation is closing on a year. Instead of worrying about sleep, my concern is much greater, ranging from the well-being of my now emotionally fragile children to managing deadlines and deliverables in a fast-paced client-centric work environment to wondering if and when I’ll be able to enjoy a date night with my equally exhausted husband to the ever-growing pile of laundry to not knowing what’s going to hit us next.

Sleep is still scarce, but it’s not the twins’ feeding schedule keeping me awake. It’s knowing this isn’t working and something has to give – but what?

Jackie at her work station (aka kitchen table) with 10-year-old stepdaughter Avery, 5-year-old twins Olney and Marty and 17-month-old Henry.

Monday brings a week of chaos that thrashes me about until it spits me out Friday night with zero energy and often a splitting headache. The weekday mornings are a mad rush to get everyone fed, dressed, etc. before school/work begins, but now instead of experiencing that sense of relief when the bus pulls away, we log onto Google classroom as tears fall protesting “Zoom school” while printing homework sheets, answering emails and loading the washing machine for the second time. Weird and irritating “educational” YouTube videos have become our background music and just when it feels safe to exhale the question is asked, “Where’s the baby?” In these moments, I'd give anything to have my old morning commute back, but that's not an option. I gulp my lukewarm coffee and forge ahead. It’s 8:32 a.m. and the day has just begun.

My reality is far from unique with the majority of caregivers struggling to keep pace with all that’s required of them today. New York Magazine dedicated a cover feature to this topic and The New York Times dedicated a special section titled “America’s Mothers Are in Crisis. Is Anyone Listening to Them?” Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, even created an initiative backed by several female CEOs for a Marshall Plan for Moms calling on the Biden Administration to pass policies around family leave, increased funding for childcare, pay equity and direct payments of $2,400 a month to mothers compensating them for their unseen, unpaid labor. I see it across my social feeds and within my friend groups. I see it in the eyes of other parents online at the grocery store. This isn’t media hype. It’s real. And for some families whose circumstances are far more challenging than my own, the consequences are devastating.

So what now? The truth is, I don’t know. For me there are ways to relieve the pressure - wine, exercise, going outside and screaming my head off – but it’s like a band aid on a gaping wound. It’s not enough. Parents need more. We need our village and not a virtual one. We need support.

As a parent of school-aged kids, I want our schools to follow the science and reopen safely. We need the expectations on students and parents to be adjusted, and teachers and administrators to be more understanding on what can and should be accomplished this school year. Corporate America needs to do its part by providing flexible work schedules and creating a judgement free work environment where every meeting doesn’t need to be on camera, like my employer does. We are more than capable of providing meaningful contributions on a conference call and unpacking the dishwasher at the same time. We have a working parents ERG at Zeno Group that meets monthly to provide working moms and dads with a space to meet and support one another. Not doing these things will force parents, and more likely moms, to make a choice, risking a mass exodus from the workforce. In my opinion, the Government needs to create policies and put forth economic recovery with moms at the center, especially those moms who have lost their jobs or were forced to step out of their careers to assume the roles of nanny, teacher, tech support, cook, etc.

Something has to give. And as a society, we must value care.

That value should endure beyond this pandemic. We cannot not fall back into old habits but insist on systemic change and an understanding that despite more dads stepping up to the plate, moms will always be expected to do two, three and four jobs. We need adequate support and resources.

Growing up, my own mother would say, “The squeaky wheel gets greased.” Well, this situation is far beyond a squeak. The wheels have come off the bus, completely. We need to keep talking and pressing the issue, until there is action. We need to acknowledge that this is beyond hard, even impossible, for some families.

And, yes, to keep our sanity and move forward, we must try, however difficult it may be, to find our inner optimist and identify a silver lining even if it’s just the glimmer of one.

Jackie Cox Battles is an EVP and deputy head of New York consumer at Zeno Group.

Email: Jacqueline.Cox@ZenoGroup.com

LinkedIn: Jackie Cox Battles