Latina Moms Deserve More Support At Work

COVID-19 continues to impact the mental health of mothers in Latinx communities, forcing them to leave their jobs, and take their future into their own hands.

By Priscilla Blossom 

Prior to the pandemic, 36-year-old Pilar V. worked as an assistant principal at a South Florida school and loved her job. But when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, the mother of three immediately began to feel the strain of balancing work, motherhood, and her own mental health. “I was so mentally exhausted and drained,” says Pilar. Overnight, Pilar’s world was turned upside down. Her eldest child was switched to remote learning, her young twins’ daycare shut down, and her husband was laid off. Like many, her work life also took a nosedive.

“Positions were cut, adding an overwhelming amount of additional tasks and responsibilities,” she says. She would often get home and go straight to bed. “I would skip dinner and didn’t even play with my kids.” Five months into the pandemic, Pilar recognized she needed help. She sought out a therapist, and took a week-long vacation that ultimately led to Pilar putting in her two weeks notice. “I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she says.

And Pilar is not alone. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the participation in the workforce by Latina moms is rising (currently at 62.8 percent), a recent study conducted by UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Initiative reveals that the pandemic has hit moms in Latinx communities the hardest with a 2.74 percent drop in the labor force, making them the leaders in the Great Resignation. The same study found that as the pandemic-induced shutdowns increased, and household and caregiving responsibilities rose, many Latinas (including moms) inevitably quit their jobs.

Working mothers need more support than ever. Let’s dig into how the pandemic has impacted their positions in the workplace, why they need to prioritize their mental health, and how self-advocating can help create change.

Working Latina Moms Have Been Pushed Past Their Limits

To understand why Latinas are leaving their jobs at rapid speed, we first need to acknowledge that the added pressures of erratic child care, unsupportive employers, and the health discrepancies towards marginalized communities during the pandemic have increased our mental load by ten-fold. “For Latinas who are mothers or caregivers, many have been forced to leave employers that do not allow them to fulfill their roles as caretakers in their homes,” says Adriana Alejandre, LMFT and Founder of Latinx Therapy.

Alejandre says that many mothers she’s spoken to have had to place boundaries with their employers not only due to lack of support, but also due to policies that put them at risk for exposure to COVID.

Research shows that Latinx people have had larger disparities in cases compared to white non-Hispanic individuals, with pregnant Latinas being twice as likely to catch COVID than white pregnant individuals. These risks have increased stress and burnout among Latina parents.

Our Mental Health Needs To Be Prioritized

Susanna Sanchez, a 44-year-old visual journalist in Lafayette, California says it was pandemic stress that eventually pushed her to leave her job too. “[Prior to the pandemic] I had been able to balance it all—job, small biz, my kids’ activities, and life—while everyone was at school and work,” says Sanchez. But with her family always home and no time to herself, by October of 2020, Sanchez reveals she had a nervous breakdown. “I worried so much about my family getting sick that I would just cry in the shower,” she says. Sanchez eventually put in her notice—something she says she was only able to do due to the success of her small business. Despite feeling sad, Sanchez says she mostly felt a sense of relief after quitting. “There have been so many changes these past two years due to the pandemic. Mental health is at the forefront due to the mental health crisis that the pandemic is exacerbating,” says Alejandre, who shares that even she as a therapist has struggled these past few years due to financial pressures and chronic stress.

“We may experience guilt when prioritizing our needs, but the more we prolong caring for ourselves, the worse we will feel in that process,” says Alejandre. “If we visualize the oxygen mask metaphor, it truly helps when we provide oxygen for ourselves first because then we have the capacity to provide oxygen for others around us. Understanding the ways rest and help-seeking has been viewed in our family systems, can also help us understand ourselves and the cycles we need to learn to break.”

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Your Own Self-advocate

While we can all agree that managers need to reduce the burden of advocacy being placed on the employee, self-advocating is often necessary for working Latina moms. “Ideally, learning assertive communication skills before applying them in settings where advocacy is needed, can increase confidence and help you stick to your boundaries,” says Latinx Therapy’s founder, Adriana Alejandre.

Catalina Peña, Founder and Lead Career Coach at Catalyst Creation, encourages clients wanting to be seen in the workplace to take baby steps when learning to self-advocate. “Small steps can start changing your relationship with self-advocacy and lead you to [take] bigger actions like asking for a pay raise,” says Peña.

It may be intimidating for Latinas to speak up in the workplace at first. But building up your confidence by practicing these actions now will only help you later when you talk to your boss about issues like burnout, COVID protocols, a need for flexible hours, or getting time off.

Here are some good places to start:

  • Speak up in less important meetings and ask for feedback on your ideas.
  • Put an agenda item on your 1:1 with your boss that pertains to your career.
  • Networking is essential in making change happen at work. Schedule a virtual coffee or walk with someone you admire at the company.

Be OK With Taking Risks

While quitting isn’t always an option for Latina moms, when it does happen, it can yield positive results in the long run.

“I taught for a year [at a different school] and it rekindled my passion for education,” says Pilar V. She also joined Toastmasters to strengthen her public speaking skills and eventually transitioned back into school leadership in what she describes as a “more balanced role at a charter school management company.”

And Susana Sanchez says that after quitting and spending a year focusing on her businesses, she now has a new temporary position working remotely for the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a job I’ve dreamt of since I was a kid,” she says. Giving hope that the illusive work-life balance we all strive towards is possible.

The Bottom Line

Leaving your job is a life-changing decision and lots of factors need to be taken into consideration before taking the plunge. A few questions to ask yourself; Do I have enough money saved? How will this impact my family? Is there anything else I can do to make my current job better?

Perhaps you’ll discover that your job has flexible hours they can offer to ease the load. Many parents have even found that a mental health leave was the perfect compromise in helping them achieve a better work-life balance.

If leaving your job still seems like the right decision for you. Be prepared. First, see where you can cut back on your usual costs—and if you have a partner make sure they’re part of the conversation. Perhaps Abuela can help watch the kids temporarily while you save money on childcare. Next, it can take a while to find a better job, so extend your network and start interviewing before putting in your notice. Lastly, check your gut (and your bank account) and take the leap.

Whether you decide to quit or make the best of your current situation the goal of making your mental health priority number one should stay the same.


Image: Getty Images