“Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will.”
This slogan for the eight-hour workday arose in the 1880s as workers fought for better hours. Popularized by Henry Ford in the 1920s, the 40-hour workweek became standard in America. This system worked fairly well for an industrial nation where husbands worked at factories and supported their families on a single income while their wives took care of domestic duties.
Well, for white families, maybe.
In Atlanta in the 1880s, 98% of Black working women were employed as domestic workers, particularly laundresses. These women demanded fixed wages, thus starting the Atlanta Washerwomen’s Strike. They succeeded, and their demands for higher pay would influence other domestic workers -- cooks, maids, hotel workers, and nurses -- to demand and receive higher pay.
Nearly 150 years later, and Black and brown workers are still experiencing the brunt of labor inequality. The United States lost 9.37 million jobs last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the hardest hit industries were hospitality — restaurants and hotels — where jobs are primarily held by Black and brown people. It’s not a coincidence that these are the same communities hardest hit by the coronavirus itself.
Unsurprisingly, the hardest hit industries were hospitality — restaurants and hotels —where jobs are primarily held by Black and brown people. It’s not a coincidence that these are the same communities hardest hit by the coronavirus itself.
Like most hardships, women and mothers have had to bear the brunt of it. Black moms have shouldered an unfair share.
As of January 2021, more than 4.6 million jobs lost during the pandemic were held by women. Of those women ages 25-44, 32% said their job loss was because of a lack in childcare. Over the last year, employment numbers have dropped nearly 5.6% for Black women. By last August, only 34% of Black women who’d lost their jobs due to the pandemic regained employment, compared to 61% of white women. Job losses continued in December. Every job lost was held by a woman.
Even for moms who kept their jobs or regained employment, work creeps in at all hours. It’s in bed and at the dinner table on their phones. In 2018, people spent an average of 360 minutes checking their email, and this was before the COVID pandemic reduced our work and social circles to screens full-time.
Moms are either attempting to work and care for their families and their homes as best as they can, but no matter their employment status, the circumstances are dire.  
It’s exhausting. Moms are exhausted, and it seems like there’s nothing we can do. But there is. It’s small and takes just a couple minutes, but it actually helps.
The best way to keep it together when everything around you is falling apart is to take a couple of minutes for yourself and breathe deeply. If you have five minutes between putting the kids to bed and taking the laundry out of the dryer, set a timer for five minutes and take deep inhales in and exhale it all out. Focus on your breathing for those five minutes, not the laundry coming out of the dryer, not the inevitable requests for water from little ones who should be asleep, just your breath.
Constant stress results in “a long-term drain on the body” (American Psychological Association). Trying to take care of your kids in a global pandemic with a limited support system while white supremacy rears its ugly head every day certainly qualifies in regular, if not constant, wear-and-tear on the body. The best and most direct way to counter that stress is to take deep breaths. This calms your overactive fight or flight response, reducing stress and anxiety. As noted by the American Institute of Stress, “deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.”
It’s hard. This past year has been hard. Unbearable. But we have borne it. A brief respite is possible. By escaping into our breath for a few minutes every day, we can rest and reset.


Katara McCarty