Pastor Meredith Dodd tried really hard to keep working during the pandemic. Her three children – each with varying degrees of special needs – were doing virtual learning at home and needed her assistance.
And Dodd’s parishioners in the congregation of Bryn Mawr United Methodist Church in Seattle were on her mind, too.
“I have people in the parish who desperately needed help paying rent or utilities and were really concerned about eviction. There’s tremendous need in the neighborhood, at the same time there was tremendous need at home,” she told CNN.
First, she tried to do it all – be available for her children during their school day and handle her parish work before 8 in the morning or after 10 at night.
Her body soon told her that would not work. “I used to get migraines maybe every couple of months. And by this point of the pandemic, I was getting migraines every week,” she said of how she felt in the fall. “It was starting to have a huge demand on my body and my mental health.”
Dodd shared her concerns with her boss at the beginning of the school year. “I said, ‘I really need your prayers because I can tell that I’m on the edge of burning out,’ which set off alarm bells for him.”
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She tried working out different options with the church where she had worked for more than two years, but it became clear that, reluctantly, she would have to step down from her post.
“The church could find another pastor in this moment, but my kids could not find another mother,” she said of the choice she and her husband, Mike, made.
They crunched the numbers and did a lot of soul-searching to make sure Dodd’s stepping down from the pulpit would work. In the end, it was the only answer.
‘Triple punch for women’
Dodd is far from alone. Millions of women left or lofst their jobs in 2020. Of those without a job, women ages 25-44 were nearly three times as likely as men to not be working because of child care demands in the pandemic, the Census Bureau reported.
And women were shown to be hit hardest in December’s jobs report that revealed backtracking in the pandemic recovery. Women lost 156,000 jobs overall that month while men gained 16,000, meaning women accounted for the entire net national loss of 140,000 jobs.
Betsey Stevenson, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, calls the impact of the pandemic a triple punch for women.
“They’re just disproportionately likely to hold the kinds of jobs we needed to send people home from,” said Stevenson, who is a labor economist. “Women do a lot of caring jobs, in-person jobs. Those are the kinds of jobs that tend to be robust to a downturn, but not this downturn because this downturn was all about stopping in-person contact and that really hit women’s jobs pretty hard.”
On top of that, a lot of jobs in state and local government – more likely to be held by women than men – were lost. And then children were sent home from school, again more likely to impact women.
Stevenson said there will be adjustments getting back to “normal” even when the vaccine is widely available and schools are open again.
“The kids are going back to school, but kids … had a hard time in this particular situation. I don’t think that their needs are going to go away, just because they’re going back to school.”
Wanting to return to work
Months without playdates and socializing have certainly taken a toll on families, along with all the other strains of living in a pandemic.
And even though Dodd has been able to leave her job for her children, she also sees the limits. “It’s heartbreaking as a parent to say, ‘There is nothing I can do to make this better. This is how it is right now. And I am standing with you and I am walking alongside you, and we will do hard things together.’”
For Dodd, there needs to be vaccine availability and there needs to be in-person school. She says her heartache now is not knowing when that might be.
But she has many reasons for wanting to return to ministry.
“For me, pastoring is a vocation and it’s not one that’s gone away because of circumstance. The call has not gone away, the job has for the moment,” she said.
She says she still loves preaching, teaching and being with people. And she anticipates returning to a place that she says needs more female workers.
“I’m in a male-dominated industry, one that’s been male-dominated, frankly, for 2,000 years.”