Mothers shouldered much of the caregiving during the pandemic, but in their absence—such as in cases where parents have no option to work remotely— teenage girls have stepped into their roles.
While it isn’t unusual for daughters to pitch in around the house due to a longtime gender gap in household chores for children, girls took on more responsibility than ever in the last year, according to a New York Times report. Many looked after multiple children—balancing siblings’ or cousins’ remote schooling with their own coursework—cared for elderly relatives, and contributed financially to their households.
As a matter of necessity they also performed an enormous amount of emotional labor, attempting to keep their families’ spirits up during a difficult time—often at the expense of their own wellbeing.
Jamese Logan, a 15-year-old based in Maryland, began caring for four of her cousins, all of whom are under 10 years old, after her aunt died of cancer earlier this year. She told the Times that childcare was too expensive for her mother to afford, so she spends of her days at home with the four kids and her brother, who’s 14, cooking for them and trying to make sure no one’s “sad or angry” despite her aunt’s recent passing.
Yanica Mejias, another Maryland high schooler, doesn’t spend as much time at home, but that’s because she’s taking a nursing certification course and working part time at a local fast-food restaurant in addition to completing her schoolwork. She said she pays for her own phone bills and helps pay for the car insurance.
“Sometimes my sister would ask me if I wanted to go to the pool with her,” Yanica, 17, told the Times. “But usually when she wanted to go, I had to work.”
Black and Latina young women were more likely to take on this care work during the pandemic than their white counterparts, according to an April report from the Institute for Women’s Police Research, and often it was directly connected to the loss of a parent or family member. As a result, many of them are behind on school work and career goals, currently unemployed, or struggling with their mental health.
“I remember one night, I was making dinner and I was having a panic attack. I was crying, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and my heart was racing,” Azariah Baker, a 15-year-old taking care of a grandmother and niece in Chicago, told the Times. “But then my alarm went off for something in the oven.”