The Invisible Victims of the Colorado Wildfires

With all the recent media coverage on our fires here in Colorado I have had working families in the burn area on my mind, specifically working mothers.

It all started when my husband came home and was discussing the closures his company had to make in the evacuation zone. My husband's company is a financial institution and we have joked many times that they fancy themselves an "essential service" in a crisis. Now, in this case I would argue that is true, but in a snowstorm or some other situation where the whole city is shut down, it usually is not crucial to get cash, or make a deposit.

Anyway, we were discussing the fact that two of the four potentially at-risk locations were closed down, but that one of them called in their employees half way through the day when they lifted the evac orders, only to send them home again later when the fire switched directions. This got me thinking about working mothers. I imagined one of the employees in that location might be a working mom; she may or may not be evacuated from her home with her children, then after thinking she did not have to go in to work, they call everyone in. What does she do? Chances are if she lives and works in the fire area her childcare is closed as well. Now she has no home, no childcare, her kids are probably out of sorts and she is required to be at work. Then, assuming she scrambled and found someone to watch the children, and made it in to work, she would have then been sent home.

Now, I am sure that there were many, many mothers affected by the evacuation orders, and they have been weighing heavily on my mind. All the factors that go into the delicate balance that is caring for kids and managing a job would become chaos in the event of a natural disaster. One thing goes wrong and the house of cards collapses. In the case of one of my friends, she was told if  work was closed down, their hours were going to be deducted from their vacation/sick time. I imagine that is hardly an isolated incident. So, if your workplace is shut down and you have no one nearby to stay with and you can't afford a hotel (assuming you could find one anyway) you either have to drive all the way back to work or you have to take vacation. Or an even worse case scenario, your childcare is in the evac zone and your work is not. Suddenly a woman is bereft of care and appears to be "unreliable" to employers. That becomes one more reason to not hire mothers.

Obviously many of these mothers have husbands, boyfriends or live within a larger support network, but even then, tradition dictates that childcare problems almost universally fall to the mothers to sort out (a blog for another day, but Ann Crittenden writes about in her book The Price of Motherhood). Because of this the mothers are going to be the ones predominantly affected.

So, to all those mothers out there in Colorado who are temporarily displaced, lost their homes, struggling with the work/life balance in the worst circumstances and doing so with children who are most likely scared and out of sorts, you are in my thoughts and prayers. I am especially praying for all the single mothers out there who are struggling with these problems right now. I consider you to be the invisible, undiscussed victims of this disaster. I can only hope that this does not have any long term effect to your employment and that you find yourself with support and back on your feet sooner than later.