I’ve been talking to my mom friends a lot about the position many of them are being put in to choose between work and their kids, if schools don’t resume normally in the fall. There was a great article about this in the Times this past weekend by Deb Perelman, who said the focus on reopening the economy, while keeping schools and daycares closed, is putting a huge burden on working parents and could eliminate a lot of working moms from the workforce.
To say this is a huge issue is an understatement. But it’s not one with any easy answers. With every family dealing with their own unique logistics and challenges, I was curious what parents in the Remarkably Average Parents Facebook Group were thinking about when it comes to looking ahead to the fall.
The responses were overwhelming. The pandemic is clearly impacting all of us, but working parents with school-aged children seem to have a particularly precarious juggling act. Teachers with young children have their own set of unique challenges. Personally I found it helpful to see how other families are thinking through their options, from the perspective of both parents and teachers. I hope you find reading through the responses useful, or at least as a way to remind yourself that whatever your struggles are at the moment, you’re certainly not alone.
With school plans up in the air, many parents have been forced to put their careers on hold.
“I was laid off from my very flexible work-from-home job in April due to COVID. Life has been so much easier since then, since we have a 5 and a 2-year-old. I’m currently interviewing for a job that seems flexible, pays well, and is with a boss I already know… but I can’t decide if I will take it, if it’s offered to me. I can’t imagine going through this uncertainty with both of us working again. I’m fortunate to have options, but it’s a tough spot to be in.” – Ashley
“I’ve been a full-time at-home dad for over 13 years, and my wife works from home with intensive travel. I was looking at doing some re-entry into the workforce (very part time – I still need to be the primary parent at home) and now those plans are off the table. Our three kids will go to three different schools, either online, in person, or a combo. Any plans I had for career 2.0 will be set aside for me to assist in teaching and helping them.” – Adam
“I quit my part-time job about a month ago and won’t be looking for a new one until we hear what is happening in the fall. My husband has been working from home, but we don’t know when he’ll get called back into the office. And if we have to do distance learning again, it’s really hard for him to do that and work full-time. My 11-year-old can work independently, but my 8-year-old needs a lot more hand-holding. We homeschooled up until last year, so I’m sad that I lost my ‘independence’ and I’m back to being a stay-at-home mom.” – Melody
“Living with an essential worker ER physician has meant my own non-profit had to be put on hold, and I filed for under-employment. Our au pair (who made it possible for me to work) left during the second week of the pandemic, before I even officially ended maternity leave. She wasn’t able to watch two kids who were now home all the time. So everything definitely landed on me. We’ve adjusted, but I have no foreseeable childcare options as Trump banned visas that the international exchange childcare program works with. So I will remain unable to do my job, that I spent 10 higher education years studying and training for.” – Elyssa
“My return to work has been indefinitely put on hold. I am a contract researcher with a PhD in neuroscience and 10 years experience. I cannot work from home, so no daycare means no work.” – Kim
Others are trying to decide whose career to prioritize, which can depend on whose employer is more flexible.
“My kids are 4 and 7 and this whole thing has been hard. My husband works in construction and I’m in education; he has been very vocal to his (male) bosses that their ‘business as usual’ attitude is damaging for everyone, but so far they don’t seem to care. I have done less real work, more of the schooling, and all of the other homemaker BS, because his bosses expect him to deliver and my bosses are more understanding of the burden I’m under. My kids have learned to hate Zoom and they miss their friends. If school doesn’t open we all are going to slide deeper into depression and anxiety. I feel my career is stalled and there is nothing I can do until schools are open, even if it’s just part time.” – Caitlin
“We rearranged our schedules. My husband works his normal day shifts and my work has now shifted to evenings, sometimes getting off as late as midnight (I work from home). I still nurse our daughter, so I have to spend all of my work breaks taking care of her needs. This new lifestyle is exhausting. Since my husband and I work opposite shifts we only get to be all together as a family on the weekends. I feel frustrated that I got the short end of the stick with shifts, but that doesn’t mean my husband has it easy either. He still works all day and then parents alone most of the evening. We have discussed me not working long-term if this continues. We’ve also been worried about trying for another kiddo during these times.” – Julie
“For now, there’s no clear plan for school starting in September, but if it’s online or partially online, I think I will quit my job. I just can’t do it all and that’s ok. It will be me quitting because I don’t have the higher income. So it makes sense. I don’t know, the hardest part is not knowing what comes next. However, the safety of my family comes first. And my mental health.” – Alexandra
“My wife is employed outside of the home. I do contract work from the home office. Once shelter in place began, my wife took over the home office, I put my work on hold indefinitely, and I became (unofficially) a full-time homeschool teacher. So the position I’m being put in, if school won’t resume in the fall, is a full-time homeschool teacher…again. Not something I look forward to at all, but I also don’t feel comfortable with my kids returning to school as COVID cases are spiking. My wife is the breadwinner, so 100% of the childcare responsibilities are on me. Is it sustainable? Mentally? Not really. In regards to business? Definitely not. But this is the situation.” – Chris
Many working parents are under extreme stress, trying to do everything at once.
“I’ve been a full-time work-from-home parent for 8 years. So I was lucky to already have that part down. But now I’m a work-at-home/daycare/school instructor/parent-at-home. It is not easy. My husband was considered essential and still worked at the shop, so he was not home to back me up in any capacity. It was all on me. This whole situation makes me want to cry daily. I don’t know if I can do it for six months or a year.” – Brandi
“This has stressed me out to the point of ulcers. We do not know what our school system is doing, although they have given the option of virtual school. We both work outside the home in the trucking industry. If it boiled down to having to go distance learning, I would have to quit my job. I can’t teach/parent/work. Money would be really tight if I had to quit, but I would do it for the sake of my kids. It’s going to be a trying time for anyone with kids and a job.” – Ashley
“The stress of having the kids home while my husband and I worked full-time was like nothing I’ve experienced. My hair started falling out and I had serious trouble focusing on anything at all some weeks. The competing priorities of my work, my children’s education, and their emotional well-being was so much to bear. When daycare re-opened, I wrestled with the choice— was it worth putting our family at risk? We finally decided to try it. We’re both still working from home, so we’ll pull them out if a case originates at school. My kids are happier and they’re doing better with the increased attention and structure that I couldn’t provide while also doing my job. But if our school does not go back, I cannot return to a state where we don’t have childcare. It’s just not tenable for our two-working-parent household to do this on our own.” – Jen
“I personally have no idea what we are going to do. So far, my job has been understanding that I have kids, but they are still expecting results. So, in order to be a teacher to my children, a mom, and a productive professional, I have NO IDEA what to do. I am also scared to bring a stranger into my house to help me with the kids while I work, because in reality, I do not know where that person has been. We recently lost my mother-in-law, which means that we’ve had a bubble with my father-in-law. Although he is a very healthy man, he is still older and we can’t risk it. My husband will lose it, if he loses his dad too.” – Ingrid
“I have no idea what my school district is doing, but because the other big districts are going back full-time, I figure we will be pushed to full-time status as well. The kids will go back, but I am worried about them getting sick and bringing it back to my disabled husband. If they decide not to go back full-time, I know the kids will manage their school work online, because they are older. That being said, it was exhausting trying to work full-time, only to come home to help do school work at night.” – Michelle
Being an essential worker creates additional challenges, especially for single parents.
“I’m an essential healthcare worker on the night shift, and I’m also a single parent to a 14-year-old and a 9-year old. Spring was rough to say the least. I struggled with balancing work, the need for sleep, being their teacher, being their mom and running a household. I’m not sure I can handle an entire year of attempting to balance the same schedule.” – Jody
“I’m an essential worker, so I have had to continue to go into the office. I’m also divorced. My ex lives in a different state, but he and his wife both had their hours greatly reduced due to the virus. So, I actually gave them the kids when they first shut down schools. Now, we’ve settled into a routine where I have the kids on the weekend and they have them during the week. Our relationship has always been a bit contentious, but I have to say, I am proud of how we’ve been able to share the kid workload. If schools don’t open, we’ll continue to do this while virtual schooling next year. If schools do open (and it looks like they will be at least part-time), then we’ll send the kids back to school. I’ll probably partner with friends for before/after care with some sort of nanny share.” – Erin
“I’m a nurse. I have no work-from-home option. I’ve had to pay for childcare since COVID started and it is breaking me. I’m paying $1,800 per month that I wasn’t paying before this. I need schools to be in session at least part-time. Distance learning this spring was minimal, since I only saw my kids for two hours in the evening and on the weekends. That’s not fair to my children’s education.” – Michelle
“I am a solo parent that is deemed an essential employee. I work overnights. Distance learning has actually helped my special needs 3-year old, even though I’m doing more work (his teachers and therapist send me activities) and not sleeping at all. He gets more 1:1 through Zoom, than if he was in his classroom. But I need him to go back. He also needs socialization. I feel the kids will adapt to masks and distancing. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve stopped waiting for everything to go ‘back to normal.’ This is our new normal.” – Elizabeth
“I work nights at FedEx. My job is physically demanding and unfortunately essential. My husband is now working in our living room on a call center type job. So, our three kids are existing in a world of ‘Shush, be quiet!’ ‘Daddy will do that on break!’ ‘Mommy is sleeping!’ We have no idea what school is doing, but we’re hoping they figure out a combination of in-school and virtual learning. My son definitely needs a little in-school help, and I have literally no idea how to teach my dyslexic daughter how to read. I’m exhausted. My husband is stressed and dealing with a lot of guilt over how he’s having to parent. We’re all just wishing for another big lockdown, so that people wake up and get this under control. Otherwise, it will drag out for years.” – Amanda
Flexible employers are a godsend for a lot of families right now.
“I’m extremely thankful I work for a company that I truly believe will be flexible if schools shut down again this coming year. Is it ideal? Obviously not, but this is a whole new world we are living in and I wish other employers could understand that. My husband is still working from home almost exclusively, while I have gone back to the office since the first part of summer while the kids are in day camps. We don’t learn any more about school reopening until mid-July, but I don’t have high hopes that a full year of school will happen this year either.” – Sarah
“I work part-time for an amazing company, and they’ve been very flexible with staff working from home. My kids just turned 7 and 10, so they’re fairly self-sufficient (at the cost of having chaos reign while we work). When school shut down in March, I tried to help with distance learning, but I found the mental load of trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do for their assignments, PLUS working my own job to be too much. Both my mom and mother-in-law are retired teachers, and I enlisted them to help with assignments remotely. Relieving the mental load of remote learning was key for me. Our school district has indicated we’ll eventually go back to a hybrid learning system, and I envision, I will have the grandmas help again remotely. But I can’t imagine how this is going to work for teachers, especially those who have kids at home.” – Kristi
“Personally, I’m ok. My company has been amazing through all of this and I’m pretty much working from home until at least January. My husband is also able to work from home until September. But more importantly, what saved us is our babysitter. We kept her on and had her come 12-5 every weekday. She made sure the kids had lunch and checked up on schoolwork. Then she made sure they were outside and entertained them for a few hours. Worth every penny. There are a lot of college and high school kids without jobs that would be available. I’d highly recommend choosing one trustworthy individual to help. HUGE sanity saver.” – Jessica
“I told my office I can only go back to working in the office if my son’s school re-opens. So, if they’re part-time, then I can be part-time in the office. My husband and I split days at home. I worked in the morning and he worked in the afternoon. Then we’d both sign in late at night, so I’d close down at midnight or later. Every week quarantine continued, I didn’t think I could make it much longer. I heavily considered FMLA, but felt I had the privilege to still have a job, so I should do it because many did not have a choice when they were furloughed. Now Massachusetts has opened daycare and our youngest two are back full-time. Our 7-year-old is home, while we work. We felt conflicted with returning to daycare, but our jobs were becoming impossible. Our exhaustion level rivaled anything we’ve experienced. Our 4-year-old is thriving back at daycare. But now we have solidified that we can’t have our parents visit because our bubble is effectively burst.” – Sara
Having multiple kids is a logistical nightmare.
“I was laid off from an amazing job in early May, and it was almost a relief. Trying to help my 1st grader and preschooler with their work, calls, weekly video therapies, and 3 weekly video dance practices was becoming impossible. At this point, I’m nervous to take on a new role even if it is a remote position, because I know I can’t work 40 hours and help my kids with school, even if we’re in a flex schedule.” – Amanda
“My kids are 5 and 8. I was furloughed for 10 weeks and it was such a relief because I was able to be there to help my kids through the end of the virtual school year. But what happens in just a few short weeks when they’re supposed to re-start school? We’re in Florida and there are lots of discussions about virtual school for the first month. Or two months? The whole semester? My 5-year-old CANNOT begin Kindergarten online while Mommy works full time. It’s not realistic for us in any way. And, honestly, if school doesn’t start on time, paying for daycare for two school-aged kids is not something we can afford long-term. All of this information, all of the figuring out what to do, how to navigate online learning, coordinating childcare – all of it has fallen on me. My husband and his career have not been impacted at all.” – Corinne
“My daycare opened back up, but prior to that my husband and I were both working full-time from home with three kids (ages 7, 4 and 6 months), and with equally demanding jobs. It was a struggle. We both normally put in 50 hour work weeks. My workplace is flexible with hours, so I caught up on things in the evenings a lot. The hardest part was that the kids would ALWAYS default to me, even when they were told to go to their dad while I was on a call. And I needed to be firm with my husband about my needs, otherwise I would’ve done 99% of the childcare. I refuse to let my job take on the entire burden of the situation when my husband is also home.” – Mary Ann
“We have a 2, 4 and 6-year-old. My husband has the ability to work from home one day a week, depending on how busy they are. I do not. One income isn’t possible, so our kids have been in a home daycare this whole time, except for a two week period when the provider had to isolate. Those two weeks were a nightmare, and I live in constant fear of it happening again. My PTO is gone from that time, with no special provisions for COVID leave. Distance learning for the 6-year-old happened sporadically. I’ve lost more sleep worrying about COVID than I did from having three babies in four years.” – Melissa
“I’m a full-time PhD student and have a 5, 4, and 2-year-old with a baby due in November. The spring was rough. We’ve decided that if cases remain what they have been in our area (relatively low but with plenty of people not taking it seriously), we’re going to enroll the 5 and 4-year-old in a small home preschool with lots of outdoor activities, and then work on homeschooling the 5-year-old with some extra Kindergarten-level work. If cases increase, we will just try and do it at home, but I know my kids are struggling. I’m trying to determine what is safe COVID-wise and mental health-wise. We have a lot of TV time and while I don’t love it, we also have to work. The kids are definitely acting out because of it, but we are just doing the best we can and hoping not to screw them up too terribly. My husband has taken over dishes and laundry, which has made it easier for me to focus on work and the kids. Come fall, we’ll probably adjust our schedule so my husband is with the kids in the morning, then we’ll switch for the afternoons. It’s a crap show but I just keep hoping that we have a vaccine for next fall, so this can be a crappy year and not forever.” – Cortney
“I am a school administrator and I also have 3 children under age 7 at home. To say that this has been impossible and soul crushing is an understatement. Not just trying to do my job at home, but also trying to help my 1st grader learn, and help my Kindergartener who has autism do school and therapies online. The schedule was completely insane, and then I have a 3-year-old who just wanted someone to play with him. I have been working overtime this summer and it has actually been a relief because I don’t have to try to get the kids to do school and they can just play. That being said, working 60-70 hours a week while my kids are at home hasn’t made me a very good parent.” – Amanda
A lot is going to be asked of educators, many of whom are also parents.
“I have a lot of teacher friends, and their main concern with actually having to go back to teaching in school, is that they only get 5 sick days a year. It will be almost impossible to get subs to cover their classes, at least effectively, every time they have to isolate for 2 weeks because they’ve been exposed somewhere. I understand why having kids back in school is so important, but the logistics of it happening and being safe for everyone, including the teachers, are a nightmare too.” – Jen
“As a teacher, I’m upset that the burden is on schools to reopen, whether it’s safe or not, to be used as daycare. I feel like it should be a community effort to make it work in these unprecedented times. Employers should be more flexible, neighborhood childcare sharing might need to come into play, small study groups to help with online learning while parents are working, etc. My job is to educate. We already have the burden of ‘you better be ready to take a bullet for these kids in the case of a mass shooting’ on our shoulders. I don’t feel like we should also be forcing teachers to risk their lives in the face of this virus when remote learning is possible. There are nearly 3,000 people on campus at my high school. It just doesn’t seem feasible.” – Cara
“Every aspect of this is hard for us – my husband and I both work in schools with special education, and my husband is high-risk with a heart condition. The idea of going back, especially to a population who will not be able to social distance or wear masks or cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough is very scary, and the idea of sending our kids to school where they could potentially bring it home is scary too. But trying to keep up with the kids’ school while working from home is insanely stressful. We may have to rely on grandparents, but that will add more people to be exposed. There really is no good solution for our family. School is supposed to start in a month and we still haven’t heard what any of our districts are planning to do, so we can’t even plan accordingly.” – Lindsey
“My husband and I are both teachers. I am terrified of September because it is likely, we will all be on some crazy hybrid schedule. I have no idea what we are going to do. All of the state guidelines acknowledge that this ‘may create childcare issues,’ but I have yet to see any solutions offered. They are putting people in impossible situations and making it a nightmare for working parents who do not have the opportunity to work from home, particularly our lower income families where parents do not work in ‘work from home’ types of jobs. I fear for my 4th grade students who may be home alone because parents have no other options. This is such a disaster in the making and is not sustainable, nor is it a long-term solution.” – Katherine
“I’m a teacher and a parent. Half of the teachers are moms with small kids at home. They haven’t decided what we are doing yet, but under the hybrid plan, I don’t know how I’m expected to teach rotating groups of kids while a 1st grader is at home. Is he alone? Also, even if kids don’t carry it, what about the risk to staff? What happens when we get sick and there are no subs? It’s a nightmare. I don’t know what we can do.” – Rebecca
Hard decisions are on the horizon for many families, with no clear solution in sight.
“Our childcare closed for 9 weeks, and my husband and I were both working full-time from home while caring for a 4-year-old and infant. We tried to distribute responsibilities as evenly as possible, and it was a definite give and take for meetings and deadlines to be met. We found in-home care for the summer. Our summer babysitter goes back to college in August and we will most likely be sending our kids to daycare, which has my anxiety on high because of their young ages, inability to wear or keep a mask on, and essentially opening our family bubble to include all the families from each of their classrooms. But the alternative of continuing to work and care for them full-time is equally anxiety-inducing, and no matter which I choose, I feel like I’m making the wrong decision. My husband and I are equal earners, so cutting our income in half would be a big shock to the family finances. It feels like a no-win.” – Mary
“We have no idea what we will do. I’m currently working from home while my partner is laid off. But who knows how long this will last. If the kids have to do online homeschooling and we are both at work, it’s going to be impossible. My significant other already mentioned quitting his job, but I’d sell my house (we live in his, because it’s larger for 4 kids) before we get to that point. Then we’d have to convert a room into an office/school space, plus buy four laptops and desks.” – Amber
“Both my partner and I work full-time. It’s been a tough choice between career and safety. I decided not to apply for a position that I wanted, because I simply can’t handle homeschooling AND career advancement at the same time.” – Julia
“I’m a full-time working mom and able to work from home. I co-parent and my son’s dad has him 2-3 days a week. This spring, I took the stance of ‘whatever’ for the six weeks he did distance learning to finish 5th grade, while I was trying to help my organization transition to remote working. My son didn’t retain anything and the work was not challenging. But this fall, I am super stressed about how I’m going to work full-time and help him transition to middle school, and the new challenges he will face with learning how to study, take notes, etc. if we are still doing distance learning. I’ve already told my boss, I’m going to have to take a step back in my role. I worry about how this is going to affect my career prospects long-term, as well as my salary and retirement. I think a lot about how women are going to be disproportionately affected in their careers, and how all of this is taking a step backwards in the women’s movement.” – Meg
Are your children’s schools releasing their plans yet, or is everything still up in the air? What’s your current situation and what scares you most about whether or not school resumes in the fall? I would love to hear in the comments.
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