What can parents do when COVID closes school, day care? Some advice from a working mom

·4 min read
Yffy Yossifor/yyossifor@star-telegram.com

As the COVID-19 pandemic nears its third year, parents in Texas are facing yet another day care shortage.

According to Star-Telegram reporting, 46 child care facilities in Tarrant County have reported closing in some fashion. As more adults wrestle with the omicron variant and some schools are closing sporadically, parents are forced to juggle staying well, working and taking care of their children — among other responsibilities. Parents who can’t work remotely have been hit especially hard.

There are a few ways to look at this issue and unfortunately, whether we try to resolve it head on with tangible advice or look at it from a bird-s-eye view, there are no simple solutions.

I’m no feminist, but this probably affects mothers more than fathers, too. The pandemic exposed gender inequality in an era where we know women have more gender parity than ever before. A 2021 Pew Research study found that teleworking moms were “twice as likely” as dads to say that they had to juggle child care and their job.

At the beginning, most parents thought COVID-19 stay-at-home issues would be brief. Remember two weeks to flatten the curve? Texans have had it easier than those in other states thanks to more relaxed COVID policies, but parents are staring down 2022 and wondering how they’ll work and take care of their kids like it was still 2020.

I have four kids, and when things get rocky, I can often calm my own anxiety by reciting the age-old mantra: “This, too, shall pass.” Remembering that life has more difficult seasons than others is usually a good idea. Here though, it may not feel as helpful.

So, as a working mother, here are some tangible and more philosophical tips for juggling work and children, especially when you can’t count on school and day cares to be routinely and consistently open.

If you work remotely, plan ahead for everything else that you can and narrow your vision to do only what is necessary right now. Order groceries online. Put off what isn’t urgent and solicit the help of older children for household chores. Work in the evening or while your child is napping. No, it’s not the same as an eight-hour work day and it’s tiring, but eschew multi-tasking and you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you’re focused.

Whether you work remotely or at a physical location, seek the help of friends in similar situations or family members who can help. Can you watch your neighbor’s kids in the morning and swap them in the afternoon? (Of course, the children and parents must be in the COVID clear.

A Yahoo article on this topic suggests Europeans are handling this better than Americans because Italians, for example, “have an excellent support system when it comes to raising children.” Even a few hours a week with Grandma could help lessen your load — and thrill the grandparent.

This will feel disjointed, like a messy, patchwork quilt, or like your life is put together piecemeal, but it’s an unprecedented time and trying different arrangements will allow you to discover what worked and what didn’t should this happen again.

Philosophically, even practically, many wonder where the state belongs in this mess. Many Democrats and even some Republicans suggest the government should somehow make parenting in a pandemic easier, but it’s not clear what the state could do when people fall ill. If the government subsidized day care until age 5 for every parent, it still wouldn’t prevent this kind of logjam and stress.

Because the state cannot prevent everything nor save everyone, it is up to families to try to make this work, even if it feels like putting together the most precious jigsaw puzzle ever.

Consider the biggest questions: Do you need to live far from family? Do you need to make more friends? Do you love your job that never offers remote possibilities, or could you explore a field that would allow remote work?

The bottom line is this: When schools and day cares close, someone needs to care for the children. This is not anti-feminist or anti-capitalist. This is just called life.

When all else fails, just keep going and remember: This, too, shall pass.

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