Juggling act: Working parents adjust to life without childcare

Only 18 of the 55 licensed childcare centers and preschools in Charlottesville and Albemarle County are currently open, which means many local parents are struggling to balance working at home while caring for their kids. PC: Eze Amos Only 18 of the 55 licensed childcare centers and preschools in Charlottesville and Albemarle County are currently open, which means many local parents are struggling to balance working at home while caring for their kids. PC: Eze Amos

For the first few weeks after her kids’ daycare shut down, Sarah Burke found herself in survival mode, scrambling to figure out how to manage her full-time career while keeping her children (ages 2 and 3) busy at home.

“For a while, we felt like this was a short-term problem, and therefore would have a short-term solution, which was just trying our best to get through it,” she says. But eventually, “we [realized] we’re in this for the long-haul. We [had] to actually create systems that work for us.”

Burke, who owns a capital mitigation and criminal defense investigation firm, and her husband, a data science engineer, now switch off every few hours, one handling the kids while the other works at the makeshift desk they’ve created in their bedroom. Her children’s daycare, Westminster Child Care Center, has provided some online programming for its students, such as a weekly Show and Share over Zoom, she says. But for the most part, she and her husband have been “doing the best they can” when coming up with activities for their kids, from making crafts to teaching them about household tasks like gardening and recycling.

“We’re [still] trying to figure out how to manage the fact that my small business needs to continue…and he is supposed to be getting 40 hours of work per week. And there’s just not enough hours in the day to make it all happen,” she says. So “we’re trying to give ourselves a little bit of grace.”

Burke is one of many local working parents who has been without childcare, courtesy of the coronavirus. According to Gail Esterman, director of early learning at ReadyKids, only 18 of the 55 licensed childcare centers and preschools in Charlottesville and Albemarle County are currently open, along with 20 out of 34 licensed in-home childcare programs. And because of social distancing requirements, they have had to reduce the number of children they serve, giving priority to kids of essential workers.

While the UVA Child Development Center remains open, sociology professor Rose Buckelew decided to pull her 5-year-old son out due to safety concerns. She and her husband are now doing their best to meet the needs of their son and 3-year-old daughter, whose full-day preschool is completely closed, while working full-time from home.

“My work has increased. This is normally a really busy part of the semester, so I’m usually clocking in a lot of hours. And the window of time I can do the work has radically decreased,” says Buckelew, who currently teaches three courses (remotely) at the university. “[My husband and I], we switch off. Our morning starts, and one parent is with the kids, while the other one is working…we’re just switching off throughout the day so that someone can be working, getting meals ready, or doing the new work we have of trying to figure out how we get our groceries.”

“Most nights my husband and I clock in when the kids go to sleep around 7:30, 8 o’clock, and we’re working until midnight,” she adds. “At first, I was running on adrenaline, and so I was actually doing kind of okay, and I think I caught a rhythm. But now I’m just really struggling, [and] worn down.”

When she is not recording lectures, meeting with students over Zoom, or fulfilling her many other duties, Buckelew tries to do activities with her children that aren’t “super complicated,” such as worm walks, science experiments, and dance parties, in addition to any Zoom storytimes or other remote programming her daughter’s preschool, Mountaintop Montessori, puts on. Once spring semester ends, she hopes to “build in more learning experiences,” she says. However, her main focus has been “on keeping the kids happy…not putting a bunch of demands on them.”

Despite the challenges of full-time parenting, Buckelew recognizes she and her husband “are in a really good position,” and that “there are other people who are in much tougher situations.”

Some are relying on other family members to fill the gap. As essential workers, local E.R. nurse Kellen Squire and his wife—also an E.R. nurse—aren’t able to stay home full-time with their children, who are 3, 6, and 12. Fortunately, Squire’s parents have moved in to help out, but the changes his family has had to make have been “tough emotionally,” he says.

When they’re able to spend time with their children, Squire and his wife try to do social distancing activities, such as playing outside or watching movies, in order to ensure that they don’t pass the virus on to their kids, or to Squire’s parents.

“I know personally about a half a dozen colleagues from around the state, health care workers, that have gotten infected, so it’s not a theoretical risk,” he says. “And I haven’t seen anybody anywhere truly recover from it…we’re terrified we’ll bring that home.”

With parents like Squire on the frontline every day, sacrificing their health and safety, Burke is grateful to be at home with her family, regardless of its challenges.

“We are all having such a hard time, and it’s really easy to think that the day-to-day [life] that we’re leading is just the hardest thing we could possibly imagine…[but] we’re also really so lucky to have the opportunity to stay home,” she says. “It’s a tough balance between acknowledging how hard it is…but it’s also important to keep the bigger picture in mind.”

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Adriana Nicholson
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Adriana Nicholson

Why entertain children under 5? Children can play on their own and explore. Truly a box of legos, coloring books and crayons, building blocks, shape sorters, and other age appropriate games engage their minds and creativity. They don’t need attention 100% of the time. Learning to explore their world is important too.