As unemployment reaches staggering levels, those of us who still have full-time jobs right now are the lucky ones. But for parents, especially folks with younger children, the fact that work has not stopped even though everything else has (including schools and childcare) poses its own problems.
This week, we talked with parents who are scrambling to educate and care for their kids while also holding down full-time jobs. Their coping methods range from squeezing in work between bedtime and midnight to calling in grandparents (and potentially putting them at risk).
“Pandemics expose and exacerbate the existing dynamics of society—good and bad,” writes Chloe Cooney, in a recent piece called “Parents are not O.K.” “One of those dynamics is the burden we put on individual parents and families. We ask individuals to solve for problems that are systemic.”
Pre-pandemic, that meant every new parent had to figure out, as if from scratch, how to manage jobs that assume workers are available 24/7, with childcare options that are inflexible, mind-bogglingly expensive, unreliable, or all of the above.
Now, the struggle to balance work and family obligations is simply more stark. It’s impossible, but we’ve collectively decided to pretend it can be done.
As the virus has highlighted our existing inequalities, some are hoping that it will also prompt sweeping changes afterwards, from paid sick leave for low-wage workers to a better health care system for all. Perhaps, too, the collective experience of having all of our children at home will inspire more respect (and better compensation) for teachers and caregivers, and policies that make it easier to have a career and a family.
With schools in Virginia closed until at least next fall, there’s plenty of time to dream.