I never thought this would happen, but my family—two full-time working parents and three young kids doing the e-learning thing—is getting into a bit of a groove. After my morning video meeting with my colleagues here at Today’s Parent, I half-work (that is, answer emails and Slack messages) throughout the day, while tending to our kids, ages seven, nine and 12. This allows my husband to focus on his job which, pre-pandemic, already required him to work most evenings after putting in a full day. At 5 p.m. he takes over the family life, while I go to our office (aka our bedroom) for a few hours to get some actual editing and writing done. After the kids go to bed (way too late, these days), we pull out the laptops to catch up on work we didn’t get to throughout the day. Let me be clear: There is no post-bedtime Netflix bingeing happening in our house.
It’s a gruelling schedule that still relies on way more screen time than I’m comfortable with for my school-age kids. But, according to the experts, the mommy blog posts and the memes that are constantly circulating, I shouldn’t beat myself up about that. I should also lower my standards on cleanliness, be OK with serving boxed mac and cheese for dinner, and just pat myself on the back for getting through another day.
Trust me, I’ve done all that. Consider my standards lowered. Messy house? Check. Losing the battle on sibling fighting? Check. Eating way too many chips and drinking too much wine because hey, there’s a pandemic? Check and check. But as this temporary situation is turning out to be semi-permanent, I can’t help but wonder how any of this is sustainable. We’ve suddenly become full-time caregivers, teachers, tech support and emotional support to our kids. We have to stand in as their friends, figure out new ways to connect them to their actual friends (thank you, Messenger Kids) and somehow give them hope that they’ll be able to play with their real friends again someday. This is all on top of a full-time job that—true to its name—ordinarily takes up a full day. We are definitely not doing our best work right now.
My husband and I are by no means in the worst position out there. We have understanding and flexible bosses. And there’s two of us at home, able to tag off if an unexpected call comes up or pitch in if a Zoom class meeting isn’t connecting at the same time as another child has taken a tumble outside. If we’re struggling, how are single parents, or families where one parent isn’t home during the day, surviving?
Manitoba has written off the school year, and other jurisdictions are likely to follow suit. Summer camps and daycare are a big question mark (I know of at least one day camp that has already cancelled its programming). While it seems like every day we hear of new funding for businesses, support for students and money for the unemployed (all necessary and worthwhile of course), I haven’t heard a damn thing about a reasonable solution for parents who’ve suddenly had all their supports—school, childcare, extended family—ripped away, and then been expected to carry on with their full-time jobs.
You can’t say that we parents, collectively, haven’t tried. We’ve created daily schedules, visited virtual museums, gone walking looking for rainbows and gamely attempted online learning only to realize that, surprise, kids don’t want to learn sitting at a computer without any tangible connection to their classmates or teachers. We’ve let our kids sit on our laps during conference calls, worked beside them in forts, and taken midday breaks to build obstacle courses or supervise arts and crafts activities. Some of this has actually been novel and fun, and there’s certainly been a bit of beauty to the imposed family togetherness. But I think I speak for most parents when I say: We’re running out of steam.
I’m worried that if schools and camps are closed until September, I’ll need to take a leave of absence from my job. My kids have been pretty good sports so far, but I’m not sure I can justifiably put their needs on the back burner for months on end. I know some parents have already made this choice. Others are bringing in babysitters, or considering potentially risky childcare swaps with other families, because doing it all by yourself just isn’t possible.
What’s the solution? I don’t know. But I think as parents we need to start demanding some sort of plan. Maybe Justin Trudeau could implore companies to reduce workloads for parents, while keeping full-time salaries? Or offer a salary guarantee, similar to the wage subsidy, for parents who choose to take a leave of absence to take care of their kids? Offer guidelines for how to safely set up small neighbourhood daycares or childcare swaps? Because one thing is certain—even as the current headlines begin to talk about the economy slowly coming to life, parents’ lives won’t go back to normal until we get our village back.