What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell us
Parenting in a Pandemic

Parents grapple with back to school while working from home

Mitchell Hartman Sep 3, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
Millions of parents are at home with their kids during the school day while also trying to work a job. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Parenting in a Pandemic

Parents grapple with back to school while working from home

Mitchell Hartman Sep 3, 2020
Millions of parents are at home with their kids during the school day while also trying to work a job. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

One of the toughest roles to have in this pandemic economy is that of working parent of a school-age child or children. As COVID-19 continues to spread, many urban, suburban and rural districts are starting the fall semester remotely, with school buildings closed and students being taught online at home.

That means millions of parents — and it’s mostly, though not exclusively, moms — will be at home watching their kids, and trying to supervise their virtual learning. Many of those parents will also be trying to work — at home, or at a job outside the home — to make ends meet.

Erika Armsbury has twin 9-year-old daughters who are entering fourth grade this fall in Portland, Oregon. One of the twins is on the autism spectrum; both attend public school.

Armsbury is a social worker. She supervises a team of 20 employees who manage Medicaid patients for a large health plan.

When the pandemic hit in March, school and work went remote, and everyone in the family started working from home. Armsbury said she’s had her hands full since then.

“Parenting, teaching, working in a very demanding full-time job — it was pretty miserable,” she said. “There was a lot of yelling, trying to get my kids to do things in the middle of meetings. And I thought: ‘Can I continue working, or parenting? Something’s got to give.’ “

Armsbury said family life calmed down a bit once school ended in June, even though some summer programs she’d signed her kids up for were canceled.

She and her husband have decided to start the school year, which will be online again, without any job changes.

“I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my work,” she said. “I had them when I was older, I had a career life before them, and ultimately I said, we can get through this.”

Ruth Martin of Silver Spring, Maryland, has a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old at home, about to start school remotely.

“It’s been really difficult,” Martin said. “I would say I’m doing everything very badly. And that’s from a fairly privileged place of having enough devices for everyone in the home to be able to be on one.”

Martin works for MomRising, a national advocacy group for parents, and she worries about the disruption of parents’ life and work as school-reopening plans keep changing.

“Even if they get going in person,” Martin said, referring to schools, “there is just this sense that inevitably, as we move further into the fall and into flu season, this experiment in reopening, before there’s a vaccination, will come to an end.” 

Daniella Knight of Fairfax County, Virginia, has three children at home—a 9-year-old, a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. Her husband was laid off from a legal job in June and starts a new job in September. He was approved to receive state unemployment benefits soon after he was laid off, but the family hasn’t received any payments to date.

Knight works as a property manager and has a side-gig as a pediatric sleep consultant. “I’m working my office job remotely,” she said, “or I go into the office at night when there’s nobody there.”

Day care is limited for her youngest child right now, and elementary school for the older kids is about to start online-only. So Knight thinks she’ll have to cut back on her work-hours, “in order to help the kids with their schooling.”

“Obviously there’s going to be lost income,” Knight said. “I don’t know whether we will be able to move at this point, and purchase a home.”

Knight anticipates being more sleep-deprived, and spending more frugally, in the fall.

Are you stuck at home with kids right now?

Host Jed Kim with the Million Bazillion logo

Check out our brand-new podcast “Million Bazillion.” We help dollars make more sense with lessons about money for the whole family.

Each week we answer a new question from a kid, like where money comes from, how to negotiate with parents, why things cost what they do and how to save up for something you want.

Listen here or subscribe wherever you get podcasts!

Read More


As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.