Parents grapple with back to school while working from home
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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.
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