In normal times, parenting can be simultaneously rewarding and exhausting.
Moments of joy are followed by a meltdown, then tears, a hug, and snacks, which leads to quiet time and then play — intellectual, physical, or imaginary — when you marvel at your child, until it’s dinner time and they refuse to eat anything on the table and become grouchy during bedtime until finally drifting off to sleep, but not before leaving their room to look for chapstick, use the bathroom, check on the dog, and sneak in one last hug.
On good days, you go to bed feeling like a decent parent capable of mistakes but whose children are generally thriving.
During the coronavirus pandemic, however, the typical ups and downs of childrearing are just the beginning. For parents working at home, without access to school or childcare, daily life is akin to household whiplash: Parents scramble to feed, entertain, discipline, and teach children while simultaneously meeting deadlines, sitting in Zoom calls, and trying their damndest to be productive. Sometimes the work happens at 6am or midnight. If you’re unlucky, sometimes the parenting happens at those exact times.
If the widely shared social media posts and essays are any indication, people are grappling with this new reality as best they can, looking for inspiration — and chances to commiserate. Most parents are putting on a brave face because there appears to be no other option: To save lives, we must keep schools and daycare facilities shut down.
SEE ALSO: Kids are losing their childhood to the coronavirus pandemic. This is what it feels like for them.
There is another solution but it’s one parents don’t seem to be talking about collectively: Pressing elected officials to provide paid leave for every worker who’s at home caring for a child who otherwise would be with a paid caregiver, at daycare, or in school.
Legislation passed last month gave that benefit to workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees, which left out millions of parents. Congress is considering expanding it to cover the majority of workers, according to advocates, and parents should pressure their representatives to ensure it’s in the next stimulus bill. The benefit would provide parents the reprieve they desperately want and need, because the bargain we’ve struck thus far isn’t sustainable.
At the precise moment when parents are trying to remain valuable at work, in anticipation of pay cuts, furloughs, and layoffs, their children need a calming, engaged presence throughout the day. This would theoretically be manageable if it lasted just a few weeks. But in cities like San Francisco, New York, and Seattle, which have been shut down for a month and where school won’t reopen until the fall, parents expect at least a few grueling months of physical, mental, and emotional labor. Every day they must choose, multiple times, between their livelihood and their children.
At the precise moment when parents are trying to remain valuable at work, their children need a calming