In Response to the NYT article by Deb Perelman, “In the COVID-19 Economy, you can have a kid or a job. You can’t have both.”
As more and more businesses begin to reopen, schools across the country still have families waiting with bated breath to learn whether they will open or remain closed this fall. One group’s best interest has been overlooked: working parents. At least one parent is employed in 91.3% of all US families, while 64.2% have two working parents. With such a significant proportion of the population left reeling trying to juggle the added responsibilities of being a parent and an employee in the COVID-19 economy, we’re left wondering: how can we do better, for our economy, our society, and our families?
There Are No Winners
Multiple parties have skin in the game this coming fall. Working parents, teachers, and of course, students are all going to be dramatically impacted when it’s time to return to school, and despite what some may say, it’s looking more and more like a lose-lose-lose situation.
Working parents are also left scratching their heads in response to COVID-19. Balancing a career and a family was already a delicate act. Now, parents everywhere are left trying to pull double duty as a productive employee and becoming full-time educators to their children.
The sudden addition of “teacher” to a parent’s resume does not come easily. To expect parents, who are untrained in the science of education, to become effective educators overnight ignores the expertise required to be a teacher.
When teaching, caring for, and spending time with your children becomes a full-time job, working parents are left with almost no time for their other full-time jobs. They’re left with no choice than to overextend themselves and work late into the night or early in the morning. Even when parents can “do both,” work and homeschool at the same time, how productive can they be? Can they effectively teach their child a new lesson while also being present and engaged at work? Most often, the answer is no.
Some families have been seemingly “blessed” during this time as well. Those who are privileged enough to put their work on pause to care for their children have not escaped the repercussions of COVID-19 unscathed. What at one time appeared to be a temporary issue has reared its head, proving it is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future). Now, parents, (too often the mother) who have decided to stay home, are faced with the reality that they may never return to work. For some, they simply cannot return to the work-life they once knew until schools fully reopen. However, we have no idea when that may be. Some suggest this year, while others suggest next year or even the year after that. With so much uncertainty and such a long gap in employment, the return to work looks daunting, if not impossible.
Now more than ever, COVID-19 is forcing parents to make a difficult choice at the expense of their work productivity, and their families.
Beyond the prominent disruption to their routine, the negative impact COVID-19 will have on students can be profound.
While it’s true that remote learning, particularly in the form of e-learning, has provided a “quick-fix” to the need to continue education as schools remain closed, this solution isn’t nearly as comprehensive or equitable as you might believe. Over lack of internet access. Without the internet, those children are placed at an immediate disadvantage. They simply cannot access the tools or resources they need to receive a proper or fair education.
Not only that, but learning plans for children with special needs, or who otherwise cannot effectively learn remotely, can be extremely challenging to execute online. Services like physical therapy, gross motor therapy, speech lessons, or any of the numerous critical services provided by schools (and most importantly, in schools), all offer life-changing support to children. What do we tell those children when we can no longer provide the care they need?
Academic progress, especially in younger students, can be quickly undone. A change in routine, a disruption in the flow of learning, food insecurity due to no longer receiving school lunches, and a lack of social interaction, among other things, can all not only halt but erase the gains students have made.
No matter what your school district decides to do this coming fall, teachers will face challenges, too. Many schools have switched to a hybrid learning system, with some students going into school, while others stay home on certain days. While this may seem like a “best-of-both-worlds” outcome for students who can at least attend school partially, this set-up leaves teachers pulling even more overtime than they usually do. Teachers will now be expected to teach full time in-person while still monitoring and engaging those who are online.
Added responsibilities and work stress aside, teachers are now subject to a constant influx of children and other faculty during a global pandemic. Administrators can write social distancing into their new school policies as much as they want but, have you ever watched a class of children walk down the hall or sit still during reading time? Regardless of how diligent we may try to be, safely social distancing in a school will be a tremendous challenge. We are now asking teachers to risk their health and safety, and the health and safety of their families and anyone else they interact with, to keep their jobs.
The COVID-19 Catch-22
Reopening schools and businesses is no small feat. Of course, there are countless variables at play and people to keep both safe and satisfied. COVID-19 has upended so many of our lives; it’s not going to be easy to sort it out. But for those who can’t just “sort it out” on their own, it’s clear that our country’s response (and our society) is deeply rooted in disregard for working families and children. When we value profit over people, we can only get so far.
We’re Here to Help
It’s a difficult time to be a working parent with the added responsibilities put on their plate. If you have working parents on your team, have an open conversation with them. They are likely feeling stretched thin and may be concerned with their job security if they can’t deliver on deadlines or projects they were once able to pre-pandemic. It’s important to remember that these are not normal circumstances and leaders need to be more flexible to their employees’ changing situations. Promote a supportive culture by listening and resetting expectations. Get a clear picture of your employee’s situation so you both know what to expect. Your top performers will always find a way to deliver, but in these trying times, you need to show your willingness to adapt.
And if you find your team needs additional support, Bridgepoint can help. Whether you need expert assistance completing a major project or just some extra hands on deck, we have the resources and expertise you need to get it done. Get in touch with us here.
Deb Perelman, “In the COVID-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both.” New York Times, July 2, 2020
Eighth Broadband Progress Report, Federal Communications Commission