Originally posted on Medium 4/13/2020
Pandemic Parenting Part I
The other day I walked by a neighbor’s house with my small son, and he called out to me from the yard. He has a daughter only a few days older, and a newborn. He asked, “Isn’t is great to be working from home?” I stuttered out an agreement, then stopped and turned back. “No, it is really, really hard.”
His surprise was visible. When I asked him a few questions, it was clear. His life was great working from home. He spent some time in the morning with his wife and kids, went into his office and shut the door, came out for lunch, spent a few more minutes with his sweet children, went back into his office and shut the door, and came out at 5pm, ready to help with dinner and be an active co-parent. His question clarified he had no idea that my work interferes with my parenting or vice versa, since his partner has been at home since the birth of their first child. Sure the Shelter in Place order was chafing, but his work-life continued much the same despite it.
At my home, we shift work and shift parent, and it is a struggle to do both well. My husband is a professor and I worked for an amazing non-profit.
. When it was clear daycares were not going to restart after spring break we set up a schedule so we could have designated work times that best fit our toddler’s needs, our personal skills, and biological clocks.
I sit down at my desk at around 7 am and get straight to work. Gone are the morning snuggles and making breakfast and jokes with my 2-year-old. My husband takes care of him, and does yard work, folds laundry and cleans up the flotsam and jetsom that follows an active toddler, throughout the morning. At 1:30 I take my lunch break to put our kiddo down for a nap, and my husband starts his workday. Now that we are limiting outings to prevent exposure to COVID-19, it is a struggle to get him to sleep.
After rubbing his back until he dozes off, with his sweaty hair plastered to his face from the epic nap battle, his open mouth and limp weight against me, it should feel sweet and tender but just make me anxious because I need to get back to work. After I ease him to the bed and sneak out, I’ll work until he wakes up.
After frenetically cleaning up from lunch, which somehow includes both food and arts and crafts, and diving into work while eating the leftovers from my toddler’s plate for lunch, I finish the last hour or two of my workday.
After nap, things slow down, but my day is far from over. We play, read books, and if I can’t convince him that it is a privilege for big boys to help me cook, he watches Daniel Tiger while I cook and hope the social and emotional learning aspects of the show sink in. The meal is made from scratch, since there is really no other option. I didn’t realize how much our household depended on takeout and prepared foods, until they were no longer available. I have even been making my own bread, since it is so hard to get a curbside or delivery spot at the grocery store.
At 7pm, my husband takes a break from his work to come down for dinner, and often has to go back to his office to finish recording his class lectures and provide support for the students who have found their whole world rearranged. After he leaves us, kiddo and I play some more and read books until bedtime, around nine since he is ready to drop his nap, but we are not, because we desperately need those hours of productivity during the day.
So now it is 9:30 or 10 pm, my husband and I convene and have a conversation for the first time that day, watch the latest news on COVID-19, take care of personal emails and some basic chores. Things like cleaning up the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, and price shopping water heaters, since ours started leaking through our kitchen ceiling last night, generally fun, exciting and romantic things. Then we decide if we will do the right thing and go to bed early or just take a goddamn minute to relax and end up going to bed way too late, to repeat the whole cycle the next day.
So, no, neighbor, no, working from home with no childcare is not fun. It is not extra time to spend with my child. It is a battle to carve two eight hour workdays out of one, to simultaneously meet my goals at work while taking care of my child’s needs, physical, emotional and educational. It is survival. Every moment is a struggle to not drop and shatter the ball. It is watching your kid play “work” and have your heart drop into your stomach when they play-act and say “I have a meeting, I can’t play with you now.” It is having to drop out of a meeting, — or worse, not being able to — when your child wakes from his nap screaming from a nightmare stemming from the anxiety caused by the cancellation of his whole world of routine and order, and you hear the plaintive sob, “I want my mommy.”
Working from home while parenting feels like that little hitch in your throat when you see your child about to take a fall because they were running too fast, there is nothing you can do to stop it, and you know it will hurt, that it will be bad, and you just hope that in the end, it won’t require a trip to the hospital.