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July 24, 2020

Life’s COVID-19-induced upheavals mean that this year’s observance of National Parents’ Day on July 26 finds working parents doing triple duty: as teachers, as caregivers and as employees. Over the past five months, daily schedules have been thrown out the window. Rules on screen time have been relaxed as parents working from home try to find ways to keep little ones quiet and entertained while we’re on a Zoom video call.

It’s been tough. A report from the Boston Consulting Group showed that parents in the United States have almost doubled the time they were spending on education and household tasks before the coronavirus outbreak: 59 hours per week, up from 30. These impacts are even greater on mothers, who are spending 15 hours more on average than fathers on education and household tasks.

We have gathered below a few reflections on the experiences of the FINN Partners Public Affairs team’s working moms, all raising kids at different ages and life stages while trying their best to meet their deadlines, do good work and maintain a modicum of sanity. Here’s what they have to say:

Jessie Reape, mom to Violet (2)

While I have been fortunate enough to have my nearly 2-year-old daughter, Violet, remain in daycare during the pandemic, our evening and weekend routines have changed significantly during this unprecedented time, putting some strain on our work/life balance.

My husband and I miss such simple pleasures as our weekly dinners out at a local kid-friendly diner, where our daughter could roam around and play. It gave us a break from cooking, dishes and toddler food-mess during an already-packed work day. Before the coronavirus hit, Sundays were a productive errand day; my husband and I would take turns bringing Violet with us, so the other could recharge a bit before another busy work week began. Now, to best manage the health and safety of our family, that scenario is off the table.

However, like all other families across the country facing similar situations, we have tried to find our silver linings. My husband, the chef in our house, has a newfound love for kid-friendly recipes, and has enjoyed letting Violet “cook” with him on what used to be diner night. And together we created a special new playroom for our daughter, where we both spend extra time with her on Sundays, coloring, playing pretend with her stuffed animals and reading books.

When it comes down to it, sharing these additional moments with our daughter during the pandemic, especially while she is still so little, is something we have come to treasure. It’s almost as if she learns a new word or skill the instant you step away. People with older children always say, “It goes by so fast,” and I have learned for myself during this pandemic that they are right.

Sarah Mars Bowie, mom to Liam (4) and Graham (6)

I count myself as a very lucky parent. I have a great job that offers a huge amount of flexibility. I have a partner who pulls his weight with the kids and household chores, as well as a live-in au pair whose job is to watch my kids for 45 hours a week. Even then, the changes and uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 have been immense, and the last five months have felt heavy. I am not usually an anxious person, but I have found myself overwhelmed and having weekly panic attacks as I deal with the influx of dire information and worries about how to protect my family.

We struggled to get our energetic 4-year-old to sit long enough to do Zoom school or the worksheets that were sent home. Both boys grieved over their canceled birthday parties, lack of peer interaction and even our Saturday trip to the grocery store to give my husband an hour of peace and quiet. As a white family living in a diverse neighborhood, we also had to explain in an age-appropriate way why people were protesting and what it means when people say Black Lives Matter, to continue educating them on being anti-racist.

Three months in, we did find some normalcy and routine. Friday night is homemade pizza night, and they love to knead the dough. Every day Yinela, our au pair, takes the kids to an open park so they can kick a ball around, collect bugs and rocks, and do what little boys do best: get dirty. But they miss their friends and classmates. I’m not sure what the next school year will look like for these two. They are a little too young for online schooling to be effective, but I don’t know if the in-classroom experience will be worth the associated risks, or be very conducive to loving school and learning, either.

If the last five months have taught me anything, it’s that “good enough” is going to be good enough. We just need to roll with the punches and keep moving forward.

Katie Franklin, mom to Austin (3) and Aubree (7)

Our family has been through difficult times in the past. Six years ago, our world was rocked when my husband had a massive stroke. I had always thought this health crisis and our journey to make us whole again would be the most difficult thing we would ever experience. I was wrong. 

The overwhelming stress I felt six years ago has returned during the pandemic, which has been challenging in ways we never had expected. Amid the concern of being exposed to the virus, the worries about juggling child care alongside work responsibilities, and the need to make my kids feel safe during a scary time, there’s one thing I’m very thankful for: My husband and I have been strong-minded, healthy and capable of working together through this pandemic in ways we may not have been prepared for if this had happened a few years ago during his stroke recovery.

At the start of each day, we compare schedules to see when we can either have peaceful office time by ourselves or be on kid/work duty downstairs. We developed a schedule for the kids to follow, starting with a daily family walk and yoga before schoolwork and creative time. We prioritize getting outside multiple times a day for walks, bike rides and “P.E. time.” We plan virtual playdates with friends, let our 7-year-old access Facebook Messenger Kids so she can video chat with friends, and we bake … a lot. 

Early on, we shifted our thinking from “We can’t do anything during COVID-19,” to, “What can we do?” It turned out there’s a lot we can do. We took day trips to go hiking, went to the beach, let our kids have sleepovers together by rotating the bedrooms, and started a family challenge of working our way through all the Marvel movies in chronological order.

As hard as this situation is, there are things I’m thankful for. The elimination of our long commute has improved our quality of life and given us a chance to slow down in the mornings and evenings. We’re witnessing many incredible moments in our children’s development that we might have missed if they had been in daycare and school. Having our 3-year-old back at his home daycare this summer has been a blessing. He really needed more attention and friends than we could give him. We have also started to do small-group gatherings with friends for my daughter. Having playmates again gives her a sense of normalcy — which makes all of us happy!

Robin Crawford, mom to Elizabeth (10) and Cameron (12)

Parenting tweeners during COVID is full of ups and downs. Nervous about “corona” as it raced like a tsunami across the globe, my kids craved normalcy and missed their friends desperately.

My husband and I have become multitaskers extraordinaire as we juggle and tag-team two kids’ online school schedules, homework, independent learning, teacher check-ins, soccer team Zoom calls and book clubs — in addition to our own jam-packed days of never-ending Zoom calls and client deliverables.

We’ve had some wonderful time together as a family, and the incessant rushing that had dominated our lives has been replaced with richer interactions and impromptu moments of silliness or contemplation.

Now, as we are hitting our stride in our new close-to-home routine, we are thankfully able to exercise and sleep more. We’ve become avid observers of the wildlife that frequents our backyard, and our garden has never been so well tended. My son relishes driving our ride-on mower and mows the lawn almost daily. And my daughter has become a wizard at video-making, unintentionally documenting this strange moment in time.

Jessica Ross, mom to Maddie (18) and Matthew (20)

She turned 18 the week before school shut down. She was a senior — now a full-fledged adult — ready for high school to end, but also so excited for those last few months, when all that work, and all those hours of commitment pay off. School is not just the place you send your kids to. It’s also the center of gravity, the community, the social life and the nexus around which our lives have revolved for the past 15 years.

In another world, there would have been a prom: the dress; the friends’ laughter while they get ready upstairs; the endless pictures. There would have been that last musical of high school: "Chicago,” where she got that great role. Parents would have been called up to the stage for hugs, flowers, tears.

In another world, there would have been finals, IB exams and departmental honors. Graduation day would have welcomed all the grandparents to town, with brunches, lunches and parties. 

But instead, there were three final months of doing schoolwork in her room, on Zoom and Blackboard. She worried about what would count and how she would be scored. Some days she was happy; others, she was anxious. “It’s all OK,” I said. “You got into Boulder— your first choice.” I tried to be realistic, but also optimistic.

She still worked hard, stressed out, and dug in — like she always had. I cry as I write this — for how unbelievably proud I am of my daughter, but also for all the things that she — and our family — have missed, and for what we have all lost in this other world.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, mom to John (19) and Caroline (22)

There have been a few unexpected upsides to having my college-age kids living at home during the pandemic. While it’s been difficult for me to stay focused at times with the additional activity in the house and the blaring marathons of “90 Day Fiance” and “Seinfeld” reruns, my kids have taken some notice of my work and the importance of helping so many incredible clients tell their stories well.

The more they’ve witnessed how busy I am and the long hours required to do my job, the more willing they’ve been to pitch in with daily chores and bigger projects around the house. There are no arguments or delays over mowing the lawn or tidying up the house. I’ve tapped the prime parenting opportunity in helping them turn their boredom into accomplishment as they tackle projects that would have seemed overwhelming or unreasonable pre-COVID.

First, they built me a firepit, hauling stones for days to the backyard and bringing my long-held vision to life. Next, they yanked weeds and hauled endless wheelbarrows of mulch to fill gardens all around the house. They power-washed the deck and most of the siding, cleaned out the gutters, and packed up boxes of charitable donations. There has been the occasional “gourmet” dinner made, too. Still on the to-do list: chopping down a dead tree, a trip to the dump, washing windows and cleaning out the garage. Unfortunately, there seems to be plenty of time for more chores amid continued social distancing efforts.

Despite these small parenting victories, there are some obvious limits to what they will do. Their bedrooms are still an endless disaster, and the laundry may never get under control. Emptying the dishwasher is also, apparently, too hefty a task. For now, I’ll count my blessings and keep adding to the list.

 

 

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