Nearly 4 months into the Pandemic, parents everywhere are still being asked to carry on as normal while their family lives are irreparably disrupted - and they are all desperately worn out. A friend is given the platitudes of "I don't know how you do it all" while also being told they must complete a presentation by noon tomorrow. A family member is told how lucky they are to work from home and have extra family time during a company conference call. As a small business owner, I'm pressured to find the next pivot while caring for my family full time and learning to home school. The one thing we are "all in together" is a seemingly hopeless situation.
As families settle into a summer without camp and stare down the barrel of a school year without full time school, they are left entirely on their own to figure out how to juggle the impossible long term. Parents are stretched beyond human limits, kids are positively unruly, and employers' patience is wearing thin. It was cute to see everyone's kids interrupting zoom meetings in March; it's untenable in July.
And yet, the reopening of the economy is charging ahead without thought or concern for how the 41% of workers between 20 and 54 who have children at home are going to get back to work, or continue working productively without a childcare solution. Stories of parents being let go for attending to their children are growing in number by the day. But, this is not a parent/families problem, this is an economic problem. When half of its available workforce is struggling to get through the day, how exactly does a nation achieve a monumental economic recovery?
In the United States, even in the "Before Times", we were living in a farcical world that expected parents to be 24/7 available employees and excellent caretakers to their kids. We ignore basic needs like paid parental leave and affordable childcare, acting as though the entire nation lives in a 1950's nuclear family ideal. The reality is (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) that 66.4% of mothers with children under 6 work outside the home and 93.4% of fathers with children under 18 work outside the home. Let's not even start with the fact the BLS doesn't report on the percentage of fathers with children under 6 that work - the federal government apparently still expects mothers alone to care for young children. Given this state of affairs, it should come as no surprise that the nation's answer to how families should handle this moment is "let kids drink".
At best, you are a "lucky" family with parents who can work from home. In this best case, you are getting up at 5am and staying up past Midnight as you piecemeal together a work day and hope not to be laid off. In the worst case, you have to decide whether you return to your job outside the home leaving your children unattended, or join the ranks of the 21 million unemployed.
We, as a country, are failing our families. Our leaders, our employers, and even some of us are choosing to hide behind easy statements like "it's too hard to get kids to wear masks" or "kids can't social distance" rather than innovate solutions for our children. And if anyone thinks "Zoom school" is an innovative or acceptable solution, they don't have a child under 10.
In addition to the anger, and honestly despair, I feel when thinking about this and what it means for our community of families, I'm left with a slew of questions.
Why do we prioritize opening restaurants indoors, in-person yoga class, and movie theaters over the education of our children?
Why is it that we can stand up a hospital in a convention center in the span of a week, but we can't creatively utilize empty spaces for schools with months of preparation?
How can we have an unemployment rate the likes of which we haven't seen in nearly a century and not have a workforce training program in place to train and effectively credential an army of teachers?
How exactly is a single mother supposed to care for her children and manage our grocery stores, staff our emergency rooms, and keep our food supply chain going? And no, these are not niche examples - 31% of families are single parents. That's a full 13% of the US workforce.
How could we think that "virtual school" is a viable option when we have digital disparities, internet access disparities, and oh yeah, kids who simply cannot be engaged sitting in front of a screen 7 hours a day?
Why do we as a nation not understand that caring about and for families is necessary to our collective survival?
You can call this the midnight rant of a tired mom (it definitely is), the pleas from a bleeding heart liberal (it's that too), or a bizarrely factual cry for help from a former economist (yep, nailed it). But please also see it as a rallying cry to demand better. Our families NEED help. Our children need real solutions. Our future literally depends on it.