Written by Dawn Wallace
School is starting back up across the country and it looks completely different from household to household, due to Covid-19. Some kids are back in school full-time, with a few tweaks such as mask wearing and social distancing. Some are learning remotely from home. Some are doing a bit of both, while some have gone completely to homeschooling. If you can afford to stay home, the options are clear; support your child’s formal education. But what if you can’t?
You’ve heard it almost all year. “Due to Covid… due to covid..” So, here’s one more. According to the Census Bureau, over 13 million Americans are now unemployed due to childcare restricted due to covid-19. Folks, that’s a significant portion of the middle class of America. The workers. The taxpayers. The backbone of this economy. Nurses, bankers, etc.
I’ve seen countless mothers struggling with the choice: Do I stay home with my child, or do I work and pay bills? You likely know someone making this choice, or you are having to make this choice yourself. Some households will be able to make it work on one income, making painful cuts and hard adjustments. But I fear for the single parents with no support network, with the children’s grandparents also working or too far away (physically or emotionally) to commit to looking after the child(ren). How does one choose between the safety of the child in the immediate, and feeding, housing and transporting the family?
This isn’t to shame anyone for their choices; most people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Most people have to work to earn money to live in this society, and that means children go to daycare as young as 3-4 weeks old, and remain under the watch of trained facilitators until they are 18 years old, transitioning from daycare to public school after a few years. It’s over-simplified, but in fact true. Public school serves as a type of secondary childcare. Parents across the country have relied on this system for a few decades, but now the plug has been pulled out, and hardworking people who did everything by the book are the victims of this massive shift.
I couldn’t sleep properly for a few days because I kept seeing the facebook posts from these mothers replaying in my head. Their words chased me into my bubble, some would call it privilege. I made the choice to stay home with my children, a decision my husband and I made before we got married. A pact I made with myself and my kids that no matter what, we would make it work on one income and I’d be the main caregiver and educator. But I’m well aware of the fact that not everyone can do this. It’s how I was raised. I was the latchkey kid who went to daycare until my parents were done with work. After school, around 3rd grarde, I would walk to my mother’s office in the library and sit quietly and do my homework there, trying not to be seen or heard, until she was done with her shift. I carried enough cash to get fresh fries on my way home, passing a gyros stand run by Greeks, and I knew where to hide from the bullies that followed me for a few blocks.
I’m no stranger to poverty, or hardships that come with being raised in a single parent household. And I can smell the recession around the corner, as well. It hit when I was in college and sent me into a panic, thinking I’d never find a job after graduation. Jobs were gone.
We rebuilt the economy a bit in the past 13 years but now “due to covid” things are burning down again. Now we’ve messed with the income of the suburban mom, and that’s like lighting the tail of a tiger on fire.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, but while many adjust to the new school situation over the course of the next few weeks, please be kind to one another. Parents are trying their hardest to cope with a situation they’ve never been in before, and many are completely struggling. If you’re not struggling, please reach out to someone who is or may be and offer your help. Offer to stay with the child if you can for a day or two each week so the parents can keep their jobs. Offer up your wi-fi password if you know your neighbor is not able to connect to the internet (you can limit the time other devices log on). Bring a meal to someone, or a beer and hear them. Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken, remember; people’s pride is tied up in their profession. Be a good neighbor, friend, grandparent, co-parent, whatever it takes. This is no time for ego. This is a time to be there for the children. If ever there was need for a village, it’s now.