Women Are Often The 'Default Parent' -- How To Avoid Gender Roles During COVID-19 School Closings

by Shelby Lee Keefer
Originally Published: 

With schools closed across the country, there’s a lot of talk about what we’re going to do with our kids at home. But there’s not much public debate about whois going to do it. In fact, gender roles continue to play out, even in the most progressive homes. We know that women are often the “shefault” parent for sick days, snow days, homework, and many other household responsibilities. So how do we approach the coming weeks of disrupted childcare and homeschooling with equity in mind?

Don’t wait for the call-off announcement to figure out your plan. If schools are open, consider who will do what if they are closed. As you determine your coverage schedule, keep these tips and questions in mind.

If you’re both remote-enabled professionals, start here:

Avoid comparing salaries. The partner with the higher salary doesn’t get a free pass to maintain a 100% office-like environment at home while the one with the lower salary takes PTO and wrangles the kids.

Make a schedule for each day. Designate one person to be “in-charge” or “on-call” taking turns throughout the day. Do your best to accommodate the virtual meeting schedule of both partners. Ensure each partner has some solo work time each day. Divvy up the additional meal preparation and put it on the schedule, too.

Adjust your standards. Let your kids watch the iPad, computer, and TV as needed. Prepare your colleagues for potential meeting disruptions. Eat packaged and frozen food. Forgive yourself and each other when tensions run high.

Alternate taking sick time off. If you can take turns completely shutting off your work, you can both get a break and some quality one-on-one time with your kids.

Flex your independent work time. If you absolutely have to, schedule additional work time after bedtime or during nap. But let’s not expect working parents to truly do double duty for the indefinite future.

If you aren’t both working from home, you likely have some harder tradeoffs to make. Consider the following questions in your discussion.

Do you have high-risk family members at home?

– If you can’t work remotely, can you take sick time to reduce your exposure?

– Can you bike, walk, or drive to work instead of taking public transit?

– How can you increase cleaning, maintain separation, and minimize exposure within your home?

Are either or both of you medical professionals, first responders, city officials, or other required personnel?

– Can you stagger your shifts to enable one parent to be home at all times?

– Do you have a neighbor, family friend, or grandparent in good health who could help?

For hourly workers, what are each of your hourly rates and call-off penalties?

– Can you stagger your shifts to enable one parent to be home?

– Do you have a neighbor, family friend, or grandparent in good health who could help?

– Can you stagger sick time-off without penalty?

How will you handle meal planning?

– How can you split up the additional meal-planning responsibility?

– Who will pick up grab-and-go meals at local schools if needed?

What if one person already takes care of the kids full-time?

– Read the tips above for remote salaried employees. Consider the full-time parent a remote salaried employee with equal responsibilities and rights.

The coming weeks and months won’t be easy, but by promoting equity we can avoid the feelings of resentment that can grow under even the best of circumstances. Assuming the best of each other will go a long way toward reducing the stresses coming from seemingly all angles.

Furthermore, it’s important we look not just to our partners, but also to our broader communities for support. Like never before, parent and educator communities are coming together to create and share incredible resources for managing remote learning. While we may feel alone in our homes, we can feel alone together by sharing our experiences and leaning on each other in ways we never have before.

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