As many of our homes have simultaneously been transformed into both a classroom and an office, one thing has become abundantly clear to parents: working and having our children at home is stretching us beyond what is actually possible.
Every day of this pandemic slowly drains us as parents and as workers, especially as we try to do both at once. We are never able to completely focus. We are half-working, all the time. We’re also half parenting, dividing our attention at all times between our kids and work. We are never fully paying attention to our kids, and they feel it. It hurts them.
For the sake of our children and our careers, we’re forced to continue to put on a facade of staying afloat through it all, when the truth is, we hardly feel able to function. This is mentally, physically, and emotionally unsustainable.
Yet, while some parents are experiencing this for the first time because of the coronavirus, juggling working and childcare is not new to low-income parents, particularly Black and Brown parents. It is not new to the millions of parents who can’t work remotely, whose jobs don’t pay enough to afford the childcare they need to do those jobs, and who don’t have the option of taking paid leave when they or their family members get sick.
Because this country doesn’t provide adequate resources for childcare, which is often equal to the cost of rent in most cities, the childcare crisis that many middle class and upper class families are now experiencing is a reality that low-income parents lived with long before the coronavirus — and one they will still be living with even after it’s gone.
The shortage of quality and affordable childcare didn’t start with the pandemic. We live in a society that doesn’t value work like childcare that is primarily done by women, because it is primarily done by women.
It’s no surprise then that, while the coronavirus has placed new burdens on all parents, the weight has disproportionately fallen on women. Women are spending an average of 15 more hours each week on education and household tasks than male partners, with women twice as likely as men to be responsible for homeschooling.
The burdens fall even harder on Black women, who are at greater risk from COVID-19, are more likely to have jobs on the front lines, and are also experiencing a much higher unemployment rate than the overall population.
The work of parenting is that of nurturing and intense love and attention. Anyone doing that work needs and deserves rest, stability, and basic resources. But, as we grind ourselves into a state of exhaustion trying to keep up, our country’s childcare infrastructure is completely failing us. Yet, left to their own devices, politicians would rather look the other way than do the hard work that is required to fix it.
Unfortunately, the figure-it-out-on-your-own message our government is sending to parents right now is really not that surprising. Throughout our history, our government has treated the work predominantly done by women, and particularly mothers, as not “real” work, and not worthy of support or recognition. This was evident even before the pandemic in the fact that we are the only industrialized country in the world without a paid leave policy.
Our government’s inaction is downright cruel to working parents and our children. The lack of social safety net support — felt even more fiercely right now during this pandemic — loudly communicates that our government does not see helping our children and meeting their needs as its problem. Instead, it is our problem to figure out, alone.
This is an incredible abuse. By not supporting families, and instead expecting parents to just figure out how to work and care for children without support, the government is acting as though children don’t need to be cared for or watched. The government is pretending education is not something that requires professional capacity, like anyone can do it, a mindset that is dangerous not just to parents but to children. We’re expected to homeschool as we work from home (or leave our children alone to go work), with no acknowledgement that parents simply can’t do this — especially not during a terrifying, unprecedented pandemic.
We’re tired of feeling guilty. We’re tired of feeling like we’re terrible parents, like we’re not doing enough — when really, our elected officials, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, are the ones who are failing our children.
We need elected officials to step up. We need the government to provide systemic solutions to systemic problems. We need a nationwide approach to education and childcare that protects and educates all children and does not continue to marginalize Black and Brown children. We need paid leave. We need to invest in care work, and start treating it like the essential economic infrastructure that it is.
We will no longer suffer in silence. If politicians don’t want to help us, we will remember our power at the polls. We will commit to voting out those who have shown that our lives as parents and caregivers aren’t a priority for them, even as they bail out big business. We are parents. We won’t forget this willful neglect, and we will exercise our power to put leaders in place who will prioritize families and take the necessary steps to ensure that our children are protected and educated in ways that are equitable, fair and safe.