How Working Parents Can Navigate Back to School, Fall 2020

As parents, we are not new to the idea of figuring things out. We have done this from the start and each new obstacle comes with a google search that can often be quite overwhelming. Eventually, we turn to our “village” and various resources to navigate our options in order to support our family in a way that fits our individual needs.

We’ve lived through six months of the pandemic so far and working parents are beyond stretched. This pandemic has shed a light on how detrimental it is to not have federal programs in place for parents and working families of young children. According to a survey conducted by the LeanIn.org, women reported to spending 71 hours every week on housework and caregiving, while men in the same situation reported doing a little over 10 hours of additional labor every week. The demands for women of color and single mothers was even greater.

We need to do better, but the reality is with no existing frameworks in place, working parents are scrambling trying to navigate childcare and the new landscape of long-distance learning in the age of COVID-19. Everything feels hard and each decision feels more complicated than the next between online learning, homeschooling, hybrid programs, pandemic pods, and childcare.

So, let’s dive into the top three questions we hear parents asking.

Q: How do I make such a weighted decision on what to do when school starts while I am still trying to meet the demands of my job?

A: My advice is to cut out the noise of all the opinions out there and start to outline what options are even feasible for you. That means to evaluate your family needs, factual data within your area, review the realities of your schedule as a working parent, and then start to formulate your plan. This is a great resource created by the Maven Clinic and Emily Oster to support putting together that plan.

Q: What can parents do if they have decided to stay in their school district but cannot support long-distance learning at home because they are working?

A: First I suggest calling your district office and ask for help. Information is changing so fast that many districts are adjusting to the needs of families in actual real-time. Some districts have opened up childcare centers to help with long-distance learning but if they haven’t yet this is an opportunity to advocate for this. Next, reach out to local childcare centers/preschools especially ones that have afterschool programs to see if they are supporting long-distance learning in your area. Daycares/Preschools have been open throughout this pandemic in different capacities they have practiced the safety regulations for what could be months now and are most likely happy to expand their program to accommodate you as they are at very low capacity in many areas. If none of those options seem to meet your family needs exploring a pandemic pod could be an alternative. A pandemic pod is a small group of kids in the same age group that are working together through instructional schooling whether it is homeschooling and or distance learning. The pod has agreed upon required safety measures and parents of the pod share the responsibility of childcare together. Lastly, if finances allow for it many educators are not opting into supporting individual families, and putting out a search through an agency like The Nanny League or asking for a referral within in your network could be the next step.

Q: We have decided to keep our child home for long-distance learning/homeschooling and I’m nervous to talk to my boss about this because it will impact my work schedule?

A: Your concern is valid but with everything, it is how you approach the conversation. Schedule a time to talk through this with your boss and come prepared. Outlined a proposed schedule providing times that you will be available and times that you will be with your child or children. Include check-ins with your boss and team members on a daily basis. Vocalize that you are committed to your organization and absolutely are prioritizing the importance of contributing to your team then demonstrate that with follow-through of your plan in subsequential weeks. Ask for feedback and a trial period to evaluate the proposed plan. This is such a moving target as the predictable can seem so unpredictable right now. Transparency between you and your boss will be incredibly important to work through the realities of navigating the demands of work and family.

In conclusion, what you do for your family is the absolute right decision and while there is a ton of opinions circling out there on how to return to school your opinion is the most important one. When you make your decision, we know it was not done lightly that it was hard to make this decision and you did the best you could in support of your family unit.

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Author Kimberly Didrikson has three small children aged 6, 4, and 2. Kimberly worked in corporate America for over 15 years before founding Learning Motherhood, an organization that helps women returning back to work after having a baby. Learning Motherhood creates customized programs to assist organizations in building a work environment that embraces families to strengthen company values, sustain and retain employees while attracting strong talent to their organizations. For daily support for working parents follow @learningmotherhood.