Parenting during a pandemic: Parents juggle work, childcare and the unknown

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Graphic by Catherine Buchaniec

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, parents are working from home while simultaneously caring for their children. Many parents don’t know when child care will resume.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Weeks ago, Denise Barreto’s house was quiet. Her 14-year-old son attended high school locally and her 18-year-old daughter lived in California for college. Barreto, an entrepreneur who owns two companies, was busy working with clients every day.

Then, COVID-19 changed everything.

Schools canceled in-person classes and Barreto’s work abruptly dwindled. Everyone was suddenly — and unexpectedly — back under one roof.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, parents have navigated uncharted territory, working from home while simultaneously caring for their children. Barreto works from home, although her income is a fraction of what it was before the pandemic. At the same time, she said she keeps her kids on track with their online classes and constantly worries about the state of the world.

Barreto said she’s been “hustling” for the past few months.

“As a parent, you can’t wallow in this moment,” Barreto said. “I have to keep going and hold it down at home.”

After weeks of sheltering at home, many parents don’t know when child care will resume. Ashley Dalmau Holmes, the mom of a toddler and a newborn, said the unknown is “really scary.”

Dalmau Holmes, a lawyer, is currently on maternity leave. However, the pandemic disrupted the childcare arrangements she had planned for the future. Her husband, a stay-at-home father, planned to care for the kids with help from his mother. Additionally, she expected her daughter to attend a half-day toddler program. Now, Dalmau Holmes said everything is in flux.

“It’s a lot to have two kids under two,” Dalmau Holmes said. “I’m lucky that I’m on leave right now, but I can’t imagine what life is going to look like when I go back.”

Skokie’s Mosaic Early Childhood Center is offering emergency child care services for essential workers. Director Erum Jumani said Illinois issued the center an emergency child care license in March. The center operates under strict health and safety parameters. For example, the center monitors employees and kids’ temperatures throughout the day and frequently sanitizes classrooms.

To be eligible for emergency child care, essential workers must meet specific requirements, Jumani said. Following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s guidelines, parents must prove they’re essential workers who either work from or outside the home.

If parents send their children to Mosaic, all those ages 6 weeks to 12 years old who live in the household must attend. Additionally, if children live with an individual 60 years or older, they are automatically disqualified. Jumani said these criteria are stringent, but necessary.

“We tell parents that we would rather they keep their children at home,” Jumani said. “But we understand that for some, that’s just not possible right now. We’re a resource.”

Steph Meyers, an Evanston-based therapist, currently sees patients through a telehealth platform. She has two children, a sixth-grader and a ninth-grader. Meyers said her kids don’t need as much hands-on care compared to younger children, but they still require some supervision, especially with school work.

“We’re towards the end of the school year, and I don’t think there’s a single parent who is not grateful for that,” Meyers said. “Teachers, parents and students are becoming fried as the days go on.”

Meyers said many of her patients are parents, so she has observed different ways they’re handling childcare, work and stress due to the coronavirus. Overall, Meyers said the difficult scenarios people are facing is creating a “pressure cooker.” Clinical psychologists believe they’re seeing the beginning of a mental health crisis, she said.

“I’m concerned about the toll the pandemic is taking on people mentally and emotionally,” Meyers said. “I’m on pins and needles about it.”

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Twitter: @zoermalin

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