Written by Natalie Prunty
Today the switch happened. After weeks of blue skies and warm temperatures lingering past the first official day of fall, I woke up, looked out the window, and let out a huge sigh.
It was gray and rainy.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good rainy day. But normally when fall hits, bringing relief with chilly wet weather, there isn’t also a global pandemic going on — forcing my husband and myself to work from home with our almost-one-year-old. But this year, that’s our new normal.
Most parents have been just barely figuring out how to piece life together these past 7 months and our family is no different. My husband and I have survived as WFH parents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with a special blend of the following:
- reduced hours (and pay) for my husband
- the ability to work mostly from home
- understanding employers
- the abundance of outdoor activities in and around where we live in Pittsburgh
- and nice weather — the glue holding it all together
I can count the ways we have slid through this pandemic lucky (no close personal death or sickness, the ability to work mostly from home, the retention of most of our income, more time with our son, not having school-aged children i.e. the stress of virtual schooling, etc.)
Yes, we are lucky. But working while being a parent right now is so very hard, no matter what a family’s particular situation is. This pandemic is not over yet, and most of those things are still subject to change. One thing that will not change is Pittsburgh weather.
Every year, we look forward to 140 days of precipitation and a long winter. This means at least 140 days that my husband and I won’t be able to easily slip out of the house with our son for hours at a time while the other one works. Yes, we’ll work towards being more like the danish — lots of time outside all year round with the help of wool layers and this yellow cuteness we bought.
But I don’t expect my then 1.5 year old son to be outside during a Pittsburgh winter for 5-6 hours straight. They’ll come home for warm drinks and lunch after 30 minutes max, and in a small old brick home with no home office, I’ll try to work with the distraction of a sweet boy crying for mama, the cutest giggles, or the sound my husband’s own Slack ping notification going off in the background waiting for him. I’ve already seen the articles begin to come out with recommendations for parents who are worried about winter already.
And we’ll figure it out. Parents are special, because in being parent, we have skills for the workplace that only each phase — the unknowns of pregnancy and birth, hazy newborn days, patience-trying toddlerhood, and balance of school-aged — can lend.
We know that all phases, good or bad, don’t last forever. This pandemic will end. We also know that life is always easier with a village. Even though villages look different right now, they still exist, and Virtual Childcare is at the forefront.
My son can’t utilize virtual childcare yet. He can hardly stay on a video chat with his grandma for longer than 30 seconds without being distracted by the dog. For working moms with school-aged children, it does work, and I am proud that we offer it. It’s a different kind of screen time. It’s interactive, engaging, and fun for kids.
As I wrote this, I sat on the porch as a friend’s two children, ages 9 and 7, chased chickens in the rain in my backyard. My friend had a doctor’s appointment and didn’t have any back-up childcare options. Her options were me, a socially distant, masked-up babysitter, leaving her kids to wait in the car (an obvious non-option) or cancelling her appointment. Her kids were entertained enough by my backyard for the less-than-hour appointment, but even by the last 20 minutes, they were edging closer and closer to the porch, asking for snacks, and wanting my attention.
It gave me a peak into life as a working mom with school-aged kids at home — just how hard it can be to carve out more than 5 minutes at a time to type an email, let alone be undisturbed on an important video call for over an hour. So many working moms don’t have someone they can call at the last-minute, willing to watch their kids from afar. Even then, my productivity tanked for the hour, but I desperately wanted to help my friend who had nowhere else to turn. My friend and I are not utilizing on-site daycare facilities. We’re not alone. 64% of recent survey respondents are at least somewhat uncomfortable returning their children to day care or school, and 35% are very uncomfortable doing so.
It made me even more proud to work on our Virtual Childcare offering here at Flexable. In this virtual world, it’s hard to see the impact. I don’t see the parent who gets an extra chunk of time to do what they need to do, so they can then shut the computer and fully be with their kids. I don’t see the working mom — who has split her brain between her kids’ school work and her inbox, going back and forth every 10 minutes from morning past bedtime — the moment she gets a full hour, uninterrupted. It must be a glorious sight to behold.
My friend returned and I waved goodbye as they drove away, typing more steadily from my porch. The rain started coming down more heavily, and I looked at the time realizing my husband would be home soon with my son. We’d switch for the day, and I’d be working the best I could from my phone all afternoon while my son pulled every item off the bookshelves of our living room and chased the dog.
I’m grateful to work for an employer like Flexable who gets it and is supportive that I’m a working mom during a pandemic. They get it, because they’re living it too. We’re a team of working moms who are feeling so stretched, so tired, and so frustrated by the current expectations for all working parents that we’re doing something about it.
So, if you have school-aged children and the end of warm, summer weather has you anxious, know that you’re not alone and that there are working moms out there trying to invent creative positive solutions to be your virtual village. We’re in this together.