On my first day back to work after the holiday break, I had barely sat down at my desk before my phone started blowing up.
“This morning’s remote learning is going really well…” one friend texted, alongside a picture of her 6-year-old son pointing a toy bow and arrow at her as she was trying to check work emails.
Another friend sent me a stream of angry emojis explaining that her son had been exposed and daycare was now closed until January 13. He had been there for less than an hour. Did this mean she had to pull her older kid out from school? Probably. Maybe. She wasn’t sure.
And these were messages from parents who had decided to risk exposure by sending their kids into school. Another friend texted me late last night saying she was going to keep her 2-year-old home from daycare for the month of January until “things calmed down.” When I asked her what that looked like, she replied that she wasn’t actually sure. “I feel like I’m going insane,” she added. And she’s not alone.
While many people have resumed normal life post vaccination with restaurant visits, social gatherings and old routines, in the midst of the current Omicron variant surge, the majority of parents feel like they have traveled back in time to March 2020. And while the logistics of parenting during a pandemic are difficult enough to navigate, it’s the emotional roller coaster and mixed messaging that has many of us feeling like we’re losing our damn minds right now. Here, specifically, are the things that are making life hell for parents right now.
A lack of tests
Schools across the country are delaying the return to class and some even moving to remote learning, citing attempts to combat the spread of the Omicron variant or because too many staff members have contracted the virus to open. For those schools that are staying open, many are requiring proof of a negative COVID test for students. This seems like a sound strategy on paper but there’s one big problem—there aren’t any tests to be found.
“There definitely is a problem right now with testing supplies, and that certainly does impact mitigation,” Linda Mendonca, president of the National Association of School Nurses, told USA Today on Monday. And even if you do manage to get your hands on a rapid test, they’re often exceedingly expensive. (I recently ventured to a nearby pharmacy after a parent from my son’s school had posted on Slack that there were some available, only to discover they were charging $40 for two tests.) Without easy access to testing, how can parents fulfill school requirements or be certain that they are sending their kids into class virus free?
A lack of government support
“Parents have been left behind over and over again in this pandemic,” mother of 3-year-old Caleb tells us. And moms, in particular, have been dealt a bad hand. Per the U.S. Department of Labor, more mothers left the workforce than fathers this pandemic. And in a recent survey, 58 percent of mothers reported that worry or stress related to the coronavirus has negatively affected their mental health, citing the increase in their unpaid work (both childcare and housework) along with increased job loss as reasons why. The Child Tax Credit sought to ease some of that burden. The payments that started in July helped millions of families across the country pay for living essentials such as food, rent and child care. But now the benefit is ending, right as the latest COVID surge is keeping parents home from work and upending childcare arrangements for families yet again.
But perhaps this lack of support for parents—mothers in particular—should come as no surprise. The United States, after all, is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t offer some form of paid family leave for parents. The cessation of the Child Tax Credit is just another example of a lack of support for families at a government level.
A lack of clear guidance
After many late night meetings last week and email updates over the weekend, Juliana was informed that her 4-year-old daughter’s school was going to do half days only and all outside. But then the weather forecast showed heavy snow on Monday morning, so administrators decided to test the kids instead and bring everyone inside for the day. As for tomorrow’s plan? Well, she has no idea.
As frustrating as the ever-changing school guidelines are, Juliana recognizes that it’s not the school’s fault. The information from health officials and the CDC, as it relates to children and school, is difficult to digest.
“I wish the CDC website could just have one of those old-school Cosmo quizzes that’s like a flowchart, where if your kid has this symptom, you should do this, or if you’re in this situation then you should do that,” one mom told us.
Not to mention the fact that different states, towns and schools are interpreting the guidelines in different ways. Where I live, for example, if a parent tests positive for COVID then the child should be pulled out of school for 24 days. (When I first read that, I thought it was a typo and that they meant 24 hours but no, it’s days.) I asked my mom friends in New York City (a mere ten minutes away from me) what they would have to do in that situation, and no one had heard of a 24-day quarantine.
Unclear guidelines mean that schools and parents have been left to their own devices to make their own decisions, without any guarantees that they’re making the “right” choice. This constant questioning of judgement and decision making is stressful, to say the least.
There’s no denying that the vaccine was a vital turning point in this pandemic, and something that parents are exceedingly grateful for (particularly those who have kids ages 5 and up). But as has been the theme for the last 22 months, parents are still not OK. A lack of testing, government support and clear guidance has left many of us exasperated and drained. While we know that there are so many challenges of this pandemic that are out of anyone’s control, please, don’t make us question our own sanity.