The Struggle Is Very Real For Working Parents Right Now

Despite their best efforts, many working parents are falling behind during the pandemic. Can anything be done?

by Adam Bulger
Originally Published: 

In January, many working parents entered the year with a clear view of the steps they needed to take to get their career to the next level. But as the great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. And the COVID-19 pandemic hit American working parents with a first-round knock-out blow.

With the economy in free-fall, unemployment booming, and pandemic anxiety impossible to avoid, professional milestones seem forever out of reach for parents. After months of being stuck at home with antsy children hungry for distraction and attention, parents are exhausted. No matter how hard we work, parents are falling behind.

“They’re saying ‘I don’t know how long I can keep this up for and ‘I’m burning the candle at both ends,’” says Daisy Dowling, CEO of Workparent, a consulting and training firm focusing on working parents. “We hear a lot of distress around feeling like I’m a failure in both places. ‘I’m not doing the work as well as I usually do’ and ‘I’m not parenting the way I want to.’”

The fact that parents are struggling to balance working from home and child care isn’t new. But after the initial months of head-downing it — because, what else could be done? — the realization is setting in. A July survey of 2,000 working parents commissioned by Torch found that 67-percent of Americans believe their employers underestimated the difficulty of working remotely with children at home.

“It’s harder to think about what workplace integration means when you’re working from your dining room,” says Dowling Daisy who has helped parents and employers handle work/life balance, time management and other issues facing working families since 2016. “It’s just ratcheted up the pressure.”

But Dowling stresses that while we’ve grown used to the pandemic, it remains a historic occurrence without precedence. “I don’t think that any organization or any parent had a playbook for what we’re going through right now,” she says. “In frontline manager training, they don’t teach you how to motivate working parents during a pandemic. As a result, many organizations may not have been as communicative or as out front with their support for them.”

Support is what working parents need. During remote schooling, parents of children too young to independently use computers need to be hands-on with their kids’ school work. It’s taking a large toll.

The responsibilities of parenting during Covid-19 seem never ending, says New York City teacher and father of three Tyler Moore.

“I feel like there is always more that I can be doing for my students, more that I can be doing for my girls, and more that I could be doing to help out around the house,” he says. “There is a weight that always seems to be on my shoulders and at times I can’t get out from underneath those feelings. I find that I have to cut corners in all areas of my life now and apologize when people seem to notice how the corners have been cut.”

Illinois father of two Ryan Youngberg says that when every day is Bring Your Child to Work day, distractions make concentrating on work impossible.

“Multiple times a day my 3-year-old will come upstairs and see my door is closed,” he says. “I’ll often hear his sad voice head back downstairs and say, ‘Aww, daddy is still in a meeting.’”

For parents of young kids, a locked door means little. “My son continuously knocked on the door saying, ‘knock knock, who’s there,’” he says. “This spiraled into crying and screaming before I had to stop my presentation to lock him downstairs with a baby gate while my wife was feeding our infant.”

Delaware dad of one and CEO of coupon code service Coupon Lawn John Howard found that social distancing lessened the choices he could make to make his company. For obvious reasons, opportunities to meet with prospective clients or his staff have been scarce for Howard and other small business owners lately. Parenting under lockdown made those dwindling options more challenging.

Online meetings can fill some of the gap. But they still require to be somewhere at a time and place.For parents under lockdown, maintaining the professional decorum needed to drum up business or rally the troops can be impossible.

“My son has now become my officemate, background music, distractor, and during our Zoom meeting, video star,” Howard says. “It’s frustrating and difficult.”

Howard’s far from the only working parent contending with Zoom meeting cameos from his kids. Quarantine forced New York City mother of one Rosalin Siv to run her bakery business, Evercake, from her apartment. With her toddler son always underfoot and her nanny staying home due to coronavirus concerns, her work days quickly became both stressful and comic.

“During customer calls regarding cake orders my son would yell that it’s his birthday too in the background and he wanted chocolate cake,” she says. “His birthday is in October, mind you.”

While many industries have slowed under COVID-19, others are booming. The stress and despair of lockdown has driven up demand for mental health services, for example. Unfortunately, some mental health professionals who have children say that parenthood prevents them from providing care.

Arizona therapist and mother of three Erica Tatum-Sheade found it impossible to be available in a moment when she was counseling a client about strategies for mindfulness.

“During a session with a parent discussing how to stay attentive and be present, my own child picked the lock on my office door and army-crawled over to me to whisper-yell what he needed,” she says.

Individual stories of kids sabotaging remote work are certainly cute. But it’s hard to escape the fear that over time they could snowball and become reasons to avoid working with parents, consciously or not. A kid throwing a tantrum during a teleconference sticks out in the memory more than a parent hitting a deadline.

While it’s understandable for working parent clients to worry that their careers won’t recover from the pandemic, Dowling says, those worries often aren’t grounded in reality. As she tells her clients, it’s important to remember that parents aren’t alone in the pandemic.

“When I’m working with people, I confront them with the fact that every single person in the world essentially is dealing with the same thing,” she says. “So your counterpart, whoever that is, may not have twin five-year-olds screaming through the background, but they have their own pressures.”

That may be. But many workers who don’t have children right now are simply able to do more and produce better results. Parents make up nearly 33 percent of the workforce. The current state of affairs just isn’t sustainable. Businesses need to realize the impossibility of what they require from working parents and provide them more flexibility and additional support.

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