Many, many kids aren’t going to school next year, bringing a true crisis moment for working families across America. If you don’t have school-age children, telling parents whether we should send our kids back to school is as helpful as when you shared a color-coded chart of what we should do with our kids in the spring. Actually, though, we need serious support, and here are some tips to help you help the parents in your workplace:
Put your own neck out there: You be the one to bring up the question with HR and leadership. So, I’m sure you’ve noticed schools aren’t reopening. What policies as an organization are we implementing to make sure we give our parents what they need to keep their jobs? Are there any suggested steps I can take individually to help my parenting colleagues? When you’re the one to bring it up, you’re taking the burden off us. Truth is, many parents are terrified of losing our jobs right now. It helps to have you at our back.
Normalize conference calls instead of Zoom calls. Thank you to those of you who are gracious about seeing our kids running around. That’s kind of you. It’s still stressful even when colleagues are understanding. Regardless of the childcare crisis of the moment, most work meetings don’t need to take place by video.
Normalize men in opposite-sex couples doing domestic work. The current crisis for parents is crushing women in particular, with many opposite-sex couples relying upon women to do their jobs and educate their children, and statistical reporting during the pandemic bears that out. So, normalize men needing to take care of their kids during the workday. Also, non-parent men can help out here as well, by normalizing men doing house chores and making it clear you’re doing so by weaving it into your small talk.
Recognize that many of your parenting colleagues have been going through agony over the past few weeks, and cut us a break. If you’re not on the listservs and Facebook groups and getting the constant texts and the emails from other parents, much less not looking at your own child and wondering how they will get the education and programs they need and how you will keep your own sense of mental balance during this extreme crunch upon us, you probably don’t know. I can say from personal experience that, when my school district was still offering a decision of hybrid or distance learning (it’s all distance learning now because America gave bars and restaurants priority), I had the two most difficult weeks of my experience thus far during the pandemic.
Put pressure on your elected officials. As I’ve written before: In leaving out childcare, our COVID economic relief packages have been sexist as hell. What families are currently experiencing is a societal problem, and it demands societal solutions. Demand paid leave, emergency childcare relief, and food assistance to needy families.
Donate to food pantries serving children and families, no questions asked, and volunteer to help. Schools do many important things, including making sure children from low-income families have access to high-quality, nutritious food. If you have time and/or physical resources to do so, this is a great place to pitch in.
Stay home. The single most effective thing we can do to create an environment where schools can reopen is to bring infection rates down. Just stay home. As our nation continues to shatter records for daily infection rates, no restaurant should be offering indoor dining. Just because they are doesn’t mean you should go.