Dear Parents and Caregivers,
In this week’s Jackson Hole News & Guide I talk about how school and childcare closures can impact parents in two very important ways: the ability to go to work, and parents’ mental health. I also talk about how these closures impact the economy.
The ripple effects of the coronavirus have had a significant impact on the mental health of parents. Seventy-one percent of American parents are reporting that managing their children’s distance/ online learning is a significant cause of stress and 70% are reporting the same about meeting their family’s basic needs (i.e., food, housing). Parental burnout is real and on the rise.
If you feel you are headed in this direction, I invite you to reach out. If your family dynamics are challenging, don't wait until you’ve reached the edge. If cost is a barrier, know that I never want to turn away families because of an inability to pay. I offer a sliding scale to work with individual family budgets and work virtually with families one-on-one or in groups.
Finally, after reading my column, consider this. If schools and childcare centers must close, and you are creating at home learning pods, would you be willing to include families who may not have the ability to do this themselves?
Be well, go hug your kids, and take good care of yourselves and others.
With love and faith in you,
School, child care closures have trickle-down effects
JACKSON HOLE NEWS & GUIDE:
In the last several months, COVID-related school and childcare center closures have necessitated that parents all over the world make the tough choice between going to work and caring for their children.
It has taken a global pandemic for us to realize just how important both quality affordable childcare and in-person schools are not only to family well-being, but also to employers and the economy.
Without care for our children, parents cannot work. It’s amazing how much we take this for granted. If parents can't work, they can't pay their bills -- put food on the table, keep the lights on, have stable housing. But it doesn’t stop there. If parents can't work, employers lose their workforce. Without a workforce our economy declines.
Ironic how our undervalued and underfunded system of childcare and education fuel our nation.
The Brookings Institution reports that in 2018, 33.5 million workers had children under the age of 14. That’s 26% of workers who rely on schools and childcare so that they can go to work. As an employer, imagine losing a quarter of your workforce.
Some parents have no option but to be physically at their workplace. If they want to keep their jobs, they have to leave the home. This especially impacts families living below the poverty line who often don't have the option of working from home and cannot bear the financial hardship of one parent quitting their job to care for the children. So they cobble together childcare hoping it is safe, or ask an older sibling to care for the younger ones who thus have to sacrifice their own education.
The work-childcare dilemma also disproportionately impacts women. Working mothers are often the ones to quit (or lose) their jobs and stay home. This exacerbates the choice women have to make between their children and their careers, makes it difficult to secure a stable income, and may contribute to earning gaps and employment rates of women. And because 81% of single parents are women, the challenges are even harder for mothers who are single (of whom over a third live in poverty), and especially impacts women of color who are mothers.
Other working parents have the privilege, flexibility and access to technology to work from home. Yet this creates another dilemma. Those who can work from home are faced with the impossible balancing act of caring for and educating their children while trying to put in quality working hours.
This is not sustainable from either side. It is hard to imagine that the quality of work of a parent who is also trying to manage their child’s education, safety and well-being is not diminished -- especially for those who find the only time they can work is through the wee hours of the morning. And, the stress of all this can create a strain on the parent-child relationship.
Regardless of whether parents work within or outside the home, when they are stressed and exhausted it leaves them little capacity to interact with their children and teens through disagreements, defiance and normal behavioral challenges. When these behaviors are exacerbated due to learning differences or by the anxiety and loss children feel from a socially distant world where their routines are in upheaval and they can't see their friends, we can see parents at their wits end. They don’t have the reserves to respond to their children effectively.
Parental burnout is a psychological phenomena defined by Psychology Today as “physical and emotional exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed, emotional distancing from one's children, and a sense of being an ineffective parent” and can result from high levels of parenting-related stress caused by a lack of resources to meet the demands of being a parent. In extremes it is a risk factor for child abuse and neglect.
We can't give our children what we don't have. It can be hard for a child to learn emotional regulation, problem solving skills, and a plethora of character traits without a parent who is an interested and calm presence, is emotionally present and models patience, empathy and resilience in the face of challenge.
Parents are at an increased risk of parental burnout due to the trickle down effects of a lack of childcare, financial insecurity and decreased social support caused by COVID-19.
In some ways it seems as if we are between a rock and a hard place. Working parents rely on school and childcare systems to participate in the workforce and maintain a healthy relationship with their children -- an economic recovery relies on the same. Yet our uncertain future in which COVID cases could skyrocket may not allow these systems to function.
Teton County, Wyoming schools have done their best to open in a way that they believe is safe and allows for the childcare that working families desperately need. They are hopeful that schools will be able to resume in person full time in months to come. Yet the future is uncertain and whether schools and childcare centers stay open remains to be seen.
This is not just a family problem. It is a societal and economic problem. Solutions may seem daunting and it is hard to plan for the unknown, yet some of our community non-profits, agencies, and elected officials are beginning to consider the problem and discuss ideas.
In the meantime I invite you to begin considering three things: 1) what is your backup plan to care for your children if schools and childcare centers must close -- and would you be willing to include those who may not have the ability to implement such plans (ie., homeschool pods, hiring in-home childcare, etc.)? 2) how do you take care of yourself? Just as you recharge your cell phone every night, you need to do the same for yourself; and 3) work toward understanding the world from your child’s perspective when you approach them in any interaction, especially during times of challenge.
Rachel Wigglesworth has an M.Ed. in Parent and Family Education and is excited to explore the world of raising children with you!