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  • Writer's pictureErica Winegar

Struggles as a working parent during COVID-19: resuming pre-pandemic life

As parents anxiously await a clearer decision about district plans for the upcoming school year, I find myself reflecting on the past few months and am in awe of how much has changed for my family.

June 1 marked a major milestone for us. After weeks of discussion and countless head-to-heart conversations, my husband and I decided to have our boys return to day care. We kept them home in quarantine for 70 days because of the pandemic. And with the exception of a few times where we asked our parents to help care for them while we managed our full-time jobs, the boys had no interaction with the outside world.

The day care has remained open during the pandemic, but we chose to have our boys stay home with us as we rode the waves of the shelter-in-place and stay home orders. We trust the day care owner and appreciate all he’s done to support his staff. He’s made sure to provide constant communication to families and ensure we are informed on all the additional procedures he’s put in place to keep the children and staff safe.

But even with these assurances, my husband and I were distraught over our decision; I had a rendition of the chorus from The Clash’s song “Should I Stay or Should I Go” stuck on repeat in my head. Like so many parents who have been struggling with this unsustainable lifestyle of working, teaching and caring for our children, we’ve been dealt a seemingly unwinnable hand: decide what’s next for your family.

I suppose the comforting part of this quandary is knowing that all parents are grappling with the same challenging decision. And while we recognized there was never going to be a “good” time for our one- and four-year-old children to return to a school and social setting they’ve greatly missed, we were plagued by the fact that we — and no one else, for that matter — have no idea how we would know when it would be safe to resume pre-pandemic ways of life.

The immediate benefits of our decision were abundantly clear during our countless conversations: the boys would regain what they’ve so desperately yearned for during quarantine (e.g., richer and more creative learning activities, friendships, playtime and just plain old variety!), both of us would be able to work “normal” hours and have a chance to tend to our own self-care, and we, as a family, could start processing how our new normal would operate going forward since the impact of COVID-19 is here for the long haul.

But the part that truly haunted my waking hours was the endless list of “what ifs.”

What if a child in one of our kids’ classrooms gets sick?

What if my kid gets sick?

What if we have to resume our quarantine routine?

What if this is a huge mistake?

What if…

Fortunately, we have successfully transitioned to this new life with COVID-19 practices in place. Our family’s experience is a snapshot of what some have already endured but what many more will be feeling soon, and what many hope to experience for the new school year.

The decisions of how and when we reacclimate to life with COVID-19 processes are far from easy. And given the flood of emotions we experienced, it highlights the give-and-take approach schools and businesses must negotiate.

If I can share any takeaways from my family’s experience, I can summarize them in the following ways:

1) Recognize that there isn’t going to be a clear “right” decision.

For me, this was the hardest part of the situation. Before, we had a clear direction from the governor to shelter in place. Now, it’s dependent on local school districts and the plans they implement for the new year, whether those plans involve in-person, distance or hybrid learning models. COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon. The best we can do at this point is to remain diligent in following the latest updates from our state and local leaders, and trust that we are making the best-informed decision we can possibly make for our families.

2) Learn to lean on your support systems.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s the value of our networks. As more people make the shift to resuming pre-COVID-19 activities, continue to reach out to loved ones and check in with them. This re-acclimation period is going to be another major phase of the pandemic, and we could all use the extra care!

3) Be kind to yourself.

As I shared in my previous post, it’s OK to feel overwhelmed. This situation has put us into uncharted territory, and we’re all treading water to simply survive. Even though COVID-19 has stressed us out in mind, body and spirit, let’s remember to give ourselves a little grace. We’re doing the best we can — we need to make sure we take a step back and take care of our personal well-being (because let’s face it, we have a long way to go before COVID-19 is past us).

This pandemic has tested parents in countless ways, and it will continue to do so as we navigate our family’s plans for the upcoming school year. As I say to my four-year-old: let’s take some deep breaths. Then we’ll take things one step at a time to figure out what’s next.

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Eden Prairie, MN 55347

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