This is an S.O.S.
Over the last few weeks, working parents across the country have been collectively holding their breath. Wishing, hoping, and praying that schools will open and stay open. I dropped my kids off for their first day of school last week and I felt like I had won the lottery.
I woke up at 5 a.m. My husband and I made lunches, including Post-It notes with knock-knock jokes on them. We had their outfits picked out the night before, set out a healthy breakfast of fruit and Cheerios (OK, yes, and a half a donut each, it was the first day of school after all), and helped them put on their masks and backpacks with all their school supplies.
After dropping them off, I skipped down the street. I shouted once or twice in pure delight at random strangers. I almost organized a flash mob dance in the middle of Jersey City.
For working parents like me, kids being in school full-time means the following: I get about six hours of uninterrupted work. I get to go to the bathroom alone during the day without a kid banging on the door asking when I’ll be done or running in when I’ve forgotten to lock the door. I have to only focus on muting myself on my Zoom calls. About my husband eating all of the snacks. I get to eat lunch alone, with no one swiping my chips or the slices of cheese nestled in my sandwich.
And the most important thing: I get to miss my kids and they get a chance to miss me.
However, the joy I felt was fleeting. I’m hearing from friends whose kids’ classrooms and schools have already shut down. I’m reading articles about the surge in the delta variant and its impact on kids. I’m researching when vaccines will be available for kids under 12. I’m bracing myself for when my kids’ classrooms will shut down; it seems almost inevitable. And, ultimately, when I’ll be forced to begin my second stint as the teacher, the cook, the referee, and the full-time CEO again–our home’s Chief Entertainment Officer.
Working parents are not OK. We are stressed. We are on edge. Some of us saw glimpses this summer of our old life, where we were able to travel, see grandparents again, and even leave our kitchens to go to restaurants. We are scared our children will contract the new delta variant, and feel ourselves retreating back into our homes, shutting our windows and doors.
Many offices have announced that the long-anticipated return to office plans have been delayed at least until the beginning of next year. And I want to scream at the top of my lungs! I want to put on a dress and high heels, have my commute, and be back in the office. I want to go to the bathroom alone and eat lunch alone. I want to be able to have in-person adult conversations with my coworkers again. But I have no energy left to scream. Because I can barely muster a whisper.
So here’s my plea: Don’t force us back into the offices when we are living day-to-day, toggling between in-person and virtual schooling. Because it’s this simple: If daycare centers and schools don’t stay open, we have no one to watch our kids. There is no choice but for us to be back at our kitchen tables, the corner of the couch, or a spot in the hallway.
Don’t cut back on all the benefits you previously rolled out. Now is the time to double down and invest again in caregiver stipends, mental health services for both adults and kids, and access to after school virtual activities.
Don’t send us another bottle of wine. Think of inclusive gifts if you want to say thank you and show appreciation to working parents. Get to know our kids and think about what is age-appropriate: meal vouchers, board games, iTunes gift cards, a surprise pizza for dinner, a box of arts and crafts, books, donuts, a balloon delivery, or maybe even an entire chocolate cake.
Finally, don’t pretend that this isn’t happening. The divide between working parents and those without children in their care is continuing to grow. We wish we could meet you for a drink, work in person and collaborate, or come to a live team offsite. And we can’t. Our kids may be virtual again soon, if they aren’t already. We may not have the privilege of having stable child care. We may not feel safe coming to see you; sure, we are vaccinated, but many of our kids aren’t yet. Just because we can’t be there in person doesn’t make us any less committed, less dedicated, or less ambitious. We are some of the strongest individuals you will ever meet–because, despite it all, we are still standing.
So employers, please show up for your working parents. Please don’t ignore them. Please don’t abandon them. This pandemic is not over. Winter is coming. And I predict this will be a very long winter for working parents.
Mita Mallick is the Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta and loves living in Jersey City with her husband and two young kiddos.
This is an S.O.S.
A working mom gives a plea to employers everywhere: Cut working parents some slack. This pandemic is not over.