The COVID-19 pandemic has been exposing many ways in which our society does things that simply do not function. From the environment, to how we treat grocery store workers, it’s clear that when this crisis is behind us, some things need to change.
One function of society that hasn’t been gaining much media attention, however, is how society treats families. We are encouraged to start families, live the “American Dream”, and yet when we do, we are given almost zero support. Nothing has highlighted this more than the coronavirus lockdown.
The Effect of Social Distancing on Families
Since schools and workplaces closed and the lockdown began, families have been struggling to adjust. For those lucky enough to be able to work from home and therefore maintain their income, they are currently being expected to work full time while also homeschool their children full time. For those who have been laid off, they are expected to stay positive while homeschooling so as not to worry the kids while figuring out how they are going to keep food on the table. (1)
This issue is a vicious circle: children, who are used to a certain routine of going to school, learning in a classroom with other kids, and getting to see their friends every day, have had that suddenly ripped away from them. Explaining to them the reason, especially to the majority of primary school kids, is very challenging. Though provided with support from schools and teachers, the onus of continuing their children’s education has been put on the parents. The parents, while trying to work remotely or navigate unemployment, are now trying to provide structure for children’s day while also being engaged and dedicated to their work. (1)
Ultimately this results in parents who are distracted at work and who can only be half-way dedicated to their children who are struggling to cope with this new situation. The kids get upset with the parents and act out, then the parents get upset with their kids and break down, and the circle goes around and around. (1)
Support for Families is Lacking
This lack of support and resources for families is not a new thing caused by the lockdown, it has just exposed this issue for the world to see. Think about it this way:
- The school day ends around 3 pm. Most working hours continue past that time, and yet after school programs are not available across much of the country. This becomes especially clear when you look at families in lower-income brackets. Not only do these lower-paying jobs often have vastly different hours than schools and even regular offices, but these families can’t afford the outrageously high cost of childcare. (2)
- The U.S. is one of the only countries that does not mandate paid parental leave for new parents. The only law that new parents can rely on to protect their job is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which protects your job for a mere 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption. It does not require you to be paid, it only prevents employers from giving your job to someone else during that time. Parental leave for fathers is nearly impossible to come by. (3, 4)
- There is no national requirement for paid sick leave in America. Parents end up having to take more sick days than most because of their children, whether it’s to go rescue a sick child from school or because they have to take their kid to an appointment that is in the middle of the workday. Most of the flexibility offered to them surrounding this issue is from their employer, many of who are more concerned about their bottom line than whether a parent can take care of their child who has the flu. (1, 5)
These are just three examples of how parents are largely unsupported in raising their children. Couples are encouraged to have children but then are told afterward that it was their decision and they just have to accept that they will have to struggle it out on their own.
The schools do their best, but often they lack funding, too – especially schools in the poorest neighborhoods. To top it off, teachers are not paid nearly what their job is worth and are expected to foot the bill for their own classroom supplies, which can cost upwards of $500 each year. (6, 7)
This system is broken, and everyone suffers because of it.
The Separation of Work and Family Life
Much of American society has been built on the idea that family life and work-life are two separate things, and whatever is happening to you at home should not be brought to the office. COVID-19 is proving more than ever how impossible this task is. Parents are not parents when they are with their children and employees when they are at work – they are both of those things 24/7. (1)
Change is Necessary
What the current system has built is one where parents are being forced to “just make it work”. Now, more than ever, parents are stressed to the max trying to balance being engaged at work and with their family. The children are frustrated, ridden with anxiety, and require more of their parent’s attention and energy. (1)
When this pandemic is behind us and people start returning to work, school, and their regular lives, one thing is clear: we can’t just go back to the way things were.
We must reconfigure how much work lies on overworked parents’ shoulders and better determine ways to support the families that are raising the future of the nation.