Kelly O’Connor and her husband were both working from home even before California imposed stay-at-home measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Still, the sudden transition to home schooling her six children proved to be a lot. Luckily, her sister lives a few minutes away in the San Diego suburbs, so they could work out an arrangement to share schooling and child-care activities.
O’Connor’s sister has seven children under the age of five, including quadruplets, for a combined total of 13 kids between the two families. So on Tuesdays and Thursdays, O’Connor home-schools her 5-year old niece with her three older children, and her three preschoolers go to their aunt’s. With the help of two nannies, her sister cares for the nine youngest children.
“We’re following the [social distancing] rules, but we’re being realistic,” O’Connor said. “If the kids are together all day, then at 5:30 or 6 p.m. it’s dinner time, and we may as well have dinner together, so just one of us has to cook.”
As families adjust to the new landscape of the pandemic — home — some are finding it impossible to go without outside help from their extended families, nannies or caregivers.
“The reality outweighs the guilt,” O’Connor, who is in medical sales, said. “It’s a calculated risk where you balance your sanity and the kids’ education and your business.”
Amid a constant policing of behavior in public forums like social media posts as well as in real life, parents find themselves juggling new responsibilities in an anxious and changing world.
“Remember the witch hunts and dunking people in the public square? This kind of public shaming should have been over years ago,” Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, an early childhood development expert and professor of psychology at Temple University, said. As long as people are following social distancing guidelines, “having other people is a help.”
“It’s week five. We’re really lucky kids haven’t killed parents and parents haven’t killed kids yet,” she said.
Hirsh-Pasek, who wrote “Becoming Brilliant: What the science tells us about raising successful children,” called her younger son home from Brooklyn several weeks ago, and said parents should be allowed a large swath during these times. “We have to find ways to be kind to parents. They shouldn’t be living with guilt right now.”
As parents juggle with new responsibilities of caregiving, teaching, working from home and running the household, they can relax expectations and make do with a “B-plus job, instead of an A-plus.”
Even epidemiologists focusing on covid-19 research have to find a way to balance child-care choices and the public good.
Natalie Dean is an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida specializing in infectious disease. She made the decision to keep her nanny coming to care for her 2-year-old and 4-month-old as she researches the current pandemic.
“We all live in the real world and it’s challenging and we have to make smart decisions. Not everyone can do anything perfectly,” Dean said. “I made a decision it wasn’t going to be possible for me to get anything done without help. I decided it was net positive because all day I'm able to do this.”
“The key is thinking about your network and your bubble and who is entering and exiting, and what are the places disease can enter in,” Dean said.
A consistent network of people you see regularly is more important than a smaller network with different people, Dean said. The latter would put you at higher risk.
“If you’re every once in a while going to visit grandma, if every once in a while you’re seeing a new set of people, that’s when you have a risk about bringing people into your bubble,” Dean said.
For O’Connor, she and her husband both work from home, her sister and her brother-in-law work from home and her parents, who are both nearby and sometimes help with child-care, also work from home.
“It ends there, that’s as far as the circle goes,” she said.
The sheer size of her clan also allows for some pared down public exposure, O’Connor notes. “If I say I’m going to Costco, I’ll ask [my sister] and my parents if they need something. Only one person needs to go, and two families don’t have to, so we can team up.”
“We’re trying to find a balance. We’re trying not to freak out the kids,” she said. “It’s one thing to not see your friends and go to school. We have a huge family and they’re used to seeing them. Otherwise we would all be going crazy and drinking a tremendous amount.”