By MIKE MCGEE
The Dallas Examiner
“There is no playbook for what’s about to happen. Not a single person on this planet knows exactly how to handle life in the COVID era. Everything will feel overwhelmingly bad, and nobody can tell you for sure how to properly deal with it. The experts disagree, your friends disagree. You will just have to do your best and hope it’s enough.”
– Excerpt from A Letter to My Pre-Pandemic Self: Here’s What I Want You to Know
by Melody Akhavan Abbey of Dallas.MomCollective.com
Throughout the ongoing social distancing practices developed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, America has had to find a unique balance between the workforce and safety. One segment of society that has had to be skilled with such footing has been working parents, especially working mothers.
During the webinar “Working Parents During COVID-19,” presented by The Dallas Morning News, three mothers who have had to transition to working corporate jobs at home due to the virus discussed how they and their children have navigated the altered workscape. They also took questions from viewers during the live broadcast.
Elizabeth Souder, assistant opinion editor at the newspaper, began the video event by discussing personal challenges. She mentioned that she had three elementary-school-age children and works from home as her husband has continued to work outside the home.
Panelist Leona Allen, the publication’s deputy publisher, offered that she has worked from home since March.
“I don’t even remember what day this is, what week this is, we’ve been home, but I have a 16-year-old who’s a junior this year,” she said.
She noted her child engages in distance learning for Garland schools and will continue to do so until Sept. 8.
According to the 2019 edition of the report Breadwinning Mothers Are Increasingly the U.S. Norm by The Center for American Progress, 64.2 % of mothers were primary, sole, or co-breadwinners for their families in 2017.
The study also stated, 84.4% of Black mothers were primary, sole or co-breadwinners in 2017, compared with 60.3% of Latina mothers and 62.4 % of White mothers.
Allen, who is Black, said her daughter has taken over the home office, while she has found workspaces around the house and outside.
“I think even though we have a policy that [states] you don’t have to come to work and we can do our work from home, you have to have courage to ask your boss for what you need,” she affirmed.
She addressed the issue of employees asking employers for what they need to care for her family – such as a work-from-home option – even when co-workers get irritated.
“We still have, I think, some attitudes when we’re on Zoom calls; people, bosses, and even colleagues get annoyed when, ‘Ok, Sarah’s baby is crying.’ Well, we have to get over ourselves. Her baby needs to be taken care of. Her baby is going to cry,” she stressed.
Being able to meet with an employer to have a needs-based discussion may seem like a luxury for working mothers, but it is an initiative that the employee needs to take just the same, she explained.
“Hopefully, you have a boss who understands that, hey, this is an extraordinary time, we’re all trying to juggle so much, and sometimes it’s a matter of letting your boss know what you’re doing all day,” she continued, suggesting that sharing one’s burden with a higher-up might better clarify the request.
Safety concerns were also brought up in the online meeting, with questions about in-person learning and coping with reasonable caution versus giving in to panic.
Sarah Blaskovich, food reporter at the newspaper, spoke pointedly on the topic as she held her daughter, Brooke, during the live-stream.
Brooke was born in late March, after COVID-19 had been declared a national emergency March 13.
Blaskovich has worked from home since her maternity leave ended in mid-June.
She admitted that her other daughter, a 4-year-old, had returned to preschool since the she and her husband decided that safe social learning would best serve their child and the family.
“We’ve seen her throw fits like we’ve never seen her throw fits before, and it builds up,” Blaskovich said as she confirmed that the collective five months of social isolation for her daughter has been worse than the first month was.
“There is a noticeable difference in my four-year-old after just being at school for the last three days.” Yet, she said, even that decision came with an unexpected result.
“She went to school for two weeks, and on my second day back from maternity leave … a child at her school got COVID, the school shut down and we brought her home, and we got her tested.”
The writer confirmed that her daughter tested negative, but the incident illustrated that even a parent’s best plans cannot completely dispel the uncertainty of the times.
“Now, this is our reality and I bet people listening have experienced this already – and if you haven’t experienced it yet we all need to acknowledge that this might happen if you send your kid,” she expressed. “That’s a scary thing.”
The child with the illness ate at the same table as her child and they napped on the same floor.
“Since that day, since the middle of June, we’ve kept her home until August,” she said as she acknowledged that all of the preschool children are now wearing masks indoors, and her family wanted to continue forward as safely as possible.
She reported that her daughter has stayed healthy, is learning to read, write her name and is much happier when at home.
“That was a choice we made,” Blaskovich stated.
Learning pods, knowing one’s value, and always preparing a Plan B were a few of the notions that were examined in the hour-long presentation.
“We still have jobs to get done and it’s important to make sure that your boss knows that this work is going to get done,” Allen pointed out.
“I might be doing it at 9 o’clock when my kids go to bed, but I’m gonna get this done.”