It’s 4:37 a.m. I’m up early finishing work assignments due today. Yesterday — after homeschooling two boys around doing laundry, grocery shopping, preparing meals, etc. — I simply ran out of time.
It’s not that getting up in the wee hours to finish work is new to a single parent who works full-time. I worked from home pre-pandemic, and I’m accustomed to juggling professional and parental responsibilities. I recognize my privileges in working remotely and having a cooperative ex as a coparent. But the added strain of distance learning has been at best overwhelming and at worst catastrophic. I’m fucking tired. And I know I’m not alone.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 11 million single-parent families with children under the age of 18 in the United States — 80 percent headed by single mothers. That gender division is significant since single moms face additional social stigmas and pay disparities, adding more stress to their already heavy loads.
Western culture still holds many deep-seated sexist ideas about parenting roles, often placing unfair judgments upon working moms. I’ve never heard a working dad being asked why he doesn’t want to spend more time with his kids. Being a queer mom on top of that and, well, let’s just say the judgments never stop.
At 7:30 a.m., I’ve wrapped up most of the previous day’s work. I’m already exhausted. I’ve just realized that my 9-year-old is still in bed and needs to be online for his first live session of the day at 7:45! He’s on the autism spectrum. Rushing and being off routine ensures he’ll begin the day on a grumpy note. After brushing his teeth, throwing on some clothes, and tossing back breakfast, he’s online five minutes late.
I manage to get my middle-schooler up and starting his sessions on time at 8:30 a.m. By 9 a.m., I’m officially “starting” work with a new batch of assignments I’ll be scrambling to finish by tomorrow morning.
Throughout the day, there are technical difficulties, emotional meltdowns (mine and the boys’), burnt meals, and missed appointments (my special needs son meets weekly with speech and occupational therapy specialists). And I only have two kids living at home!
While specific situations and distance learning setups vary for parents across the country, there are common threads. Many have had to deal with pay cuts and huge life changes. For some, like me, financial changes are the result of working fewer hours to make time for homeschooling. Some parents have been forced to change jobs altogether or to move in with family to cope with the added responsibility. Many households are also dealing with technology-related barriers like poor (or no) internet or sharing one computer among several kids.
Parents across the board have had to continually adapt to survive as the months into the lockdown have rolled on. It’s been more than 180 days since schools first closed here, and it feels like we’re sinking into a way of life that’s not sustainable, mentally, physically, or financially.
Getting the kids back in school seems to be the only solution — but how do we do that safely? I wish I had the answer. Many parents are already stuck between the option of exposing their kids to a dangerous virus or not being able to afford to feed or house them. We’re struggling to just keep our heads above water.
In terms of salvaging my own mental health, I’m trying to let go of what others think and to accept what feels like an endless string of small defeats. I’ve long understood women can’t really “have it all,” but now I’m struggling to hold onto what we have left.
After making dinner, getting the kids showered and off to bed, and going through some emails, it’s now somehow past 10 p.m. and I can barely keep my eyes open. Time to hit the sack — and do it all over again tomorrow.