2020 has been a year. We’ve sanitized our groceries, homeschooled our children, and had difficult (but necessary) conversations about racism. Some of us have lost our jobs, said goodbye to loved ones and faced hardships we never expected. There’s no denying we are living, and parenting, in unparalleled times and this year, back to school season looks different than it ever has.
We sat down (virtually, of course) with three moms around the country to get a look at what the first day of school might look like and how their navigating decisions for their families.
None of this is normal, but we’re doing it anyway.
Jayme, Mom of 2 girls 10-years-old and 6-year-old, Upland, CA
What were your plans for the fall before COVID? I had enrolled my oldest in the same school as her sister, so I was going to have two kids in the same school on the same schedule!
What has your child’s school said about returning this fall? Our schools are doing mandatory distance learning until our area is no longer in a danger zone, so likely through the first semester at least. We’ll be doing school at home for the foreseeable future, but I’ll have to decide how comfortable I am sending them back in any capacity if/when schools do reopen.
How do you feel about returning to school this fall? I’m glad our school is doing distance learning—for me, the danger of community spread, of my kids or family getting sick, or of another child or teacher getting sick is too great.
What conversations have you had with your child about school this fall and how it may look different? My girls are pretty ok with it! They understand why they can’t go back yet, and they’re more concerned that we stay healthy and all their friends and beloved teachers stay healthy.
How is your child’s school situation going to impact your day-to-day? It’s going to be tough, for sure. I’m incredibly lucky to work for a company that is SUPER understanding and accommodating. But I foresee many, many late nights catching up on work in my future.
Taylor, Mom of 2 boys 20 months and 4 months, Pittsburg, PA
What were your plans for the fall before COVID? Ugh—so much. I try not to think about it because I get a little depressed. This fall is Noah’s second birthday and we were planning on going back to New York for Thanksgiving with my family since we haven’t been back since we left. We had five weddings for close friends that have all been canceled or postponed. Many of our friends are having babies or are pregnant through the fall and we’re sad we won’t be around to celebrate with them physically.
What has your child’s school said about returning this fall? Our daycare reopened in mid-July. We love them so much—they reached out to gauge everyone’s comfort, who would be attending and what days they’d like. They are taking daily temps for all adults and children, children over 2 years and all adults wear masks, no parents are allowed inside the facility for drop off or pickup, new cleaning procedures were implemented and classrooms function as a ‘pod’ (children would not co-mingle and teacher remain with the same children all day, in the same areas).
With a newborn at home, we really don’t take any chances. Noah has not returned to daycare and likely will not until at least 2021. We always wear masks when out, the kids don’t go into any establishments (they aren’t allowed in most anyway), we make trips to stores sparingly and do most through online orders. We don’t socialize indoors with anyone and, even outdoors, stay distant and limit any co-mingling to people we know are very careful (working from home, kids not in daycare, etc.).
How do you feel about returning to school this fall? Personally, we don’t find the reward to be enough to take the risk. We worry about Noah being exposed to COVID and then…what do we do? We cannot isolate him, we have a newborn in the same house in close quarters. It just wouldn’t work—we would all be assuming the risk. Our parents are also a concern. Our parents did not meet Theo until just a few weeks ago, so we were committed to remaining distant from others so that our parents could feel comfortable coming to visit us.
We also believe that we need to do our part in stopping the spread—since we both work from home, our children don’t necessarily need to be in daycare. While it’s inconvenient and lowers our productivity, we consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have employers who are committed to help us make it work with no childcare right now.
How is your child’s school situation going to impact your day-to-day? It’s been incredibly difficult. Noah is a really active toddler who absolutely loved daycare—his teachers, the activity, the playground, his friends. We’ve seen a definite change in him and his behavior since being home as he’s less stimulated while we try to juggle him, a newborn, and both of our jobs in a two bedroom apartment for now. TV watching has definitely increased, structured projects are few and far between. My husband works full-time and later into the night to give me some time to work in the mornings. For me, it’s nearly impossible to work more than 2-3 hours at a given time which is disappointing since I really enjoy working. Days are incredibly long and redundant. It’s hard not to feel like a parenting failure during this time but I’m trying to give myself some grace.
Lizzy, Mom of 1 girl 5-years-old, New York, NY
School pre-COVID: School was my daughter’s favorite place. She LOVED the school she attended, her teachers, and classmates. She would skip to school every day and wake up on the weekends lamenting that there wasn’t school that day. It was a really warm, nurturing environment. Just a very special place and we were so grateful that she had such a good experience in preschool.
What were your plans for the Fall before COVID? Before COVID we were in a sort of limbo, too. Our daughter was on a bunch of school waitlists and we didn’t know where she would end up going to Kindergarten. In my mind she was going to go to her first day of school in person- since any other option hadn’t even crossed my mind as a possibility. I was going to go shopping with her to pick out the perfect first day outfit, take her to get a haircut, take too many pictures, cry and hug her dad as we said goodbye. It is such a milestone day for parents and I had envisioned it being a really special day for our family, wherever she ended up attending.
What precautions is your child’s school school taking? All teachers and children will be required to wear masks. It is definitely a necessary precaution but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt to see kids in masks. It just hurts my heart. All of the kids I know are really great about wearing the masks and seem to be comfortable and unaffected by the concept but it’s just a little sad to see them. She’ll be in a much smaller “pod” of children that will be based on their neighborhood so they can potentially play outside of school together easily or parents can support each other with pick up and drop off if someone in the community has child care issues. They will be doing other things like shortening the school day, extra cleaning, and adjustments to their ventilation in the school building.
If your school is open in person, will your child be attending? We haven’t decided but right now I’m leaning towards having her go into school with the plan they have in place. The thing that keeps me up at night is the human connection she has lost, and will continue to lose, and how that will impact her as an adult and her mental health. I still remember so much of my kindergarten experience and I think these early education days are so important. I think if the infection numbers were higher in NYC or if she were in high school I would keep her at home for sure based on the data I’ve seen. Right now I’m ok with the plan to have just a handful of kids together in person.
How does your child’s school situation impact your day-to-day? For our family, school is childcare so it has had a huge impact. I’m lucky that I work for a company that takes those needs into consideration and I can be flexible but it can be extremely daunting to have to worry about how I will get everything done and some days I really feel like I’m drowning. It’s pretty common for moms in general to just be ok with putting the rest of the family first and pushing your needs to the side but this feels like a whole new level of ignoring my own needs, physically and mentally. It almost feels like the newborn stage in that I’m so hyper-focused on survival that I don’t even have time to think about how I’m doing or feeling. For now it’s ok and I just keep telling myself it isn’t forever. One day at a time.