Parents are exhausted. Bone tired. Worn out.
Who can blame them?
For two years they’ve been on the will-they-or-won’t-they merry-go-round:
Will schools be open or closed?
Will the numbers start again or fall (or rise again)?
Will those sniffles be allergies or COVID?
Will we use a rapid test or have to hunt down a PCR?
Will we be leaving the house tomorrow, or be quarantining for days?
Will there be a new variant, symptom, exposure alert, wave, quarantine?
Will we ever find solid ground?
If it all seems very 2020, it’s not. The scariest days of the pandemic may have receded, but the uncertainty lingers on. “For two years, parents have had to constantly shift and change and be flexible,” says Ilene Serpa, Bright Horizons VP of communications. “You don’t know one day to the next if something’s going to be upended.” No wonder almost all of the parents we talked to told our Modern Family Index they’re routinely stressed at work and need more help.
Since spring of 2020, nothing about parenting has felt dependable. If 2019 ended with all of us blissfully blasé about the everyday routines we took for granted – playdates, grocery shopping, kids who went to school every day – the years that followed tossed it all to the wind. Today there’s no confidence about any of it. Not even toilet paper. And just when one worry subsides, another bigger one (baby formula) appears. Since the day words like “variant” and “PCR test” first entered our vocabularies, parents have had their noses permanently pressed against the glass, waiting for the sign saying we’ve reached the other side.
Yet, surprise! There is no sign. If we’ve learned nothing else over the last few months, it’s that COVID doesn’t have an “off” switch. There’s no “before” and “after.” There’s only this. And even as reopening continues to unfurl and we move into the next phase of whatever “this” is, working parents remain on guard for that other shoe.
And what of the kids? So much has happened in two years. The world may have stood still, but time marched on, leaving a hole where kids’ milestones were supposed to be: babies who passed into toddlerhood without ever seeing another child; middle schoolers who must feel like they practically beamed from their 2020 t’ween years into their teenaged selves; 20 year olds who are somehow staring down their waning days of college after never experiencing rites of passage like prom, orientation, or freshman dorms.
“So much was missed,” says Ilene. “If COVID ends tomorrow, that won’t go away.”
So where does that leave us? Ilene likes to think there’s some good here – the way we’re newly tuned into our own stress levels and the stress levels of others. The way we see the struggle of parents in a way we didn’t before. The way our old MFI study – the one where parents said they thought the very mention of a family could get them fired – feels mercifully out of date. There’s also the way we’re showing ourselves – and each other – newly generous amounts of grace as we try to navigate all the squishy. “Today, you can talk to your boss about it; talk to your supervisor,” says Ilene. “It feels like it would be more surprising if you’re still working in an environment where you can’t bring these issues forward.”
And maybe that’s the silver lining here -- that the pandemic brought it all to the surface. Our bosses see it. Our colleagues see it. We (at Bright Horizons) see it. But will it last? Will the world remember what it learned the last two years, or will it forget the lessons about working and parenting?
Like our forebears who were forever changed by depression-era fears, we can’t go back.
But, maybe, says Ilene, “five or ten years from now we’ll realize how this has positively changed the experience of working and parenting for future generations.”
How are parents coping right now? What do they need to rebound after the last two years? Join Bright Horizons experts as they dig into our 8th Modern Family Index and discuss “What Working Parents Need to Succeed.”