No days off: Families adjust to life with COVID-19
By Sydney Clark
Alison and Eric Roach are working from their Hyattsville home full time while caring for their 3-year-old daughter, Lily.
In an attempt to balance work and family, they’re alternating roles every day. If it’s Alison’s day with Lily, her husband Eric concentrates on work, and then they swap roles again the next day. The cycle continues.
“There’ve been no days off,” said Alison. Easter Sunday was the only exception.
To try to stay consistent, the Roaches keep two schedules posted on a wall near the kitchen.
Despite their efforts to keep the household running, the realities of being home full time with their daughter can be overwhelming at times, as Lily craves their undivided attention.
“She’s never needed us more, and I’ve never felt more unavailable,” Alison commented.
The Roaches’ work-family juggle during the pandemic is not unique. Many parents are also homeschooling their children.
Maryland schools closed in March, and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) began teaching children online April 14. Gov. Larry Hogan announced on May 6 that schools will be closed for the remainder of the year.
Hyattsville families are hardly alone in their struggles, to balance responsibilities and demands during this difficult time.
And while navigating the demands of work and family during the pandemic can be hard, it’s possible, according to Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, a University of Maryland psychology professor specializing in parenting and parent mental health. The focus needs to be on “those things we can control.”
Chronis-Tuscano has two boys, ages 9 and 11. She said that developing and maintaining routines around sleep time, wake time and mealtime can help create some normalcy during this time of uncertainty.
“It’s not realistic for most parents to have a really rigid schedule during this time, but I think that being able to kind of do things around the same time [each day] helps,” she said.
But even with a flexible schedule, meal planning can be frustrating at times, said Roach.
Jennifer Anderson, a local registered dietician, said parents have reached out to her with questions and concerns about putting food on the table during the pandemic. She often hears from parents who question the value of canned food.
Anderson noted that canned food can have a lot of nutrients. “People should never feel bad that they’re using a shelf staple food to take care of themselves in a time like this.”
Frozen food has about the same nutrient profile as fresh food, and sometimes even better because it’s often flash frozen on site, according to Anderson.
Consistency around meals is important for children, especially during uncertain times, because it helps them gain a sense of security. Since children are at home, snacking can be tempting.
Anderson recommended making a snack schedule during the day to create structure for children and reduce stress for parents. Two or three snacks are sufficient.
“Have a snack time in the morning, make sure it’s balanced, has a protein food, a fruit or vegetable with it,” Anderson noted. “Make sure you have an afternoon snack, and make sure it’s scheduled so kids know when they can depend on it.”
Mandy Sheffer and her husband, Thomas, have two boys, 3 and 7. Thomas works from home, and Mandy generally stays with the boys during the day and juggles in running the family’s small business, Curated Play Spaces, remotely.
She encourages her sons to be physically active and tries to include outdoor play in their daily routine.
“My focus is just making this time less stressful for them as possible because they miss their buddies,” Sheffer says.
Anne Baum has two girls, ages 8 and 11, who started their distance learning April 14. She is thankful that the girls’ online classes have been “more asynchronous learning,” allowing them to tackle required work on their own time.
Baum described their living room right now as “command central.” She and her spouse brought their computer monitors from their work offices so they could function more efficiently at home.
Depending on the weather, one of them will go outside and sit on the back porch for a Zoom meeting or work call, while the other continues working in the living room.
“We have issues with Wi-Fi, so we’re really finding snatches of time to do work whenever we can, whether that be schoolwork or work-work,” Baum said.
The girls have been responding fairly well to the pandemic and the way it’s changing their lives, even assisting Baum with making face masks to donate. Baum has been doing the sewing, and the girls have been picking out fabric and doing the cutting and ironing.
Baum said she misses spending quality time with her Hyattsville friends and neighbors.
But the family has been practicing gratitude and appreciating what they do have: jobs, good health and each other.
Anderson echoed that sentiment: “Times like this, you just go back to the basics.”