it feels impossible to be a working mom with little kids

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

My question is rooted in an issue I think a lot of working moms with kids under five must be facing right now.

I have two small children, one who is just barely two and a four-year-old. Since Covid started when I was on a leave of absence with my youngest, born January 2020, I’ve just never felt settled or on top of my job. I’m consistently two months behind on my work and my daycare keeps closing for either positive cases or exposures. Every time this happens I’m left to work from home or take unpaid leave. I’m out of PTO, which I get a generous amount of but it’s all been used on staying home with my children while daycare closes. My husband is now recently out of PTO as well and since he earns the higher wage, it just makes sense for me to be the one watching the kids while he works. Also, there’s no more Covid pay or family tax credit to ease these breaks where I no longer get paid, so I truly have to work from home. My work expects me to work in person because I’m vaccinated, but my kids keep getting sent home. It feels impossible. My employer lets me work from home, begrudgingly, only because my only other option is not working at all. I’m the only person at my company who does my specific job. These weeks I’m “checked in” on constantly, whereas in person I wouldn’t even hear from my boss.

Working from home is pure hell. I have to wake up at 4 am and work until my kids are up, work while they nap and then work once they go to sleep. I will still get urgent calls during the day and while I have an assistant she just isn’t equipped to handle most of these tasks. So this means I’m usually busy with work or children from 4 am to 11 or 12 at night.

I have no time for myself. I barely recognize myself. My husband is a fantastic helper but since his shifts are typically 12 hours, a lot of this responsibility lands on me. There is no one to help with the kids when school is closed and I feel like it would be irresponsible for me to expose anyone to them during this time anyway. They are too young to be vaccinated and only the four-year-old wears a mask.

I guess my question is how are other moms doing this? I’m doing a bad job at work, I hate the feeling of being behind, I hate being so busy all day everyday and then on top of it my work is so broken up I’m not able to put in a 40-hour week or get a full paycheck … ever. I’m working harder than ever and getting nothing out of it.

This is my third quarantine since November. I hate working from home. I hate putting my kids at risk. I just want to go into the office and have my kids to go to school but with the Omicron variant, it’s not just my daycare that’s in a constant state of closures, it’s everywhere. My coworkers who are moms rely on family, but that’s not an option for me.

I just don’t feel like I’m able to work any more and it makes me so upset because I’ve worked very hard and if I can do my job, I like it and excel at it. I’m getting emails telling me of things I need to work on and getting comments joking that I’m never at work. It seems like there’s no end in sight. Does someone like me just give up and stay with my kids? Am I giving up my job when this is probably never going to get better anyway? Two years in and I’m not feeling any better, it’s actually consistently getting worse. I’m going to lose clients and I’m just lost. No answer is a good one.

A lot of people are in your shoes right now and I don’t think there are good answers (and it’s why so many women have dropped out of the workforce completely in the last two years, which is not a good outcome). Readers, what thoughts do you have?

{ 1,076 comments… read them below }

    1. GRA*

      Co-signed. There are no good options right now. I’m sitting at my desk at work crying right now, because I feel this letter so much.

      1. BeezLouise*

        Another unfortunate note of solidarity. It is really, really hard right now.

        My son’s kindergarten just called us to come pick him up because he’s sick, meanwhile tomorrow is somehow the 100th day of school and another mom is texting me about designing shirts or something… tonight? I just can’t make that happen. I’m sorry.

        I’m completely underwater at work and at home, and I feel like I’m all alone in figuring out how to make everything work. I’ve passed out the last two nights at 8pm and I have piles of clean and dirty laundry — all needing processing, and my house is a trainwreck. I just can’t do it all.

        I keep trying to just lower my expectations for myself — maybe OP could go part-time at work for awhile?

          1. Empress Matilda*

            Seriously. Forget the shirts, just send him to school with 100 Cheerios or something and call it a day. Good grief, do we have to make *everything* harder right now?

            1. ohkellybeers*

              Agreed! I wasn’t even thinking about the 100th day celebration, but I’m sure I’ll get a note soon.

              I have stopped doing the extras. I can’t constantly be coming up with games for school parties, or making sure my kids have holiday-themed shirts for every day of December, or crazy hair for crazy hair day, or some fancy box for their Valentines. I’m going to channel my very-normal 1980’s mom’s parenting style, which is…I check their homework, I make sure they get to school, I make sure they have lunch or lunch money. That’s it. I know there are stay-at-home parents in our school district who DO have the time and the money and the bandwidth to do these other things. So I’m going to let them shine in that.

              1. L'étrangere*

                So agree with that! If people have nothing else to do with their lives, they can be party central organizers . Meanwhile the only real mom duty should be – kids alive? Check! See if you can get yourself off those emails, or just filter them right into the trash

            2. Momma Bear*

              I sent my kid in with 100 mini marshmallows that she counted and bagged herself. Done. A shirt? No, and that was pre-plague times.

              1. Amaranth*

                This is a thing? My daughter just graduated from college and I don’t recall ever having a ‘100 day celebration’ in any of her preschool or grade school classes. However, I vote for all parents giving themselves permission to do What They Can without any associated guilt. Getting the kids fed, schooled and hugged seems like excellent goals to me. Okay, throw washing in there as well.

                1. LemonLime*

                  YEs! I’m surprised now how many people know the 100th day thing. I just figured it was the school my kid is attending. I kept wanting to go to the craft store and get supplies to do the shirt and 100 items attached to it… but that never happened. Finally I Amazoned a blank shirt and stick on googly eyes. 15 minutes tops.
                  Just throwing that suggestion out to any parent left having to make a shirt.

            3. JBBlazer*

              I am just realizing that this is why I was helping my kindergartener cut out 100 tiny dots after school today (while trying to finally log off and heat up dinner). I am so tired.

          2. GlowCloud*

            100th Day of Kindergarten is Not A Thing, unless someone goes out of their way to make it a thing. Why is this a thing??

            Give yourself permission to bow out of stuff like this & focus energies where they really count. If some other mom has the energy to make T-shirts, she can consider herself volunteered for the task. You’re not obligated.

            1. mlem*

              OtherMom who’s texting about t-shirts apparently needs something to keep her busy. Like maybe helping the moms in the class who don’t have free time to contemplate making t-shirts for entirely made-up events.

              1. Sal*

                Ooooh I told myself this about being a class parent after I was asked this year (“Who are these moms with all this fricking TIME on their hands, must be nice”) and then I googled the mom who did it last year and…yeah, my lawyer thing is not really giving her TRANSPLANT SURGEON thing a run for its money. :D

                Sorry, self, some people are legitimately better at life than you.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  In my experience volunteering with kids’ activities for over a decade now, it’s typically the people (moms and dads) without a ton of free time on their hands that do much of the volunteering. When I ran a scout troop, the leaders/active troop volunteers were a federal law enforcement agent, two attorneys, and a corporate VP. I see a lot of rec league sports coaches coming straight from work, too. One of my kids’ coaches jokes that she feels like a college coach on the sidelines in her blazer/work clothes and wonders if the parents think she’s taking rec basketball too seriously.

                2. Amaranth*

                  To be fair, transplant surgeon isn’t exactly 9-5. :) I wouldn’t be surprised at that level of specialty if they pop in a few hours a day, sign paperwork, and then are done until the next surgery.

                3. wittyrepartee*

                  Also, some people really enjoy the structure of volunteering or really love crafting. Like, there’s plenty of people for whom cooking is a relaxing activity. They’d love to bake for the bake sale. In fact, they’d be baking anyway and they’re just gonna double the recipe. Then all the people who hate cooking are like “wow, how do they do it?!”

              2. Susan*

                I’m respectfully asking if we can solve this problem without cutting down other women. Patriarchy is what got us in to this – a patriarchal approach is not going to get us out.

                1. Sarahbellum*

                  And yet few people are mentioning the actual patriarchs in the homes where moms are under water on everything…

            2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              100th Day of Kindergarten is a great thing… for kindergarten teachers to organize with entirely-in-school activities. And I speak as an elementary school teacher. Even in normal times I don’t believe in giving parents ANY mandatory school-related tasks aside from things like “sign this permission slip”. No t-shirts, no Pinterest-style projects, no taking photos of the class teddy bear in cute locations around your house and printing them and making a poster. No, not even when there’s NOT a plague. And all that goes quadruple right now.

              1. Princess Leia*

                I’m sorry, I just have to say, on behalf of all stressed-out parents THANK YOU. Truly. I keep on top of homework and school outings and make sure my kids have a healthy lunch and dressed for the weather, but I have no spoons for extra and I love teachers who understand that.

              2. Millie*

                Thank you for understanding that working parents don’t have the bandwidth for valentine goodie bags and leprechaun traps. I wish all teachers were this considerate. Or at least offered pick up of remote work packets outside of 10am-4pm.

              3. Veryanon*

                Thank you. My kids are grown now, but many were the times that I’d get the dreaded last minute “I need a costume/baked goods/project for tomorrow’s X activity” and I’d be pulling my hair out trying to make it happen. Ugh.

            3. Yellow*

              Seriously. I’m not doing this crap. (I say this now… Check back next year when my kid is actually in Kindergarten)

            4. Millie*

              My kids both refuse to participate in all crazy hair, pajama, dress up, etc days except Halloween (because candy). They are picky about their clothes and won’t give up that comfort to wear suspenders and fake glasses to pretend to be old (which they don’t see as cool or fun costume). Also why are we teaching 5 year olds to essentially make fun of the elderly by dressing as stereotypes of them?

            5. Disco Janet*

              It is most definitely a thing in my kids’ school district. And when I choose not to do it they come home upset that everyone else was dressed special and they weren’t. There are really no great options here.

            6. All the words*

              It sounds like just another of the million things some marketer came up with to get people to spend money for junk they don’t need. It saddens me to see so many people keep falling for these ideas. Don’t parents of small children have enough demands on their pocketbooks and their time?

              Elf on a Shelf is a prime example.

              Those marketers deserve a very special level of Hell.

          3. Holey Hobby*

            Everyone wants to make work for kindergarten parents. I’m so underwater on everything, I decided a couple of months ago to put my foot down on homework. I think homework in kindergarten is frankly insane. And I can’t help a kid who’s not even 5 through an hour of worksheets every night. I just can’t. I don’t have that hour. I’m trying to get 15 hours of work done in a day while Roblox babysits my kids and someone is in my business every five minutes wanting a glass of milk or needing a fight broken up. So now the kindergarten teacher has us pegged as the problem parents. Out of all the problematic parents in our kids school, we’re the bad ones. Because we work. God I hate this year.

            1. Sarah*

              An hour of homework for kindergarteners is absurd. When I was in my first years of school, back in the early 90s, we had reading-with-parents (maybe 5 min worth nightly) and maybe 10 spelling words once a week.

              1. OyHiOh*

                My most recent K student – like 6 years ago or infinity or something – usually had 3 to 5 worksheets to complete that required parental involvement because the child couldn’t, you know, read yet plus mandatory parental initials checked daily 20 minutes of parent reading to child every single day.

                Plus two older kids in the home with significant dyslexia and one of those two needing hand-over-hand assistance with pretty much anything requiring the child to write words. The easiest thing to drop, most nights, was the parent-reading-to-child part. Kiddo learned to read, seemingly effortless, on their own and is a voracious rabid reader of books. I read for pleasure enough that the habit seems to have distilled by osmosis.

                Homework was a nightmare that started as soon as they got home from school and very often ran right up until bedtime, and that was long before COVID. I have all the empathy in the world for families of young children right now. The hits just won’t stop coming.

            2. generic_username*

              Haven’t studies shown that homework is actually counterproductive for young kids? Just like getting rid of recess has led to behavior issues, which leads to reduced learning… If my kindergartner had that much homework I’d be furious

              1. Holey Hobby*

                I made that very argument.
                Problem parent.
                If it helps contextualize, our kids are at a working class, majority minority school. Some of the teachers and administrators are superb, but for many… kids are viewed as a disciplinary project, not an educational one. We don’t see our kids as future teen-pregnant gang members, but that’s definitely how some of the teachers do. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of government social services, they kind of come at you like that – assuming you’re dirty, ignorant, promiscuous, criminal, dull-witted, and belligerent. So, “I’ve read some studies,” well, it just doesn’t fly. Now you’re just mouthing off to the people who are trying to lift you up.

                1. Properlike*

                  That is a messed-up school situation. I’m so sorry. Maybe one of the good administrators can step in on behalf of all the parents trying to make it through the day and tell the make-work teachers to knock it off? Obviously these are teachers in the “old way” of doing things who think the hour of worksheets will make the kids catch up, when in reality it kills their love for school and makes busy parents feel worse.

                  I wish I could write you a note, and I’m a teacher. You are not a problem parent. I wouldn’t do this crap when my kids were young either.

                2. staceyizme*

                  Ugh! There HAS to be a special place in hell for help that’s less predicated on being helpful and more predicated on “I know what we should do here…”.

            3. Beth II*

              That’s absurd and has no educational benefit whatsoever – it’s actually detrimental to take away from free play and exploration at this age.

              1. Anonymous4*

                Yeah — that’s how kids learn! Kids are designed to run around and poke things and climb onto stuff and suddenly stop and look real hard at a leaf or a cloud or a bug. It’s how they’re built.

          4. Massive Dynamic*

            100-day shirt hack… because YES, this is something we wish we could give ourselves permission to set aside but by kinder? The Kid Will Notice, and feel bad.

            You need 100 of whatever the hell on a shirt. Go grab a plain shirt that your kid owns, any solid color shirt will do. Then, get either glue+glitter, markers, or even something like safety pins, and do 100 glitter dots/marker stars/safety pins on that shirt. Send the kid to school in it once they’re out of quarantine so they know they participated.

            Option B – see if texting mom has time to make a shirt for your kid too!

            1. Properlike*

              Go straight to option B. “Thanks so much for volunteering! My kid wears a small. He looks forward to seeing what you come up with.”

              I always told my kids “mom doesn’t have time for that, sorry.” If these hyper-parents or hyper-teachers plan an activity that doesn’t count on other parents not having the time, then THEY’RE the reason the kid feels bad, not me.

              Want to go next-level on the parenting? Stand up for the other parents who also don’t have time for this crap, which is something I still do as a high school parent. “Have you considered that there are people who can’t afford this or who are working two jobs or who have x, y, z happening, and how will you accommodate them, because this is not okay to ask of them.”

              1. KT*

                You’re so right. Last year, I was coming off of unemployment and the fundraiser came out. The kids were given the chance to have a glow stick party if they raised more money than they did pre-pandemic.

                I emailed the principal, told her that was horrible since I knew of at least 3 other parents who lost their jobs.

                She immediately said “you’re right, the PTA put that together and I’ll override them so the kids get their party. If they have a problem, too bad I’m the principal.”

                I sent in glow sticks and the kids got their party. I’m a speak up parent, even if it’s not my kid.

                1. Millie*

                  My kids’ elementary school has an annual fundraiser where the kids do a run (no particular commitment to number of laps/miles) and the parents are supposed to post links on their social media to get people to “sponsor” their kid. Obviously that’s going to be 99% family members. The kids don’t do anything to raise the money themselves but are rewarded with cheap plastic trinkets based on how much their families raise. I’ve brought up to the PTA multiple times that this system is rewarding kids solely on how rich their family is, but they ignore it. This year the day after the marathon fundraiser ended (with earnings thousands of dollars over the original goal) my kid came home with a flyer asking us to participate in another fundraiser for a 5th grade graduation activity (my kid is not in 5th grade) by selling candy which we are expected to buy upfront and then resell. Threw that straight in the trash.

        1. Ingrid*

          Ugh. I feel this. Lowering expectations is soooo hard when I have such high expectations for myself. My typical day pre-COVID was get up at 5:30. shower and get ready, get the kids up, drive one to school and two to daycare, get to the office around 8:30AM, start work, work through lunch, leave at 5PM, pick up the kids, get home at 6PM, make dinner, get the kids in bed, then clean, do the dishes, make the lunches for tomorrow, set out the clothes, maaaayyybee workout and crash. That felt like a lot! And now….it’s like all that times 2 because the day is so broken up trying to do two things really badly at once. It truly feels impossible.

        2. Rachel*

          Regarding the 100th day of school thing – “Thank for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to participate in this.” No justification, no apologies, and NO offering to do more on something else! You are not required to do extra nonsense or justify your refusal to do so.

          1. TexasTeacher*

            Seconded. Your kid doesn’t have to do every special event at school especially if it invokes parent work. Over December it seemed there was something particular they were supposed to wear every day of the week, and I just opted out of everything. I don’t have time to go to the dollar store and find reindeer antlers.

            1. J*

              We had 2 straight weeks of “holiday” (read: Christmas) spirit days. Dress as an elf. Dress as the Grinch. Wear a Santa hat. Etc. My (Jewish) kid was PISSED. I think next year he’s going to stage some kind of protest. I’m so proud!

          2. That IT Guy*

            What is this 100th day celebration anyway? I’ve never heard of such a thing, and something tells me the kids would be just fine without it. Maybe the school should just take a break from stuff that isn’t necessary for now, y’know?

        3. sofar*

          “another mom is texting me about designing shirts or something… tonight?” OMG. Who ARE these parents? If they miraculously have the time to think about/do this stuff, then they should just … do it. There needs to be a moratorium on asking parents to do anything “extra” for school.

        4. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          OMG, are they still “celebrating” the 100th day of school? I eyerolled at that 15 years ago with my oldest and do so again today. There’s no time for this extra stuff. T-shirts?

          Anything that could cost a parent extra money or time while this is ongoing is absolutely wrong.

        5. OT not IT*

          I’m all in favor of teaching kids to count to 100, and some genius teacher found a way to celebrate counting “for the children”, when what it really means for teachers is “only 80 more days of school”! Insider tip just like science fair is a project for parents, the only one counting 100 of anything on 100 day is the parent! Grab some leftover paint and dribble it all over an old t shirt. As long as it looks like it could be 100 of something that’s good enough!
          P.S. Dressing like you’re 100 years old is actually more work. You need a costume complete with props to pull it off!

        6. DC*

          Another note of solidarity. I have just come to accept society doesn’t care about us. We have two choices and both are personal since society has decided we don’t matter from a broader perspective. The key question is: can you live without the money? If you can, you can leave. If you can’t, you have to stay and just accept being bad at your job and having everyone dislike you because it’s impossible to live up to the standard of working as if you don’t have small kids. And can you live without the money is a proxy for everything: salary, benefits, retirement, ability and necessity to get a job in the future. I have to keep working and just accept that although I am generally good at my job, now that I’m a mom I am not really a lot of the time. But I need to pay my rent, get my family’s insurance, and pay for retirement. So have to keep working and apologizing to everyone about why I am a terrible employee. Confirming I am in the same boat when daycare closes of working early morning, late at night and nap time and any ability to take care of my own health is lost. My husband is in the same boat (we spilt days when daycare is closed but still simply not enough hours to do everything that needs to be done).

          1. Shannon*

            I agree with this. I do my best and accept that it’s probably not good enough for the kids or for work. At the same time, you’re probably not doing as badly as you think and could let up on yourself about it. I’d love to be able to take maybe 2 years off and then come back when the kids are settled but I’d lose so many opportunities and might not get back where I was. In the end it’s up to you, but it’s okay to just do the minimum right now. It’s an impossible situation.

        7. Dana Whittaker*

          That is why when I came up with a brilliant idea like this as a room parent (Grades 1,3,5), I put out one email weeks in advance, planned to do it all myself, and was pleasantly surprised if anyone was willing/able to help.

          I fully acknowledge I am a nut when it comes to this stuff, and I never expected anyone else to rise to that level.

          There was a bit of a showdown at the 3rd grade Halloween party, with a mom who had been room parent for approximately 25 years straight and had decided to take that year off but still wanted to “help” …… but it resolved peaceably. ;)

        8. Nameo*

          Have someone else do the laundry!! I use an app where I just set it out on the porch, then a lovely someone picks it up and brings it back clean and folded. $1 per pound of laundry plus a tip ($5-$10). It’s so worth it, even if you only do it once to end the laundry backlog.

          1. Nameo*

            Obviously this doesn’t fix the main issue, but taking such a time-intensive, mind-numbing task off your plate frees up your mental energy for things that matter

            1. Ilsashmilsa*

              I was going to suggest put husband in charge of laundry. Although he does work as well laundry can be done any time of the day or night, and it takes such a load off mentally when a whole task is someone else’s responsibility.
              When my husband took over the laundry and school pickup I was able to go back to full time work and study. These things are legitimately time consuming and hard work!

      2. Lynca*

        I have a 3.5 year old and I’m fighting back tears. I’m doing okay personally but there are some days/weeks where it’s hard not to feel like it’s spiralling out of control. It also hurts to see so many people struggling.

        There’s no good options. It’s survival mode and no one is able to function indefinitely in this condition.

      3. Spero*

        I feel the same. I’m a single mom with no local family, so I am all there is for my 3 yo and I can’t reduce hours/quit job because it’s the only income. For me this means I’ve had to choose to leave her at a daycare that doesn’t have great COVID precautions…because they also never, ever close to quarantine. So I know she’s being exposed but I also know I can get to work every day. I am gambling on the fact that she’s extremely healthy/no other known risk factors and we are otherwise very distanced, but I feel guilty every day I drop her off there and see unmasked staff.

      1. Katie*

        This is definitely something a lot of us are facing. It does sound like your workplace is especially inflexible, though, and I wonder if now is the time to consider working somewhere else. I know that presents it’s own set of challenges but a lot of employers are looking for people and it might be the time.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          That’s what I thought. If OP’s family has decided that the husband’s job is priority, then perhaps OP can look for a more flexible job with the same pay – or even a part time job that allows her to do the rest of this unpaid labor. I recognize that going into the office is preferred but with no reliable childcare for anyone right now, a less burdensome remote job may be better than continuing this current route.

          1. Zorra*

            I did do the new job route (kids 3 &5). It was not easy. I limited myself to 2-3 applications per week, because I didn’t have bandwidth for more. I said no to a couple jobs because the benefits just weren’t the headache of switching. Finally landed a much higher paying job with flexibility, but still an exhausting switch

          2. Ampersand*

            Yes! This! I’m a mom to a three year old, I work full time, and my job is quite stressful. I recognize I need to find another one but at the end of the day I don’t even have the energy for that. And so many of the parents I know are struggling—moms and dads both.

        2. Kristy*

          This is my life right now. I have a 1 and 3 year old who are in daycare full time. Daycare was closed practically the entirety of December and this was not the first shutdown. Luckily my work has been flexible with my hours, but one thing I have had to learn is to be ok to reach out to my community to ask for help. Do you have any friends who are stay at home parents who could take them a day or two? Do you have any friends or family members who could help with your kids at your home, while you’re working from home? Any parents from your kids schools? I guarantee you your kids are exposed to so much between daycare and whatever you and your husband are bringing home from your workplaces that having an additional family or caretaker involved is not going to make much of a difference to them, exposure wise, but will make a HUGE difference for you and your mental health from carrying this all alone.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Commiseration here. I don’t have this problem nor do I have any solutions. Just silently sending a ton of support to OP and ALL others in this boat.

      1. BJP*

        Does anyone at your work have this problem? What can do you to make their life better? Let’s turn that silent support into some action, because those of us who have kids are exhausted and often unable to advocate for ourselves for fear of losing our jobs.

        1. Le Sigh*

          No kids here, but a lot of coworkers who are moms of little ones. Since these are my coworkers, not my friends, I don’t want to overstep. But I’ve been doing a few things that I hope help:
          –If they have kids on camera, even if the kids are fussy, just roll with it as much as humanly possible. Get on with the meeting as normal, and be ready to pause for interruptions or even say hi to the kid if it helps.
          –Try to be flexible with deadlines and meetings and reschedules when possible. I get google doc editing alerts at 11pm from these folks — I know they’re really trying and they’re often helpful and responsive to me, so I want to return the favor.
          –Step in during a meeting if they have to drop out last minute.
          –Remind myself, when frustrated, that they really are trying their best. They were good coworkers before this happened, they had no way to plan for it, etc., etc. These same people helped me when caring for a sick relative.
          –When discussions of return to office policies, etc., come up, make sure to remind leadership that working parents and caregivers may need different accommodations b/c things have gotten better but parents are still in a real bind. (I do this for any group with this issue, including immunocompromised, but we’re talking mainly about parents here.)

          I welcome other ideas because I see my friends and coworkers drowning — I’ve had a rough couple of years myself, but want to help out where I can.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            ‘Remind myself, when frustrated, that they really are trying their best. They were good coworkers before this happened, they had no way to plan for it, etc., etc.’

            I wish managers who complain about remote workers would remember this! Instead of acting like their team is watching Netflix and goofing off, maybe they can remember their team is made of actual human beings dealing with an impossible situation as best they can.

            My employer is very supportive of remote and flexible work. Even so, my colleagues with children have to deal with their local school policies on COVID. That’s a whole other problem, and parents are doing what they can. Patience and understanding goes a long way.

            1. LemonLime*

              Sadly that’s the problem with late stage capitalism. With Business, people are just assets and it’s just business so its not about that you’re human, it’s about how much you’re outputting. But then they want you to see the business as a family and aren’t you just so loyal and need to put in that extra effort when they’re struggling or when they need you?

              I really hope that will change with this strange upset to work norms that has been the pandemic. If we can just get one good thing out of it.

              1. Lily of the Field*

                No, it’s not really a problem with late stage capitalism; it’s a problem with people and a problem with overarching self centeredness.

            1. Le Sigh*

              *hugs*

              The world is falling apart outside my door. I’ve largely been lucky but it doesn’t mean I haven’t suffered. But one day I’m going to be on my deathbed and I don’t want to be the person who drove their coworkers off a ledge over TPS reports. I work in a field that requires responsiveness and urgency, and it’s so easy to lose your humanity in the process. I don’t want to be that person.

          2. C*

            This is what we need! This type of support, and if you are in a leadership position, offer flexibility as much as you can.
            Thank you for being kind.

            1. Le Sigh*

              I agree, but I think that’s only half the equation. People who have the ability need to advocate for or provide/increase practical support (whatever that looks like, I don’t have small children so I imagine it might vary). This is our reality for the time being and unless we’re gonna put tens of thousands of people out of work and/or destroy their mental health — be it parents, caregivers, or people in a variety of challenging circumstances — we need to be compassionate and kind, while also offering practical support. You see it to an extent, but we’re going into year three of this, and I really worry we’re going to push people over the metaphorical ledge without offering real help.

              1. Rosalind Franklin*

                And employers are sitting around wondering “where are the employees???” – a good number of them are home, because they’re already over the ledge.

                My daughter just finished quarantine #6 this year. Each has been a week long. Fortunately my husband is a stay at home dad, because I don’t know how I would have kept my job have to take 6 weeks of zero notice time off.

              2. Glen*

                You do have the power to advocate for parents – call your congresspeople and demand family/ parental leave and universal preschool. Tell them to support policies that actually help families (like the tax credits). So tired of the US attitude that demands people work yet refuses to help them in anyway to do so.

          3. the cat's ass*

            This is what allyship looks like. Thank you for being a great and understanding colleague!

        2. lunchtime caller*

          I don’t know if people I work with have this specific problem, but I definitely work with multiple people who clearly having breakdowns of various kinds, and the biggest thing as an outsider is that I cannot help if my emails and other communications are falling into a void and I’m forced to go to other people and say “I have no idea where so and so is or what they’re doing, I assume they’re struggling but can’t say for sure.”

          So honestly I recommend that anyone, including this LW, who is really struggling to be a bit honest about that. Something that they can type off real quick or copy paste that just says something like “Apologies, I’m incredibly underwater right now (see: the times we’re in), but I’m working through my queue as quickly as I can and have logged this.” It lets people know their emails aren’t falling into a black hole, and I think a lot of people are understanding if you’re upfront about struggling.

          I know that this advice can be hard for someone who doesn’t want to admit that their work is at a low or just slow quality right now and it may feel like admitting defeat, but honestly it looks way worse to just be constantly behind or out of pocket with zero explanation, and “it will all be better next week” is a pipe dream.

          1. Ann*

            I have this problem too! Sometimes people are very hard to get ahold of, and they may not even be physically in an office. So I spend a lot of time worrying if they’re OK, and if I should keep bothering them with emails and call or just wait until they deal with whatever is taking up their time, and at what point I should reach out to someone else (and will that make them look bad?)
            So yes, great advice to at least try to let people know that you saw their message.

          2. Caitlin*

            I can share what I did recently in case it helps any other parents in a similar position. My 11 month old daughter is back at daycare today for the first time since 1/17. She threw up that night and had to stay home 1/18, then daycare was closed 1/19 through 1/21 because of the number of COVID cases, then my husband and I tested positive so she had to stay home through our five days of isolation (which was through yesterday). I haven’t been able to work a full 8 hour day since 1/14 and it’s one of my busiest times of year at work. My husband and I were alternating who was working and who was caring for our daughter throughout the day, so we both got some work done but have also both been fighting COVID.

            On Monday this week, I was feeling bad about the state of my email and the odd times that I was sometimes replying. I set-up an autoreply that says:

            Thank you for your email. I am currently working odd hours due to the impact of COVID on childcare and my family. I will respond to your email as soon as I am able, but my response may take longer than normal. I appreciate your patience during this time.

            This helped me feel better without having to make a big announcement to everyone I’m working with. It’s me asking for grace and so far all the responses have been positive. My email system is also only set-up to send the auto-reply the first time someone emails me when it is up, so folks that I email with often aren’t bombarded by the response.

            1. Momma Bear*

              I think this is a good idea.

              I also bristle at the idea that you should just WFH with serious illness – even people who have done “well” with COVID have reported days they just can’t function. Not sure how it is for you, but I imagine that working while sick is also not great. You need time to rest, too.

              1. anon for this comment*

                HA! Our company backtracked on requiring us to come into the office if we had a positive COVID test, but we are expected to work while under quarantine. I believe we don’t have to work if we are hospitalized (but I’d want to double check) and I am relatively certain that death is a valid excuse for unpaid leave at least.

              2. Ali + Nino*

                Agree 100%. Our whole family had Covid a few weeks ago. I initially wanted to work nights once I tested positive, with both kids at home, but physically couldn’t. I don’t think my case of Covid was especially severe but was compounded by the fact that I was caring for my kids all day, every day, and neither of them slept well (so waking up multiple times each night). It sucked.

          3. Koalafied*

            This is a really great tip for work in general – if you can’t answer an email right away or meet a deadline, it’s always best to be proactive about just communicating your timetable to the people waiting for an answer or deliverable. Especially when you get busy and responses are going to be more delayed than people are accustomed to. As a chronically disorganized ADHD person, learning to do this was a game changer that not only helped myself stay more organized (it turns out that sending an email saying “I’ll get back to you by the end of tomorrow” made me much less likely to forget to actually do that than just thinking in my head “I’ll answer this tomorrow” and moving on to the next email without sending any reply) but definitely was appreciated by the people I work with.

            Unfortunately it’s only helpful to a point. When you’re a little behind, it helps manage expectations. When you’re REALLY behind, often other people’s emails ARE falling into something akin to a black hole because email is part of what you’re behind on. With me I’m often triaging and trying to answer the most important ones first but each day the unread count keeps climbing higher instead of getting lower, and I become more and more likely to be overlooking something that actually needs my attention because the subject line didn’t seem like it would, and “trying to get through my inbox” is directly competing for my time with tasks that have can’t-miss hard deadlines. I’m way, way past the point of being able to manage expectations through proactive communication, other than periodically saying in meetings, “If you’re waiting for something from me and I haven’t sent any response or recent update, I’m sorry, I’m really behind on email, please don’t hesitate to ping me on chat to direct my attention to anything time-sensitive or I may not see it in time.”

        3. EPLawyer*

          true solo attorney. No staff just me. Most of my friends are also true solos with maybe an assistant. So not much I can do other than commiserate. Oh and of course, support those who are trying to make things better.

          1. BJP*

            If you can keep a kid alive for 2-3 hours, offer to provide some free babysitting to a friend with small kids. Even if it’s after the kids go to sleep (we have friends who are only, ah, qualified to sit and watch our TV while our children sleep) so the parents can go out and have, like, a drive-thru fast-food date in a car. BYO rapid test.

            Or drop off a meal or two to lessen the burden.
            Or show up and do their laundry.
            Or pay for a cleaning person.

        4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I think there are only 2 of us in my team who do not have kids under 5, including the entire chain of command, so the situation is a little different due to managerial support. My biggest support has been to reach out to the parents on my team and ask if they need any help with anything. Unfortunately I can only do this when *I* have a work lull, so it isn’t assistance they can rely on. I also offer to cover any travel if it is a trip I am qualified to cover. Mr. Gumption and I are healthy, vaccinated, have buckets of PTO, and no required contact with anyone at high risk for COVID, so I figure time off sick would impact me less than them and try to take that risk off their plates.

          1. BJP*

            That is a great solution. At your workplace, can you share or donate PTO? Perhaps reach out to parents and say you could give them 2 days if they have a care crisis.

        5. A*

          I don’t have kids (but love them!), and have SO much respect for what parents, especially moms, have been up against these last two years! On my end I’ve done the following:

          – First few months of the shutdown my work was largely put on pause as we tried to figure out next steps, so while I was technically WFH I really only needed to be generally available on my work cell and call into a few meetings each week. My best friend and her husband work outside the home as essential workers, and I’m extremely close their (at the time) 1 1/2 year old and they were running into childcare issues. I stepped in as his primary care provider M-F for three months until my work picked back up and they hired a babysitter.
          – I’m in a global position and the majority of my team works across multiple time zones. I voluntarily took on all opposite-time-zone calls for my colleagues with small children, and will continue to do so until things normalize. I’m single without kids, so it’s far less disruptive to me to be on calls late at night / crack of dawn than those with littles (IMO, not to say anyone should be expected or obligated to do this!).
          – I often facetime with one of my colleagues five year old if she needs to be an active participant in a meeting that will run over an hour. Sometimes we’ll go over her school work, but mostly it’s whatever-it-takes-to-keep-her-occupied – she’s seen me dance probably more than anyone else in my life.
          – Outside of the above, I have very firm boundaries on overtime etc. as I don’t want my decisions to start a dangerous precedent for the rest of the department.

          Honestly, I really do believe it takes a village. Do I expect my employer to recognize my above and beyond contributions in a meaningful way? Sadly, no. But I do know how incredibly grateful my colleagues have been, and it’s had a positive impact on my own flexibility as – whenever possible – they are more than willing to return the favor.

          1. A Person*

            I love this idea of having a Facetime with kids who want interaction to help people in long meetings.

      2. BritGirl*

        I suspect the worry is not increasing exposure to the kids, but the exposure to family member or other person providing childcare, given how the childcare shutdowns are likely due to covid outbreaks.

    3. Rolly*

      No good answers. This is a massive burden on women that perpetuates inequality in the workplace and society – so the solution is fighting sexism wherever we see it. And pushing men to do more at home.

      I’m a working dad who faced similar work vs child care pressures to the OP, though without the sexism on top (I get praised for doing little things with the kid in public that no one would bat at eye at a mother doing). And it’s still rough for me.

      1. WindmillArms*

        Sharing the burden with the fathers of these children is essential! Everything is landing on the moms; even if dad works 12 hours, mom is doing 18+ hours (4am to 11 at night) if you batch childcare and paid work together. Where’s the dad for those 6+ hours?

        1. SometimesALurker*

          The fact that OP referred to her husband as “helping” gave me pause, and makes me wonder if he’s not taking on as much as he could. But societally, we’re so trained to see dads as helpers that the language doesn’t necessarily reflect the dynamic, it could just be the word OP had at hand at the moment.

          But also, what’s the financial situation like? It might “make more sense” for her to lose work hours instead of him, but this is untenable. OP, if you were a personal friend, I would be asking you whether you can *afford* to do the less financially responsible thing some of the time, and trade off who loses work hours. Maybe you can’t, and that is an awful reality many people are in. And, maybe it feels like you can’t afford to have him be the one who takes the income hit but you can afford it at least some of the time. Your family is going through something really hard, and if you can afford to, it’s okay to “spend” money on making it easier, even if you’re “spending” by not earning it in the first place.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            What sucks is that since women are underpaid relative to men for even the same roles, it is very likely that most women in a couple earn less than men, so if that’s the standard by which we’re deciding who stays home with the kids, it’s a foregone conclusion in many cases that will perpetuate the same inequality that got us here. I don’t have the solution, unfortunately.

            1. Ro*

              Exactly this. I’m a really highly paid management consultant, BUT: I was already working part time at the start of the panini because we have young children (they were 2 and 5 then, 4 and 7 now) and my husband is a partner in a law firm…. so even for me, a high earner / high status professional expected to keep up that level of productivity, I spend every lockdown/isolation in Mum Mode. Luckily my current clients are very flexible, and because I was already part time I can fit in my work around parenting more easily than most.

              No solution here either, only solidarity.

              1. Cheryl*

                My husband is an attorney and earns significantly more than I do. We would basically be losing my income if he gave up the billable hours he would need to to help when daycare closed/our son was sick/we kept him home due to exposure. I wound up quitting my job and was hoping to go back to work after a couple of months. But here we are six months later and I’m still not working. I want to work, but so long as daycare is unreliable I just can’t go back to work. I was sleeping maybe four hours a night and our house was a complete disaster. I was on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. I feel fortunate that we were able to make that choice, but I’ve definitely lost something that was important to me.

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I was always the one who had to stay home with sick kids for that same reason. He made a much higher hourly wage than me, but he was not salaried and a missed day meant docked pay for him. He had no sick days, just vacation days, and they had to be taken a week at a time and approved well in advance. I made a lower wage, but I could take paid sick days with no advance notice.

            3. KGD*

              I completely agree. Unfortunately, when money is tight, families don’t have many options but to place more value on the (usually male) higher wage-earner, because you can’t risk losing that job. But for families that are generally doing okay financially, I think it’s gross and sexist to value people’s parenting/housework time based on their hourly wage. There are only so many hours in a day, and every adult in the house should have the same number of hours for sleep and rest.

              In my own situation (my husband and I both work from home, he makes more but we are generally comfortable, and we have a 4-year-old and an almost 2-year-old), I’ve found my work is much more willing to accommodate than his because all of his coworkers’ wives handle everything so they don’t understand why he is busy with childcare. It’s been brutal and incredibly frustrating.

              This week we had a big, tearful talk and called my dad, who flew across the country to stay with us for 2 weeks and to be with the kids and handle supper every night. I absolutely know how lucky and privileged we are to have this option, and if I didn’t have the support of extended family, I can imagine just quitting my job in despair. But it breaks my heart because I love my job, and I think of all these women around the world who love their jobs and love their kids and are being forced into impossible situations by capitalism and the patriarchy. It’s a loss for feminism and it’s also a loss for the world, because our work is valuable. I’m not sure what the answer is, and I will be reading all of these comments with interest.

          2. no sleep for the wicked*

            In my household I’m the main breadwinner and I also have a lot of accrued leave, so it’s usually me that has to miss work or have a wonky schedule to cover emergencies or taking care of things while my partner takes care of her disabled mom & brother.
            It sucks to be in constant disruption, but it sure helps deal with the daily grind.

          3. Lizzo*

            You’ve got me wondering: What can OP’s husband–or husbands in general–do in their own workplaces to validate the role of men as caretakers, model both the validating and the caretaking behavior, and advocate for policies that support this role?
            If we’re actually going to make some meaningful change in the workplace, the dudes need to do at least half of the heavy lifting. It’s no longer acceptable for husbands to just shrug and carry on while their wives’ hair is on fire.

            1. Hlao-roo*

              I read an article in Slate the other day titled “I think I know why men don’t talk about parental leave” by Lucas Mann. I recommend it.

              The starting point for men (I think) is talking about it. Tell your coworkers “I need to leave early today to pick up my kids from school/daycare.” Tell management that paid parental leave is a good retention tool/valuable benefit. Use any and all parental/paternal leave you have access to.

              I have a male coworker who is pretty open about needing to drop off and pick up his kids from daycare when we are scheduling meetings (or if meetings are running long). My other coworkers are very supportive: “of course we’ll schedule this meeting for after the daycare drop-off,” “John, you need to get going to pick up your kids,” etc.

              1. Melon*

                My husband does this. His (male-dominated) office gives him a lot of grief and tends to passive-aggressively punish him whenever he flexes his hours to do daycare pickup (coming in early to leave on time) by making up a reason to force him to stay late the next day. Every time. But any other reason? It’s fine.

            2. Ismonie*

              My husband does half the childcare and blocks of his calendar indicating such. He also does most of the pick up and drop off for daycare. Most of the other husbands do neither. And the wives are part time, consulting, etc.

            3. Cera*

              When the get home from their day at work; they need to fully take over. Not help when asked. This means have a plan for dinner; juggle homework and needy children while making said dinner. Plan to have dinner on the table at a normal dinner time. Review the children’s online work and help with the items that are missing. Do the dishes and the laundry.

              Essentially, treat it like mom is gone and give her a few hours to work without juggling childcare and online schooling.

              1. Spero*

                Yes, I agree. And if he’s working 12 hr shifts I’m guessing it’s only 4 days a week – that means those other 3 days should be 95% his parenting time.

            4. Epsilon Delta*

              Specific examples of what men can do:

              My male boss has been starting out about half his meetings with stating that he has a baby in his lap because Covid, and I so appreciate him for that. Both normalizing it and actually helping his wife.

              When we got Covid a couple weeks ago, my husband took off work to help our daughter with schooling (after his isolation was done) and not spending 100% of her day on a screen. He works in person, I work remote. So through the first 18 months of the pandemic it was me doing both while he was at work. It was very Not Good for me, and not ideal for our daughter either. I said I would not supervise remote school again at the start of this school year, and he supported me.

              It was amazing to have him take off work, and tell his very macho, patriarchal employer specifically why. And now he is the “default parent” for Covid/sick kid stuff because we’ve decided it makes more sense to prioritize my job, which pays more and has more room for advancement.

          4. Batgirl*

            It’s hard to tell what she meant by that word. It could mean either “In spirit he’s an equal partner and although he works longer hours he helps at the maximum level he can” or it could mean “I’m worn down by being the primary parent and so desperate that any respite is now seen as a fantastic help”. It’s impossible to know, but the pattern of expecting mothers to do the parenting and fathers to do the paid work is so ingrained in our whole society, and in our wage packets, that that’s the current they’re both swimming in regardless of personal intentions.

        2. CatWhisperer*

          Yes! My family just came out of about two weeks of isolation (first exposure, then positive tests–fortunately everyone had mild symptoms), and our solution was honestly for my partner (he/him) to do more childcare than I (she/her) did. Even though he makes more money, and even though my job could be construed as more “flexible”. Because, to be blunt, he could take a meeting with a kid on his lap and not pay a price for it, and I couldn’t.

        3. Overeducated*

          Honestly, as a working mom with a working male partner who does as much or more childcare than I do, I don’t think this is a useful direction to take the discussion. The problem is it brings the focus to the household division of labor, like OP and her husband can make that better if they just fix the inequalities at the margins. The “are both parents equally responsible” line of inquiry takes attention away from the real central problem, which is that there are more labor hours needed for full time childcare and work than there are actual hours available, and that’s enough to run both parents ragged.

          1. Caitlin*

            Amen! That’s the boat my husband and I are currently in. We’re doing our best to trade off and support each other, but when our daughter can’t go to daycare, she still needs full time childcare (she’s only 11 months old and can’t really be un-supervised). There’s only so many hours in the day, and it’s impossible for us to both get in enough work for our full-time jobs when watching her without running ourselves ragged.

          2. kiki*

            Yes, even if it is sometimes a bit true, it’s kind of like pointing out that somebody isn’t wearing great shoes for running when they’re fleeing a bear and you’re driving by in a golf cart. You’ve got help them get on the golf cart, not point out that they really could have personally prepped a bit more for this situation.

          3. Momma Bear*

            Agreed. I took the fact that he’s also out of PTO as him stepping up at home. They’re playing hot potato between themselves and the daycare.

            Does FMLA factor here at all? Maybe OP could ask.

            I know OP feels a lot of pressure to do it all, but having been many versions of work/stay at home parent, IMO something has to give. I’d sit down with my partner and lay out a budget and then see what I could do about getting a new job, easing the burden at work, etc. Can you go PT? Can you adjust your tasks or what you expect from yourself in a day? Can you adjust your manager’s expectations when assignments are given? Sometimes I will email HR when a school thing happens – like busing issues. I want people at work to know that parents aren’t being slackers. They’re just being hit with an unprecedented amount of chaos. This is why I like the autoreply someone posted above. You’re not being lazy. You’re dealing with circumstances beyond your control.

            And even if it means the laundry piles up or you’re eating off paper plates for a week, try to take some time for YOU (singular and plural). Your relationship needs care, and so do you as a person. If you burn out, then no one gets anything they need. Self-care may be more important now than ever.

          4. Holey Hobby*

            But that is sort of denying the reality. Yes, it is true: work hours + childcare hours > actual hours in a day. But when there is a deficit like that, who pays? Who falls behind at work, takes the reputational hit, misses meetings, replies too slowly to emails, and eventually kneecaps their career?

            I know who does at our house.

            1. Koalafied*

              I agree. It’s not a direct parallel but if you squint a little it looks a bit like some Americans who say, “Service workers don’t make enough money, but that’s not my fault – the restaurant should be paying them more instead of expecting me to subsidize their wages by tipping.” They’re not wrong – the restaurant should be paying more. But given that this low wage issue is reality, they should be tipping anyway, because that makes the objectively crappy situation slightly less crappy for the person most harmed by it.

              Parents with small children have unreasonable expectations being placed on them, full stop, and we need to address that directly. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also be doing what we can to support the people most harmed by this objectively crappy situation, which includes examining intrahousehold dynamics and questioning whether one person is being asked to bear more than their fair share of the harm.

            2. Solstice*

              In my household we both work full tim jobs with a 4 and 6 year old. I’m female and my male partner picks up more of the childcare issues than I do these days due to Covid, at-home schooling, special needs kiddo,, etc. This is a function of the types of jobs we each hold now. But it’s overwhelming for us as a family and for both of us individually. It may not be the norm gender wise but as many have said, we are ALL struggling. As the “doing slightly less childcare” parent, I’m still struggling with the overwhelm. Compassion to everyone.

            3. Overeducated*

              What I’m saying, as a parent in a household with a pretty equal division of labor, is that we both do. Yes, I get it would be worse on me if my husband didn’t pull his part of the load, but my concern here is that when I see the discussion turn this way, it’s very individualizing and really takes attention away from the unsustainable demands parents are under outside of their own households. Which is basically the way we handle structural crises and lack of social safety nets in general in our culture, to individualize them and make them a “personal responsibility”; even if well-meant, that rhetorical turn has the effect of turning attention away from needs for support outside the household at a structural level. It’s a whole different conversation, basically.

              1. KGD*

                I hear you, but I don’t think I agree. My husband and I had a very equitable division of labour before kids but it has been a STRUGGLE to keep things equal since kids have arrived. He’s a feminist and he loves me, but oof. We have had many thousand talks about it, and it’s a work in progress.

                This may be a “whole different conversation”, but it is intrinsically linked to the conversation we are having. Because honestly, most women in heterosexual relationships don’t have a “pretty equal division of labour.” Most women are doing more than their share and taking the fall at work, over and over again. I don’t think you can talk about supporting parents without talking about a truly fair division of household work. If the OP knows for sure that things are fair in her house, then that is great to hear. But if not, reading these comments might give her the courage to bring this issue up with her husband to see what they can do about it as a team.

          5. Jax*

            “…there are more labor hours needed for full time childcare and work than there are actual hours available…” YES.

            To me, OP has three options:
            1. Take an income cut to find a less demanding job or stay home,
            2. Take an income cut to hire a nanny to eliminate daycare/quarantine closures,
            3. Continue on knowing that she can’t do both jobs well, and see how it all plays out. Fired? Quit in a blaze of glory? Or maybe we’re through the worst of it and the whole situation will change in 6 weeks?

            As a 40 year old with teens, I’m all in favor of #3. We are usually much harder on ourselves than our managers are! If you have even a tiny bit of energy left, ENDURE. Don’t take yourself out of the race yet! We could be 6 weeks from the end of this nightmare!

            1. Amaranth*

              It sounds like OP is additionally burdened by feeling like the chores are out of control and that is a point of perceived failure. It might be worth seeing if some of that can be streamlined, either by finding a laundry service, getting some planned meals, or just giving themselves permission to put the laundry hampers in a closet and grab things from the basket for a couple of days.

            2. Ismonie*

              She and her partner have these options. She’s not the only one who can make changes to her job. The idea that the woman should make the changes is part of the problem.

              1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                So the higher wager earner should quit their job because sexism?

                I’m the breadwinner in our family (I make over double my husband’s teacher salary, plus get a bonus most years), and it would make zero sense for me to change my job. My husband brought up the discussion several months ago, and if we ever get to the point where things are too much at home, he will change his job* because he’s the low wage earner. Maybe my perspective is skewed, but prioritizing keeping the highest wage job is just…normal.

                *I like my job a lot, but my husband LOVES his job and is passionate about it.

                1. Ismonie*

                  No, the higher wage earner can push to also take on a role in childcare. That’s what my husband did, as the higher wage earner. We split it 50-50, most of the time. There are times he does more than half because I had health challenges. He blocks off his calendar with “not available-childcare.” When he has to work more during the day, he makes it up to me other times. I’m not saying every person can do this, but if women at the same companies can, men sure as hell can.

                2. Ismonie*

                  Ps—when I outearned my husband, we also had an equitable division of labor. It’s not all about $.

          6. trex*

            But OP wants help now! I can’t personally make more hours in the day, or do her childcare, or fix her annoying boss. While as a society it would be great to make changes, she needs ideas for *now*.

            Maybe this idea won’t help, maybe it’s irrelevant or infeasible. But it’s not an invalid suggestion. Alison gives advice all the time about things that we need to change as society (say, women being perceived as bossy vs assertive), but still gives actual suggestions for the OP

        4. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          It’s essential when it is possible. It (sadly) isn’t a panecea or cure-all, because there are a lot of folks out there for whom it isn’t possible, for one reason or another.

          They’re the ones my heart breaks for – being a single parent (actual or defacto) was tough enough during the 90s and aughts. I don’t know how anyone can live up to being a single parent at the same time as this pandemic is ongoing, inflation is running away, and all the rest of the sordid crap that is happening in the world.

          1. Comment ca va*

            One thing to keep in mind is the role of the extended “village” which has changed dramatically since my childhood. As a child of a single parent, the extended family (grandparents, aunts) as well as neighbors all pitched in to help.

            1. Momma Bear*

              Right. My grandparents babysat the grandkids for their working parent children. I don’t have that.

            2. A*

              Yes! I’m single/childless, and I help out several of my close friends with childcare – especially in the last two years. Only one of them asked, the other I offered after realizing that they most likely hadn’t thought of it as an option, or assumed it would be overstepping. But I love kids, my friend’s kids have always known me as an Aunt, and I’m in a global WFH positions that covers multiple time zones so I have flexibility to move my work hours when/where needed.

              Not something I’d be up for indefinitely – but given the circumstances, it just made sense to me (and I speak for me alone, not saying this should be an expectation of others by any means!). I had time and sanity still in the bank, they were drowning. Factoring in childcare has a minimal impact on me right now compared to the monumental hurdle it presented to my friends. And now I get to hang out on a regular basis with some pretty lil guys/gals, awing them with my knowledge of ancient artifacts like The Floppy Disk and The Landline Phone (biggest hit so far = Furby).

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        It is such a vicious cycle too – because she’s making less she’s taking all the time off, but because she’s taking all this unpaid time off she is less likely to get promotions to earn more, so she falls more and more behind.

        1. Holey Hobby*

          But that’s okay, because by the time you’re in your fifties, you’ll be able to focus on work again. Women in their fifties and sixties are highly in demand and get promoted all the time! Right? /s

          Sob.

      3. Ezri Dax*

        I have nothing but a deep level of sympathy. Our solution was for me to quit my full-time job and go part-time for several months. Now that I’m back full-time, my partner is at half-time. That only works because we have family support for the afternoons. The only solutions I can think of are expensive and difficult to implement in a labor shortage, like nanny shares and babysitters

        Society undervalues caregivers, and it sucks.

        1. Irish girl*

          I wonder if the other parents at her center are in the same boat. Maybe LW could check with other parents to see if they could watch each others children when its closed so each parent could get a full work day.

          1. So tired*

            Yes – some friends did this kind of small-scale ‘co-op’ at the beginning of the pandemic and it can help close the gaps.

          2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            It depends why it’s closed. If it’s just lack of staff, maybe, but if it’s because a kid had covid then it’s probably better to keep the other kids isolated from each other until it’s clear none of the rest of them are infected.

          3. Tuckerman*

            If a classroom is sent to quarantine separately due to an in class exposure, only 1 or 2 might end up testing positive. If they’re quarantining together (trading off care), many more might. I’m not saying that should dissuade people from doing this, if they’re comfortable with that risk, but I understand why people may not want to.

      4. Starbuck*

        We also need to fund universal pre-K education and childcare the same way we do for K12 school. It’s way overdue. There’s no real reason why education should start at age 5 and not earlier when kids are learning so much during those crucial early years.

        I know, pie in the sky. But if there was ever a moment for people to push to make it happen, it feels like it has to be now, because how much worse can it get? And it seems like right now everyone knows how bad it is and can see the need for something better.

          1. Momma Bear*

            I do think we need universal preschool, but I also agree that it’s not going to fix this particular issue. We had no idea back March of 2020 how long that “two week break” was really going to be. Only so much you can do without staff. Or buses.

          2. Glen*

            Agreed, but there’s a difference between a public school system which had funding to support staff during closures and private daycares which did not. About 1/3 of daycares in California permanently closed.

    4. singularity*

      I’m also in the same boat as LW. I’ve used up all my PTO and my check gets docked with every day I take off now. I’m a high school teacher on top of it all, but I have no one else to watch my children. My husband and I switch off, since he’s also a teacher and makes the same amount as I do, but we’re both out of time. I feel like I’m terrible at my job – I can’t even work from home, because all classes are in person. I’ve had 3 separate 10 day quarantines with my kids since October and it’s a significant burden on my co-workers, too, especially the ones who don’t understand that I can’t just take them out of daycare and put them somewhere else. ALL daycares follow these rules. Sympathy, but no advice, because I’m in the same situation. :(

    5. Malarkey01*

      I’m here with you too and I’m sorry if this was already mentioned (I can’t read everyone’s responses with the tears) but for us we had to get comfortable with more screen time than I’d ever consider okay with my older one. I set up boxes with different activities so I can do some play on your own or adjacent to my desk time by yelling “dinosaur time” and they grab the box and play on the floor to give me 20-30 minutes. I also downloaded some kid friendly education apps on their iPad, and also have a queue of preschool videos to stream for times I need 30-60 minutes for a call or dedicated work. Summer of 2020 I was sobbing at the pediatricians when they asked me the “less than 30 minutes a day screen time?” question and the nurse actually stopped, gave me a hug and said it’s okay, everyone is doing what they can to literally survive right now, that’s what this is right now, SURVIVAL. Keep your kids fed, clean, alive, and loved and they will be okay. This isn’t normal and it’s not mom guilt time, it’s try to make it however you can time.
      This nurse may have been an angel. I have repeated this advice to lots of other moms and myself in the mirror over the last two years. It’s really hard as other people think we’re back to normal and try to reinstate standards, but this is NOT normal.

      1. GRA*

        People living their lives like its 2019 is the biggest slap in the face. And screen time and DoorDash are out of control at my house, but I’m starting to learn how to let that guilt go.

        Also, Alison, thank you for posting this letter. It is heartbreaking to read all these posts from moms going through the same thing, but its also been healing (for me) to read all these posts and know I’m not alone. I work with a great group of people, but they’re all in their 50s and 60s and just can’t relate on the same level.

      2. Working Mom of 3*

        I only work park time and it is flexible, so I definitely don’t have it as bad as some, but I’ve got 3 under 6 and it has been rough! Screen time has been critical, as well as playing outside while I sit on the patio (as weather allows), and playdough! but it is difficult with the baby (15 m now) because he doesn’t really have the attention span yet for any of the above to work for long chunks, and he also doesn’t nap as much anymore. It is getting better though!

        1. dresscode*

          15 months is such a tough age. They are mobile and can get into dangerous things, but can’t play by themselves or do anything on their own!

      3. SOLO parent*

        The Disney plus subscription has paid for itself. I just wish I could cue up movies to automatically play one after the other to save time and not have one end halfway through a meeting.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          You can activate autoplay in Disney plus! If the profile is set as Kids, the default is off but you can definitely toggle it on. On the page where you select which profile you’re watching, click “edit profile” at the bottom, then select the one you want to edit — “Autoplay” is the second or third option down.

      4. Caroline L*

        Thank you, Malarkey01. This made me cry. That nurse WAS an angel and you are angel for spreading her words. I didn’t even realize how much I needed to read that, although funnily enough I have definitely said the same thing to friends.

      5. surviving is the name of the game*

        @Malarkey01* , you and that nurse are a godsend. 2019 is past, and surviving is now. Loving your kids, whatever that looks like, wins.

      6. AEA*

        Hi – I’m a pediatrician and your comment really gave me pause, because we still ask that question. But I assure you every child is getting more than ideal screen time – including mine!

      7. QA Peon*

        SO MUCH screentime here. It’s survival mode for sure. I do my best to make sure that as much of it as possible is quality (Story Bots, Bill Nye, etc) but it is what it is.

        Some days I do things like give him food coloring, vinegar and baking soda and just let him have at it, because it buys me 30 min to answer email.

      8. Pdweasel*

        I have no kids myself, but as a child of the 90’s who had essentially unlimited screen time and could work a VCR by age 2, climbed through the ranks of parents’ laptop & Palm Pilot games, electronic board game devices, and Gameboys, yet still went to college & medical school & generally turned out alright, ;) the kids will be fine. Truly. Use the tools you have at your disposal to get through this quagmire of BS, even if it’s not what one “should” do. Desperate times call for drastic action.

      9. Koalafied*

        Keep your kids fed, clean, alive, and loved and they will be okay.

        This bears repeating. It’s a shame – on one hand, it’s great that we have so much research into the best things we can do for kids to get the best outcomes. But on the other hand, it feels like all that research is used as a measuring stick as well as a cudgel against parents, setting the bar at “maximum perfection” and construing any/everything less than that some kind of willful disregard for your child’s well-being. As if the only thing standing between every child and their future full scholarship to an Ivy and subsequent lucrative career is whether or not their parents do exactly everything right according to the latest research published 5 minutes ago (which, by the way, directly contradicts last year’s latest research).

        I don’t have kids myself but it seems like we set parents up to fail when we take all that research and say “you must do all these things or you’re a bad parent whose child will never live up to their full potential” instead of “here are a bunch of things you can do that will probably help your kid, but are not critical needs.”

        I was raised by a single mom. Finances weren’t dangerously low, but the budget was very tight for anything not strictly necessary was tight, and I learned DIY from a young age as I helped her with various things around the house that she couldn’t afford to pay to have done/built/repaired professionally. I was a latchkey kid who was home alone for a couple of hours in the afternoons, during which I probably ate too many unhealthy snacks and watched too much TV. I got into some illicit teenage hooligan stuff (graffiti, smoking weed, using Napster to pirate music) and cut a lot of class in high school. For various reasons, I’ve struggled to maintain stable/lasting friendships and relationships for most of my life.

        But my mom loved me – I never, ever questioned that – and I had a warm, safe home where I was fed three meals a day and taken to the doctor if I got sick. My home life may not have been perfect and my mom may not have done everything she could as a parent to keep me out of trouble and more focused on my studies, but ultimately, my home life was a source of strength and support for me, not a source of stress or harm. And while I’ve got problems like anybody else, especially nowadays, I don’t compare my life to some generic ideal outcome where I took a completely different path in life and achieved a bunch of conventional successes in sport or career or academics, and where it’s assumed that achieving all those conventional successes is synonymous with being happy with how my life turned out. I took my own path, I’ve made some good choices and some bad ones, I learned from them, and I’m grateful to my mom for always being there to listen when I needed to talk and for loving me through all the ups and downs. That’s what matters to me when I reflect back on my upbringing and where I am now. Not whether or not my mom “gave me every advantage” she could have possibly given me.

    6. turquoisecow*

      Came here to say the same. I only work part time but it doesn’t feel safe putting my 16 month old in daycare at this point with her being unvaccinated. I should be working 4 hours a day but I’m really only doing like 1 or 2. My job is fine with it (honestly there isn’t really 4 hours of work to do) but even outside of work I have almost no time for myself.

      I know I’m lucky because I work part-time and my husband works from home so he can watch her for a few hours. I really don’t know how women do it with full-time jobs, or multiple children. I’ve seriously considered quitting so I can dedicate more time to myself and to the baby.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        It was such a crushing blow when they delayed the under five vax. I know they did it to make it more effective, and I am all for that, and there are so many reasons it makes sense, but I just want it to be here, right now, so badly. And it didn’t even make big news! I had to hear if from someone and go google it.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Yeah, we ended up asking our pediatrician about it, because there’s been nothing on the news about it. And now it seems like it will only be approved for 2+. My kid turns 2 in September so we’re hoping she can get vaccinated right around then, and we can maybe put her in a “2s” preschool program or something. She’s gotten so little socialization that I feel really bad – I know it’s not a big deal this young but I want her to be able to be around kids her own age.

    7. Ingrid*

      I’m in the same boat. Back to work today after taking most of this week off for sick kiddos (not Covid), and part of last week off for school closures. My kids got exposed to all sorts of things when they went back to daycare after 1+ years off and have been on/off sick for months now. It’s miserable. I want to keep them safe. I want to be a good mom. I want to be a good employee. But it’s really hard to juggle it all. And it’s super difficult to prioritize my career when my husband makes 2.5x more than I do.

    8. Empress Matilda*

      Nth-ing. So many people – mostly women – are in the same boat, and we’re all struggling. No practical solutions here either, but lots of empathy and internet hugs if you want them.

    9. Anon with kids*

      Same – I think my kids have not had one full week of school since before Christmas. We’re on quarantine #2 of 2022.

    10. Campfire Raccoon*

      Same. I have three kids at three different schools, so it’s a never-ending cycle of sick/quarantine/normal kid stuff. We run our business out of our home so there’s no escape. I start work at 445am and end at 6pm. I have the work phone 24/7. We’re surviving but my kids are being raised by youtube and fortnite.

      My only suggestion is recognize you can’t do everything, it’s ok to let things slide, forgive yourself because you really are kicking ass, and go see a doctor if you need to. It’s ok to ask for help. This is a rough time and for many of us that means paying attention to our mental health.

    11. Squid*

      Preemptive commiseration over here… My first child starts childcare next week and I go back to work after maternity leave. I’m already dreading the closures and juggling everything, but the pandemic leaves us with little choice.

    12. TheSockMonkey*

      Yup. Currently at home with a kid who has to be out of daycare for ANY symptom until he has a negative covid test

    13. So tired*

      Yes. I feel like we’re lucky because we have daycare and both have flexible jobs so we can take the time off for a quarantine or symptoms. But we have no backup and we’re getting further and behind in career development. I’ve definitely said ‘I just want to work!’ more than once.

    14. Sommersolveig7*

      No advice, just commiseration. We’re on our third quarantine and haven’t had daycare since before Christmas. I feel like a failure as a mom and employee most days. Some days are ok, but then some days I’m working on my spreadsheets through tears at doing every job not to my high standards. It feels like this year is even worse than last year or 2020, because now most people have decided to move on, despite the pandemic clearly raging on. I’m so anxious because my youngest still cannot be vaccinated. Doesn’t help that leadership tends to be in an age group where childcare is a distant memory.

      Please lean on your husband as much as possible for evening stuff–yes, he’s probably tired, too, but spending the day doing two jobs is way more draining. You need to fill the tank up some way, and I’ve found that even leaving the house for 30-60 mins helps. It’s not enough, of course.

    15. Alexa*

      Me too. Last year I missed 45!! Working days because of COVID policies. Then I GOT COVID and still had to run virtual events, etc. and obviously did a crummy job and the feedback I got was that I’m not “planning well enough”. How do you plan for the constant life interruptions!? Honestly the only ways to resolve this are for government to drop all restrictions and stop counting cases, and let us live our lives, coupled with companies and bosses lowering their expectations across the board. This shouldn’t be ONLY parents problem to solve. Children have taken on an ENORMOUS burden when it comes to policy decisions during the pandemic in the name of their supposed “safety” and it is NOT grounded in anything remotely scientific. And working parents have to pay the price. It’s enough.

      1. anon for this comment*

        I would point out that teachers are catching COVID and being out of school as well, which is leading to a lot of this school year being essentially babysitting, not schooling. Is that better or worse than remote learning?

        And many teachers also have children, so can be in the same cycle of childcare woes, but with the added pressure of HAVING to be at school because there aren’t enough subs due to retirements and illness, and they truly do want to be educating the students.

        School is supposed to be more than just public funded day care, so please remember that teachers are suffering through this as well as the students and parents.

        1. Cera*

          Honestly, my child’s 2nd grade teacher was babysitting her during remote learning too. I was in the home but definitely not present.

        2. Alexa*

          Them being in school is always better than online learning when your child is learning disabled. Online learning removed everything my child loves and excels at, and replaced it with everything she hates and refuses to do. In person school should always be prioritized.

      2. generic_username*

        Honestly the only ways to resolve this are for government to drop all restrictions and stop counting cases, and let us live our lives,

        I know you’re frustrated, but the solution is definitely not to let COVID run even more rampant through our world. It’s for businesses and people to have more compassion and a humanitarian approach to workers. Paid sick time shouldn’t be limited, particularly when it’s related to mandatory/suggested quarantines, and WFH should be freely offered in cases where it’s feasible while the case #s are high.

        1. Alexa*

          I WFH, I had ample PTO, and I’m still drowning. I live in a highly vaccinated province. We’ve done everything right and have been subjected to some of the most draconian lockdowns in the western world. My learning disabled child has lost two years of school. My career is in tatters, dreams are shattered, and I had to move from a community I love just to get some help with my children (which I appreciate immensely but isn’t available during quarantines). I have had to quarantine with my children because of exposures 4 times, with a toddler and another young school aged child. I CANNOT work from home with a toddler around. We’ve all had COVID and are fine. Those of us who are eligible are fully vaccinated (toddler can’t be yet). It’s time to stop the obsessive focus on case counts, and let us live our damn lives. Stop acting like it’s easy to just “work from home” with young children. It is a NIGHTMARE. Kids are not high risk, the vaccinated are not high risk. It’s enough.

          1. Millie*

            I know anecdotes are not data, but for what it’s worth, 4 of my kids teachers caught COVID over the past two years, not one of them from the kids but over Christmas breaks of 2020 and 2021. Schools are repeatedly closed for exposures, in part to protect adults at home from being infected by the kids, while those same adults are still able to be infected at all the open businesses and restaurants around town and the holiday parties they attend against recommendations. My company counts “exposure” at work to someone positive only if you were within 6ft for 15 minutes UNMASKED. So if the person in the cubicle next to mine tests positive I will not be notified and sent home because no one wants to shut down my department for 10 days. But my (vaccinated) kid is considered exposed whenever anyone else in the classroom tests positive regardless of how close they sit with their masks on. There’s no consistency between the school rules and the rules for the adults we are supposedly closing schools to protect.

            1. Alexa*

              Yup, everyone at our school caught COVID over the break, including my family. Before that we had isolated cases where teachers were the patient zero. To be fair, I’m not blaming teachers, this is an airborne virus and it’s not like catching it is some kind of moral failing. But the policies need to catch up. I had a lot more commentary on the ridiculousness of these policies particular for highly protected populations, and how they harm working mothers, but it was removed for “misinformation”. I work in occupational health, I’ve seen the raw data. Feelings of safety are not the same as actual safety. And we wonder why we can’t have nuanced discussions about these issues.

        2. Millie*

          COVID will run rampant through the world regardless. It’s not going anywhere. Like the flu, it will mutate and be around in some variant or another until some wild new medical breakthrough that can make respiratory viruses extinct. The Spanish Flu pandemic didn’t end because the flu disappeared, it ended when it mutated to a regular flu from a highly deadly one. We need medical experts and policy makers to decided where we draw that line and consider this pandemic over. Obviously we don’t want to do that if the percentage of hospitalizations and deaths is high. But if COVID mutates to the point of being like a common flu statistic-wise, then what’s the point of treating it differently, testing asymptomatic people and counting those asymptomatic positives as “cases” and continuing restrictions at the price of peoples mental health and financial well-being? At some point the risk-benefit analysis tips the other way and that should be acknowledged.

          1. Millie*

            Also, I’m a fully vaccinated and boosted, mask-wearing, democratic-voting, PhD-holding biologist who lost a grandparent to COVID in 2020.

      3. Ismonie*

        Hospitals are approaching collapse as it is. I hate this, I really do, but now is not a time we can feasibly drop all restrictions.

    16. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Agreed. Our society is failing parents in a huge way right now.

      OP, you are not the problem. The answer to “How are other moms doing this?” is that a lot of them aren’t. And those that are may have access to resources that just aren’t available to you (e.g. a family member who doesn’t work who’s happy to watch your kids, a boatload of dollars to hire multiple private nannies, the random good luck of getting the one daycare that hasn’t had to close due to an exposure… etc.). You did not do anything wrong.

    17. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I’m a working mom with a 6yo and 4yo; I’m the breadwinner but my job is more flexible than my husband’s (he’s a teacher). So much solidarity with OP. We have been incredibly fortunate so far with daycare and school closings, so maybe take all of this with a cup of salt, but here are some things that help me:
      – we order in A LOT. Like, A WHOLE LOT.
      – our kids eat A LOT of PB&J. Again, a massive amount.
      – I re-wear clothes a ton (currently WFH) because, honestly, it saves a tiny bit of laundry.
      – Therapy. Yes, it’s another thing to find time for during the week, but it helps.
      – Repeating “I am parenting in a pandemic, it doesn’t have to be perfect” a LOT.

      OP, do you have transferrable skills? Is there a company (or companies) in your area that are doing this thing right — understanding managers, giving PAID time off when someone has kids who can’t go to school? My company is part of why I’m surviving right now because they’re supportive, like *actually* supportive. It may be time to find another job.

      Sending you encouragement — it is so hard.

      1. Greengirl*

        Thank you so much for saying that about peanut butter and jelly and takeout. I feel so guilty for how often we scrounge for food or so fast food but I’m at my mental limit. And I’m one of the lucky ones with only having had four Covid exposures at daycare and having a flexible job that lets me work from home when necessary. It’s still so hard though.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          <3

          I feel guilty sometimes, too, but that's when I go to that "I'm parenting in a pandemic" thing. We've found new restaurants that we love through ordering out, and try to tip generously so we joke that we're ordering out so much to stimulate our local economy. Plus, when I actually have *time* to cook now, I really enjoy it (almost as much as I enjoyed it in the pre-kids days!).

    18. NeverEnding*

      Another second to this. I’m drowning with a 5-year-old and 2-year-old. I used to love my job but these past two years have drained me of all enthusiasm or drive. And it’s not ending.

      1. Holey Hobby*

        Yeah. I have a great workplace. But I’m dead inside, just forcing myself to go to my laptop in my living room every morning (we are still fully remote) and try and comprehend what is emails over the sound of those Ruby and Bonnie videos that were produced in hell by demons but keep the youngest quiet for 20 minutes at a stretch.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        Yup. Last fall I transitioned from a job I loved deeply to one that is tangentially related but a step back, and I skipped applying in November for a major promotion that is a major career goal but also really intensive. I just can’t take that on right now, with a third kid on the way into this shitstorm.

    19. Christina*

      Every day I give thanks that my kids were young adults when Covid hit – it cost us in college tuition and credits and timing….and they are floundering with the world on hold. But my situation with my young adults is a million times better than anyone with young kids – whether they are daycare age and mom is trying to work a job, or school age and mom is trying to remote school and work a job.

    20. Biology dropout*

      This letter made me cry. I feel this so much. I’m only working part time but I completely feel like I’m drowning, all the time.

    21. Erin*

      I don’t have kids, but I’m crying out of solidarity to this too! Many of my friends and co-workers are in this very situation, and it is just beyond difficult.

      One of my friends organized a care group swap within her neighborhood. It has worked out so-so. Different child ages, and different levels of hosting responsibilities have made it hard (what?? I can’t just send my 3 year old & 12 year old twins each day, and never reciprocate??)

      I’m so sorry to you, and to all of the parents in this situation.

    22. Mandible*

      I was coming to the comments to say something similar. I’m just sorry to hear about all of the stress working moms are going through. I don’t have kids, but I struggle with anxiety/depression, so I can’t even imagine having to juggle work, that, and children. More power to you all, you’re awesome. Sending you a virtual hug!

    23. SpaceySteph*

      Came to say the same. I have a nearly-5yo, nearly-2yo, and 1 on the way. I’m trying to save every speck of vacation time for my next maternity leave (which is otherwise unpaid) but my kids keep getting sick. If they’re sick with anything, I have to keep them home, get them tested, keep me home, then 5 days later get me tested.

      My 4yo did catch covid in December and once it was clear she was going to be ok, I was almost relieved like “well at least now I know how it gets us” only none of the rest of us tested positive/got sick, so after 10 days of quarantine we’re still back at square one waiting to catch it and isolating every time my 1yo gets the sniffles which is basically ALL THE TIME.

      Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to get covid or spread covid or go out when sick in the middle of a pandemic, but its like at the same time that we’re expected to lock ourselves at home for 2 weeks anytime our little disease vectors sneeze we also are getting ZERO support (financial OR emotional or any other kind) and expected to keep plunking away at a full time job that just expects you to work remotely when quarantined without full time childcare, dwindling PTO and just ever increasing dread of something bad happening. I’m tired. And so sorry to everyone else out there in the same boat.

    24. Marie*

      Solidarity with you all. I feel like there’s no time for me or my career right now. I wish we had better answers. Fauci says vaccines for our young kids could come Q1-2 which would really help!

    25. Zanele Ngwenya*

      Solidarity from another mom of the under 5s. One thing a few daycare families and I did this time was to rotate afternoons during a closure- send my kid to your house on this afternoon, then you send yours to mine the next day. That way, we each can still work a half day and only need to take a half day off. Since the kids are all together all day anyways, it worked…

      I have had 2 mom friends call me crying on the phone during what were supposed to be normal check-ins this week. Another just found out today she has to work from home until kid’s test results come in. We are at our breaking point and there needs to be policy change FAST.

    26. Sparrow*

      Same. I have a 3-year-old and a 2-month-0ld, and my spouse and I both work full-time. My spouse’s job has a very flexible schedule and good remote options, but he has to work a certain number of hours per week. Mine has some periods where I can be flexible and some where I have to be there in person at a certain time (and some of the latter are during off-hours like evenings and weekends). Our 3-year-old is in preschool, but the newborn, of course, is at home basically all the time since she can’t wear a mask (which means someone has to be at home with her at all times). The only way we’ve survived thus far is by having grandparents close by who can sometimes watch the kids if school closes down for quarantine. Even still, it’s a lot of juggling childcare time between parents and grandparents and trying to fit in work wherever we can. It feels like we’re parenting young children on hard mode. There are no good options.

    27. RedFraggle*

      Pre-plague, I heard this:

      Society expects women to parent as if they don’t work, and work as if they’re not parents.

      It was bad enough pre-plague. But now? It’s so much worse.

      I’m fortunate that my kids are older (my oldest graduated 2020, youngest is a senior this year), but I remember a doctor (I work medical) making me cry as I left the office AGAIN because my kid who needed ear tubes was spiking a 100° fever every afternoon, and daycare made me come get him every day. (The worst part was that, if you put him down for a nap, when he woke up the fever would be gone. So I was being called to come pick my kid up so he could nap off his afternoon fever.)

      I can’t imagine being a mom of littles right now.

    1. Doug Judy*

      It is. And the upcoming two years of this has definitely impacted my mental health as of late. The initial March 2020 belief that this whole working from home with small kids would just be a wacky month and then we’d move on, has turned into an inescapable Jeremy Bearimy time loop.

      I have no advice OP other than to practice as much self care as you can whenever you can, end if it’s just 5 min or treating yourself to a small treat. I recently got myself some nice merino wool socks, and it’s crazy that it helped but little $20 luxury made me happy.

      1. Ingrid*

        “The initial March 2020 belief that this whole working from home with small kids would just be a wacky month and then we’d move on, has turned into an inescapable Jeremy Bearimy time loop.”

        Yes. This. Oh my gosh. There is just so much despair and so little help and support.

      2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I agree about the self care. It’s funny how even though it doesn’t fix anything, really, it still helps.

        And – sometimes it doesn’t. So if you do the self care stuff – take a bubble bath, buy yourself the nice cheese and crackers, go for a run – and you still feel overwhelmed – don’t beat yourself up about it. This is overwhelming and sometimes it’s not short-term fixable.

      3. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        I never thought it would only be 2 weeks, but I never thought it would be 2 years and counting.
        And it’s so exhausting seeing the finish line keep moving.
        I can see why some parents are responding by quitting their jobs and pulling their kids for day care. What’s the point of paying for day care when it’s closed half the time?
        And I can even see why some people are responding by giving up on trying to stay safe; and just going back to visiting friends and family, eating out, traveling, etc.

      4. Spero*

        This is NOT criticism of you in any way, but it drives me crazy that we speak of supposed self care this way.
        It is NORMAL for life to have a mix of positive and stressful experiences. If you treat yourself or take a nice bath that is achieving a balanced life, not self care following stress/trauma! It balances the negative/stressful, but it doesn’t fix it. Now, a balanced life with routine positive experiences makes dealing with the negative feel more manageable and can increase your capacity to handle the negative – but the only thing that is going to fix/address the stress is either structural change or therapy/meds in some situations. We are just so conditioned by our society to think that structural changes are either impossible or radically revolutionary (ie you want a 35 hr work week and $15 an hour? You’re a socialist!!) that instead of spending our time fighting for those things, we spend it trying to convince ourselves that a massage can fix unsustainable burnout. Self care is learning about, setting, and hold boundaries. Self care is demanding equitable and fair pay and treatment in our work. Self care is valuing yourself enough to fight to make others value you appropriately too. Self care is forcing modifications to the unsustainable conditions and acknowledging past experiences as legitimately traumatic when appropriate, not just ‘a little stress fixed up by a manicure.’
        And yes- not everyone has the bandwith for real self care either. But we need to stop calling regular positive life experiences self care. They are nice, but you don’t have to ‘earn’ them by suffering and you shouldn’t feel like you ‘fail’ at self care when buying some socks didn’t make your job any easier to handle.

    2. RedinSC*

      It really is. I have no small kids at home and I’m feeling nearly this despair. We’re all so tired, and I’ve been wondering how families with small kids have been managing over these last 2 years. I know my cousin quit his job because of their two little kids, as his wife was the one with the health insurance through her work. They’re managing, but the mental health toll of this pandemic is so far reaching.

      LW, I’m sorry, I wish I had a magic wand that could solve this for all. It sounds to me like you’re doing everything you can, and I hate that it’s not enough. *hugs*

    1. Quinalla*

      So much sympathy and some empathy too. I feel very lucky to have kids the ages I do (two in elementary, one in middle school who started this year). When they were doing school at home last year for most of the year it was awful, I felt like I had a full-time job plus a part-time job and same for my husband since we split the schooling from home load. I cannot imagine if they were young enough to not really ever be able to leave alone than a few minutes. I worked a similar schedule to what you describe during that time, but I could at least work once school was over and have them play/watch TV/play electronics while I worked during that time so I usually didn’t have to work late at night but yeah 4am sounds familiar :/ And older kids in high school/college, sure they can take care of themselves, but their education is a mess with all the remote. I’m not perfect at it, but I do pretty well with elementary kids teaching the things per the teacher’s lesson plan so I don’t feel they are too behind.

      The parents I work with now who have kids that age are basically working part-time anytime their kids are sent home from daycare – or full time with schedules like you are describing. And it is definitely affecting women more, but even a lot of Dads (I work in a male dominated industry) are being affected which is honestly something I’ve never see to this degree. Typically its just doing some school pickups or leaving early to coach sports for Dads, not all the rest (doc appointments, taking forgotten backpacks to school, playdates, the not-fun activities stuff, most of the school/daycare drop off/pickup, etc.) that typically falls on Mom. But now if their wife hasn’t dropped out of work, or even if she has but is sick, Dad is having to do it all and having to make big adjustments at work.

      OP, I don’t have a solution for you, but it sucks that it sounds like you are the only one affected to this degree at work. I’m lucky that I’d say the majority of people at my workplace have 1 or more kids somewhere in the infant-high school level somewhere so we are all in it together for better or worse, some are no kids and some are past the kids live with me (though that too has been reversed for some), but most of us have been dealing with it at some point and outside of a few C suite folks, most people are in a two parent working situation. My work is still allowing anyone to work from home any amount for any reason, the only reason you need to communicate if you are coming in is to coordinate safety with people at desks. This has helped immensely and other flexibility is there. I’m so sorry your boss is unsupportive and apparently doesn’t believe you are actually working when you are at home :(

  1. R*

    We have a vaccinated babysitter for 4 hours a day, regardless of if school is open or not. She is essentially part of our bubble. We are very lucky that we can afford this luxury. When school is open, she doesn’t end up working the full 4 hours usually. When school is remote/closed, the 4 hours she is here are an absolute life saver. We had 1 week in 2021 when she was unable to work and school was remote. It was awful, so I understand your pain.

    1. Let me clear my schedule for you*

      That’s a good work-around for families with young kids. My daughter is a college student and babysits much the same as you describe. I hate what working parents are going through now.

      1. TatertotQueen*

        A great workaround, if you can afford it. When our daycare closes we still have to pay 50% weekly tuition to keep his spot, and the other 50% isn’t even enough to cover one full day of care.

        1. FridayFriyay*

          Yup. If you can afford it. When our daycare closes we still have to pay 100% tuition. Same with all the various quarantines and such. So many daycares in our area have gone under during the pandemic that of course we want to pay it to keep them open and available for our childcare needs now and in the future (and because their workers deserve to be paid!) but it doesn’t leave room in the budget to pay for another babysitter at $25+ an hour when you’re already paying a mortgage payment for full time infant daycare.

        2. Just Another Zebra*

          We have to pay the full month, regardless. It’s absurd. I argued with the director and eventually got a little bit back, but not nearly what we should have (IMO). Paying for additional care on top of it can cripple a family’s budget

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            How do the teachers get paid if all the parents demand a refund when the daycare has to close?

            1. Just Another Zebra*

              I’m not unsympathetic. Really, I’m not. But for what daycare costs, not reimbursing parents means they have to now pay for daycare they aren’t using, as well as last minute child care for quarantine. Some families just can’t afford to pay for child care twice.

              1. anne of mean gables*

                I am not trying to be antagonistic, truly, but I do want to make the point that I highly doubt the daycare staff can afford to be without pay for days or a week at a time when the daycare closes. I don’t know how things are where you are, but several daycare centers in my town have closed in the last two years for want of staff, and (because I have some insight into the balance sheet of our daycare via a girlfriend on the board) I’m truly terrified ours will close down too. If your daycare is reimbursing on demand for closures, that is coming directly out of what is probably a very small black margin. Things are close to the bone all around – they aren’t charging 100% tuition for closed days because it’s fun for them, or they want to take it to the bank – they’re doing it to survive and retain their staff.

              2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                Yeah, it definitely sucks for everybody. Parents are between a rock and a hard place, daycares are between a rock and a hard place, and there just feels like there isn’t an easy solution that doesn’t cause *someone* to come out with the short end of the stick.

            2. done with it all*

              So really, that’s on the daycare to figure out. They provide the service, they handle the payments to their staff. It’s not the customer’s (parent’s) responsibility to ensure their staff gets paid. It happens with no other industry – no one batted an eye at how restaurant staff, recreational/retail staff, etc would be paid when those businesses shuttered in 2020.

              1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                Then don’t complain when your daycare can’t keep qualified staff and has to close.

                Comparing daycares to restaurant and retail staff is not at all a 1:1 comparison. I may visit 5 different stores and 3 different restaurants in a given week, and those restaurants may change weekly. I go to the same daycare every damn day.

              2. pancakes*

                “no one batted an eye at how restaurant staff, recreational/retail staff, etc would be paid when those businesses shuttered in 2020” — Um, no, people in my city, where the restaurant industry “had 23,650 establishments in 2019, provided 317,800 jobs, [and] paid $10.7 billion in total wages citywide” (quoting from a NYC Hospitality Alliance report) were and are very concerned about this. Please don’t think your own lack of concern about how people will manage is standard. Restaurant workers, retail workers, and daycare workers are fellow humans. They aren’t going to go in a state of suspended animation like robots while they’re not working.

            3. Batgirl*

              I don’t think anyone is suggesting that daycare staff shouldn’t get paid, just that it’s harder to have children who aren’t old enough to be in free education. Really, its bizarre to treat early years education like a business at all; it’s not like you can go elsewhere for daycare whenever, like it’s a haircut.

          2. anne of mean gables*

            The problem is, the daycare’s expenses don’t really go down when they’re closed (assuming that they are paying staff while they’re closed, which they should be because 1) morals and 2) there is a MASSIVE shortage of daycare workers rn, and daycares are desperate to keep the staff they do have).

          3. AVP*

            Mine is paid 100% if you pull your kid out, no payment if the exposure is the school or a teacher’s fault. Honestly, they’ve been way better about not exposing kids and keeping quarantines to a minimum throughout omicron (only one 5-day closure and it only hit 3 out of 6 classrooms) and part of me thinks this policy is why they’re so conservative…but as a wfh mom who lost it when my infant had to leave for a week, I love it.

            1. Just Another Zebra*

              My daughter hasn’t had a full week of school since 12/6. She’s currently out on her second quarantine this year. Out of 21 school days in January, she’s been there 6. Unless you argue for it, you get nothing back for the closures. Your school’s policy honestly sounds like a dream.

              1. AVP*

                I’m in a market where daycare is so expensive that a nanny-share is cheaper (and seems like there’s enough workers to hire one if you want to) and I think they’re seriously concerned that people will leave in a huff, even if they can fill the spot.

        3. Turanga Leela*

          We pay 100% no matter what; it’s in our contract. We don’t have secondary childcare. We’re lucky that we can juggle parent/grandparent schedules when we have to.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            Yeah, I don’t want to calculate how much we paid for zero days of daycare between mid-March 2020 and late summer 2020. But it was 100% of big-city daycare prices.

            1. Momma Bear*

              I believe it. Back when I got one week of “vacation” from the daycare after 1 year but any other time the kid needed to be out we owed the tuition for the week. You miss it? You lose your slot. Childcare wait lists are long and they know that they’ll have someone to fill if you don’t pay to hold the space.

    2. Emily*

      Seconding this. Try a nanny-share. We had a babysitter most of the pandemic when schools were entirely closed (and my kids were only a bit older than OP’s), and it saved my sanity, though it wasn’t all rosy. She did have her problems.
      She traveled to see various family members during strict quarantine / travel restrictions, scheduled time off without checking with us, and eventually we had to let her go (in hindsight she…. probably would have been a vax skeptic too). But despite all that, it was worth it…. She was a good babysitter to the kids themselves, they loved her. So having a nanny might add some risk (and obviously financial burden), but I think it’s ultimately lower risk than OP burning out completely. It is really important to not drop out of the workforce.

      1. FridayFriyay*

        A nanny share here is almost twice the cost of infant daycare, which is already the size of a decent monthly mortgage payment. Better than the easily 4x daycare cost of an individual nanny, but still out of reach for a lot of families.

          1. Emily*

            We sometimes also asked a local high-school student to help a few hours here and there for rather little money. There are a lot of kids who might as well make some money since they are also stuck at home. Not saying it’s easy, but OP didn’t mention if they had already explored this route. Not sure where you are getting 4x, FridayFriyay. For us with 2 young kids, the one babysitter (we didn’t even ‘share’) was cheaper than daycare. If we shared it would have saved us money for sure. Our daycare was charging about average for where we live. Granted we are in a high COL place where prices might be odd compared to other places.

            1. R*

              I feel like once you manage to find someone who your kids like, and you like, it’s a game changer. 4 hours a day doesn’t sound like much, but oh my goodness, when you know that is your only precious 4 (mostly) uninterrupted work hours, it’s remarkable how much can be accomplished work wise.

            2. FridayFriyay*

              We are in a MCOL area and that’s what I’m basing my calculations on but I priced it out several times in the last 2+ years and it went from expensive (pre covid) to EXTRAordinarily expensive. The nanny shortage here is INSANE and it’s driving the costs up significantly. It’s basically impossible to find someone who is vaccinated and available for the hours we need (we need to work mostly working hour schedules so high school students are not an option.)

            3. Dahlia*

              The high school here has like 3 grades closed completely due to covid so I’m not sure that’s a solution everywhere.

        1. sunny-dee*

          WTAF? I have a nanny, and she is almost exactly the same cost as infant / toddler daycare. She’s like $200 a month more. And I don’t have the same issues with lost time (she does get sick and ask for time off, of course, but much less frequently and unpredictably).

          1. FridayFriyay*

            That’s great for you that it’s an option. The costs in my area are obviously very different from yours.

            1. Starbuck*

              Yes, where I am pretty much everything else pays better than childcare (especially part-time under the table work which is usually what’s offered) that local parents are constantly posting these desperate help wanted ads. If the pay is mentioned, it’s low – you can easily make more starting fast food or retail.

          2. Jo*

            Nannies make minimum $20/hr here. So for a full (9hr days – work + travel) week that would be $900/week for a 45 hour workweek. We pay daycare $1500/month.

    3. Office Sweater Lady*

      Yes, I think the options are either the LW quitting or substantially downshifting or paying another person to do this work. The family needs a babysitter who can look after just these kids (a nanny) or perhaps a nanny share with another family. Keep it small and the risk of exposure will be lower and there will be fewer disruptions. If she can find another family, the cost may not even be as prohibitive as she thinks, if they are already paying for daycare. Also, just want to say, just because your husband earns more doesn’t mean you should always default to him. If it does come down to one parent quitting or downshifting, consider the whole package, including advancement in future, total lifetime earning potential, how easy it is to get hired back, who loves their work more, etc.

    4. Anonymous Sloth*

      We did something very similar during one of the fall/winter COVID surges. My oldest (6 years) was in school and youngest (2 years) was in daycare. We took littlest one out of daycare and they let us pay a second registration fee to hold a spot but without paying weekly tuition. Then we got one of the part-time teachers at school to watch the 2-year-old for four hours in the morning before going to work at the school. I knew they were masking and taking things seriously at the school, and the teacher was available and in our bubble already, so to speak. I worked from home while the teacher watched our littlest one. I was able to work while littlest was taken care of and then when littlest went down for a nap I kept working. Greatly reduced the stress and amount of after-5pm work I had to do after my spouse came home. Assuming my littlest took his nap or was at least content and quiet in his room, then I got a solid 5-6 hours of work in each day without interruption. Not ideal, but an improvement over the alternative.

      Being at home while the teacher was with my little one also meant I wasn’t losing work time driving to/from the office unless I had to do something on-site. We paid the part-time teacher using Care.com’s Homepay service, which itself cost money. But they took care of all of the employment taxes, withholdings, and forms and I didn’t have to try to figure any of that stuff out, so I thought it was worth it to pay someone else to deal with that. It was not cheaper than our daycare because we wanted to pay the teacher a decent wage, but it was similar in cost to some of the daycares in our area.

    5. Rolly*

      We have something like this. Costly, but my partner and I make enough.

      Society as a whole needs to stop up to help with childcare, and make it so hard for people not privileged.

  2. Sorry older mom*

    Hugs! This is horrible. Any chance you can hire in a sitter? My daughter has picked up shifts with moms in these circumstances. It isn’t ideal, but it might give you a day of sanity.

    1. elle woods*

      Or a neighborhood middle/high schooler who can mind the kids for a few hours after school while OP works in the next room?

      1. kt*

        Yeah, a “mother’s helper” rather than an independent babysitter could maybe help. A 13-year-old who comes over at 3 pm and can spend 1.5 hours playing with the kids in the next room could be amazing — and could solve another mom or dad’s after-school care dilemma, as so many places don’t have after-school care right now or parents don’t want to pay for it.

      2. Nobby Nobbs*

        “Mother’s helper” was considered a standard way to ease yourself into babysitting when I was a preteen. It would barely be a bandaid on OP’s situation, but for a few hours a week it could be an affordable bandaid at least, now that that demographic is eligible to be vaccinated.

      3. Sparrow*

        Seconding this. We’ve had a 12-year-old neighbor come over and play with our 3-year-old for a few hours a couple of times and it has been invaluable for everyone’s sanity.

    2. Lizard*

      A sitter could work, but it would be subject to the same issues as a daycae center…. specifically absences due to COVID, being late, etc. I had a report who tried a daycare / babysitter combo, and eventually decided to leave the workforce because reliable childcare was simply not available to her. This was after we tried working with her on hours, hours reduction, etc.

    3. ABK*

      This ignores the fact that exposed kids are supposed to be quarantining. brinign in someone else from outside the home (family members, friends, paid help) totally misses the reality of QUARANTING!

  3. TatertotQueen*

    I’m crying at my temporary kitchen table office while I’m reading this, at home with my quarantined toddler and desperately trying to stay on top of my work while feeling like I’m about to be fired because this is the 4th time this has happened in as many months. I dragged myself into the office with strep and an abscessed tonsil (because it wasn’t Covid!) the last two weeks so I could save my PTO for situations like this.
    I’m so sorry, I have no advice, just commiseration. I feel like a shell of myself after the last two years. Know you aren’t alone.

  4. Justin*

    With the caveat that I am a man, our son was born one month after OP’s youngest. Our jobs are sliightly more flexible, but definitely no family that can take care of him if school were closed, and basically I don’t have the best of news for you: he tested positive as it ran through the small daycare. But the actual good news is he had no symptoms (he wasn’t even sleepy or sneezy), and everyone at school seems to have already been through it, and so in a way, we got a weird kind of lucky, as our dr says he’s likely protected for some months now.

    I can only wish you support and good luck. I know we were lucky that it basically bounced off of him (and we never tested positive, though I suppose we could have had it on a few of the days we didn’t test ourselves).

  5. Re'lar Fela*

    OP, I’m so sorry. I’m in a similar boat and it feels just absolutely impossible. As I type this, I am working remotely and still recovering from my own brush with Omicron while my (fully vaccinated) COVID positive five year old is sitting next to me quarantined and coughing up her lungs. I’m also in grad school (virtually) and have class tonight. My family is more than an hour away and I’m a single parent, so there’s literally no one else. And I’m also the only person in my position at my job. Oh, and before I got COVID, I had bronchitis in late December. So my work has suffered accordingly over the past month. My supervisor is incredibly kind and does her best to be supportive and understanding, but ultimately she needs my job to be done.

    Basically, this sucks and I empathize so much. Would it be at all possible to work part time or take any sort of FMLA leave until this variant finishes cutting through the population? I don’t know all the details of those options because I need my full paycheck, but it might be worth looking into.

      1. Wandering Denna*

        Nothing to add here either, I just wanted to jump on the handle appreciation train – I love both of yours. :)

    1. Not all sunshine and daisies*

      This. A colleague of mine was in a very similar boat and has been able to reduce her hours to 50% for the next 6 months. She is happier, more productive, and it has stopped her dropping balls constantly and feeling stressed all the time. Worth exploring if it is possible for your circumstances.

      So sorry to you and everyone else who is going through this.

      1. It's terrible*

        But what if you reduce your hours and your job doesn’t reduce your workload? I am trying to fit 60+ hours of work into 37.5 hours a week–and I can’t even work those reduced hours when the preschool closes for the nth time. I can’t have another caregiver come over when one or both children are quarantining due to COVID exposure; that would just put the caregiver at risk. Being off work so much messes me up in the present and simultaneously messes me up for future promotions/pay raises too, because I’m hardly a leader or innovator or model employee right now. I am a cranky ball of resentment and exhaustion and shame and worry.

        1. ferrina*

          This is the worst. Best you can do is say “I can do X and Y, but not Z. If you’d like Z done, then we need to push the deadline for Y by 2 weeks”. Alison had a question like this back in the archives. Sometimes this works, but if not, switch to minimal effort and do what you need to to find a true 40hr job (I’m sorry, I’ve been there. This sucks)

    2. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      Yes, this is what I was thinking too – FMLA (if you can get a doctor’s “note”) or just request going to 50-60% for at least 6 months AND your husband should try to officially go down to 75-80%. Because I guarantee otherwise you will be doing MORE at home and so it will not feel less crushing.

      1. irritable vowel*

        Agree strongly with the note that OP’s husband should take a work reduction or partial leave as well – this shouldn’t all be on the OP to fix.

      2. Just get through this surge*

        I’m on a school COVID response team, and all of our schools have been completely overwhelmed by COVID since December. Looking at the trajectory of cases, though, I don’t think you need to go part time for 6 months, just ask to do it for 2-4 weeks. It’s a lower financial hit, and the current surge we’re in is going to run down sooner rather than later.

        Also, I know how much it hurts to feel like you’re failing at your job. When my kids were that age (pre-COVID), I was working myself to the bone and basically failing at everything. Looking back on that time now, I wish I had been more selfish at work. I was already being perceived as a failure that year, so my hard work and late nights earned me no credit. If I had given less of myself to my work, I think the perception that my boss had of me would have been the same, but I would have had more time to do things like eat food or sleep more than 4 hours a night.

        1. becca*

          On the other hand, going half time for six months would allow OP to catch up on sleep, even if cases/quarantines subside.

    3. Spero*

      Nothing to add but thanks for acknowledging the unique impact on single parents of little ones – I have a 3 yo and no local family, so the suggestions about ‘go half time so your partner can keep up his hours’ are just impossibly unattainable.

      1. Re'lar Fela*

        Oh my goodness, I can’t imagine! My daughter was 3 when this all started, but thankfully she is now 5 and much more easily able to entertain herself for brief periods when I’m in a meeting or get herself some water or a snack while I’m working. I cannot begin to imagine going through the pandemic alone with a 1-3 year old rather than a 3-5 year old. Sending you all kinds of well wishes and support!

        One of my most-used movie references is from About A Boy when the single parent support group is chanting “Single parents alone together!”–so real

  6. RoseBud*

    I had twin girls in August 2020 and was not about to put my three month old babies in daycare in the midst of a pandemic. The long and short of it is we found in-home childcare to be much more affordable than we expected. The nanny we found on Care.com had 20+ years of experience and excellent references. Even if you want to keep your kids in daycare, finding a reliable sitter who can come over on the days that daycare is shut down and stay with your kids could be invaluable. Look into it!

    1. laconfidential*

      There is a huge shortage of nannies right now and it often costs double what daycare does. Most folks don’t have the luxury to pay for both.

      1. FridayFriyay*

        Yup. Here a nanny is about 4x what (already expensive) infant daycare costs. Nanny share, if you can find one with another family who is reasonably close AND also covid cautious, is about 2x daycare cost. With twins I believe the cost might be more reasonable compared to daycare, but it’s still WILDLY unaffordable.

      2. Clisby*

        Yes, but the person posting about this had infant twins. It’s entirely possible a nanny for twin babies costs less than day care for two babies.

        1. Tibbs*

          Can confirm as a mom of twins, a nanny for two infants is MUCH less expensive than daycare for two. And a better experience overall

      3. Mama llama*

        If I were in her shoes I’d rather have a nanny that didn’t need to quarantine 3x in a few months, even if it meant I could afford fewer hours. Even if it meant I had to get up at 4 on Fridays and work from home for that one day per week.

        Something’s gotta give here. Daycare isn’t cheap and it’s not giving you what you need.

        1. RoseBud*

          I agree. I thought for sure we wouldn’t be able to afford private care and I would have to quit my job, but was surprised that the difference wasn’t so astronomical as to be impossible. If OP is already missing so much work and their pay is being affected, it’s an option to explore.

          1. Ccc*

            Definitely worth looking into. We have a nanny and it’s a lifesaver… more like a career-saver. We are fortunate to be able to afford it (and yes it can be comparable to daycare for 2 kids, depending on the age of the kids and the hours you need).

    2. Scion*

      Speaking as another parent of multiples, an in-home nanny proved to be significantly less expensive than daycare. And it’s much less likely for a single adult to get infected, than an entire school.

  7. Knope Knope Knope*

    Also no advice, but I can relate. I am fortunate to have help from my mom and MIL with my newborn, but when my 2 year old has a daycare shutdown we’re quarantined and struggling. My husband is not very helpful and I am our primary earner. No matter what I do I feel I am letting my kids down. I feel for us all.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      You’re the primary earner and your husband isn’t “very helpful”? That’s some hot garbage and he needs to step up.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Just wanted to add that I know it’s not as simple as that, it’s not an immediate quick fix, and if it was that simple you would have done it already. You’re in an awful situation, and it just sucks that it sounds like the person who should be your partner in crime is adding to your burden instead of relieving it.

      2. Ally McBeal*

        Yeah – Knope isn’t the one letting her kids down. I’ll happily place most of that blame on her husband’s shoulders.

  8. Just Another Zebra*

    I feel this so much right now. Of the 21 school days in January (my daughter is in preschool), my child has gone to school… 6 days. 2 COVID closures (one right now, actually) and a few snow days mean that I’m so very, very behind at work. Like you, OP, my husband makes more, but thankfully has some (limited) WFH options. My job isn’t particularly set up for me to WFH, but I can “in a pinch”. But I can only do about 60% of my work from my couch, and less while watching a preschooler. It’s… exhausting.

    Advice? Know you aren’t alone. Try to take some time for yourself, even if it’s only 30 minutes of reading, or a nap, or watching one episode of a show. One of my friends quit her job because of the pandemic; spotty childcare meant she couldn’t keep up at work. So they pulled their son from daycare and she’s a SAHM now. Her salary essentially paid for daycare, so they’re doing OK. Maybe this is an option for you, OP?

    You could also speak with your boss / HR. Explain the situation, and see if they have some options for you.

    Good luck.

  9. NotMichaelScott*

    I have no advice. It was hard enough to be a working mom before the pandemic. This is a situation that has gone from bad to worse. My kids are school aged and vaccinated so for now our lives are as back to normal as is possible at the moment. I have all the sympathy in the world for moms of the younger ones. I would not have been able to work at all. I’m so so sorry you’re dealing with this.

  10. Emily*

    The thing that shocks me is that the paid family leave for COVID expired, the payments to families with children stopped in December, and there seems to be no news coverage of either of these (or the many other structural things that were set up in a stop gap way but have now disappeared) and yet parents (especially of the under 5s) are in essentially the same situation as March 2020. I know we all have no time or energy, but I think trying to contact reps/senators/raise awareness of how many people are facing this situation is really important.

    1. YourQueerEmployee*

      I know! All the structural supports for families have disappeared, right when all of us are being impacted by exposures and illness more than we ever were at the beginning. And who has the energy to push for structural change? Not the parents… we can hardly even pull together a pot of Mac and cheese anymore

    2. Under 5 family*

      YES! to everything, Emily. I couldn’t agree more. Everyone, please let your elected officials know!
      OP, like many others, we are in a similar boat. We don’t have family that can watch our son either and are left to “figure it out” with closures. We are just bracing for the next closure and it’s incredibly stressful. What I wish there was more talk of is holding our employers accountable with more flexibility, sick time, and etc. It feels like most have moved on from the pandemic life without care or consideration for people who cannot. I don’t know if it feels better or worse to see so many struggling through the same issues with no end in sight but it is comforting to read that I’m not the only one feeling these feelings.

    3. FridayFriyay*

      YES. And the vaccines for under 5 keep facing longer and longer delays. There is no end in sight. We are not ok and there is basically no recognition of that from any direction (employers, government, etc.)

    4. Aerie*

      The parents of children under 5 are supposed to relax because Covid is so mild in children and if all of us around them are vaxxed they’ll be fine. /s

      I have a soon-to-be four year old. I cried in December when the Pfizer trial wasn’t working as hoped (remember when they said we were supposed to have the under 5 vaccine by end of January?). I am so lucky to have a flexible job and a stay at home spouse (and we even ended up moving mid-pandemic to be closer to family for more support). All of my love to the parents like OP who don’t have as robust of a support network.

    5. Data Analyst*

      YES! I am so angry about this. The overall Covid situation is worse now than when we had the paid leave, because of Omicron. Pre-Omicron I think there were three incidents with daycare where nobody at daycare actually had it, but they had been exposed. Now I get daily emails about exposures. But I’m just on my own re: time off. It feels very unfair.

    6. Starbuck*

      I just heard about it on NPR this morning, and it’s not the first time. They had clips of parents (all mothers I think, which, augh ok fine then) talking about how much it had helped them, along with the stats on how much child poverty was reduced.

    7. Cj*

      I’m curious what the country the OP is in. “Covid pay” seems to be a US thing. The US has a child tax credit, not the family tax credit that the OP references, but that appears to be a credit in the UK. Having heard here what people in the UK get for vacation, it seems odd they would both be out of PTO already this year if that is where they are.

      The reason I ask is this: If she is in the US, the child tax credit didn’t “go away”. It was reduced to it’s previous level of $2,000 for children the age hers are, but that is far from “going away”. There are no more advance child tax credit payments, but if they normally get a refund because of these credits, they can reduce their withholding and receive more net pay each paycheck.

      For the 2021 tax year, the child care tax credit went WAY up, both in the amount of eligible expenses and the maximum percentage you can get, plus it is refundable, where in the past it could only offset your tax liability. They should file their 2021 return as soon as possible if they are eligible for this credit so they have more cash on hand to help while they aren’t both able to work/get PTO.

      1. Cj*

        What the child care credit going up can mean for them is a refund of $8,000, if their AGI is $125,000 or less, and they have $16,000 of child care expenses for the two kids. (It doesn’t get cut off entirely at $125,000 – the % just decreases).

      2. wormentude*

        In the UK, the annual leave year normally resets in April in most industries, so it’s in line with the tax year. So even with more leave, then it would easily by gone by this point.

      3. LizB*

        There is a huge difference, though, between having money just show up in your bank account (which was previously happening) vs. having to file your taxes and re-do your w4s before you see any actual money (which is the solution now). Families are already beyond burnt out, and we should be reducing every barrier possible to getting the support they need.

        1. But Wait There's More*

          On top of that, there are and will continue to be delays in processing taxes. There is no reasonable estimate for when to expect your refund to land — if you even get one, given the nature of the child tax credit.

      4. Claire*

        LW says she has two kids under 5, which was an extra $266.66 per month of child tax credit over and above the current $2000. That’s a fair amount of money! It can cover lost wages, extra childcare, take out, and gives breathing room. A lot of families are suffering from its loss now.

    8. gnomic heresy*

      Yes, this. The same people who were pushing for this under the former administration now seem to be breezily pretending it doesn’t exist. I almost think we’d get more done if we tried to get the other party to push on the new administration for it!

  11. no sleep for the wicked*

    I don’t even have kids and feel this awful many days. I’m working hybrid but it’s to cover for all the things my partner usually does but can’t because she’s now caretaking her disabled mom & brother (when not working her own frontline job) not for my convenience and my schedule is all over the place.
    I’m glad my employer is decent about it but I end up feeling like all I do is scramble and never quite catch up with anything while my health declines and sleep is a joke.
    I feel like we all need a month shut down, fully paid, but the world is spinning faster all the time and a break seems extremelyunlikely.
    I find myself almost wanting to catch covid so I can have some time off, which is ridiculous.

      1. PostalMixup*

        Same. The work I can’t do because I’m not in site is piling up, I still have to try and work at home while I feel lousy, and it hurts every time I cough.

    1. Re'lar Fela*

      I felt the same way re: COVID/time off. Except, as it turns out, I caught COVID in early January with no PTO accrued yet for the year and ended up taking unpaid time off and then working while still miserably sick because I couldn’t afford more unpaid time and the stress of work piling up was too much to bear. As tempting as it may be, I don’t recommend it!

      A month of fully paid shutdown sounds like an absolute dream. I’m back to feeling like my May 2020 days of working remotely with a three year old and wishing I’d get laid off so I could collect unemployment

    2. SpaceySteph*

      I caught covid in Dec 2020.. I worked nearly full time hours remotely while looking after my kids and feeling like shit. 0/10, do not recommend.

  12. Yellow*

    I wish I had advice for you, but I don’t. Solidarity, because it sucks.
    Luckily my husband and I are both working from home right now, so during daycare closures we’ve been able to both take turns “supervising” our daughter. Supervising= making sure the next Netflix show starts without issue :(
    It sucks.

  13. YourQueerEmployee*

    There are no answers (that I know of). Us parents of kids under 5 are breaking. My mental health is abysmal, as is my partners. We are exhausted, burnt out, fight all the time, and I, at least, am constantly on the edge of a true mental health crisis that would have most people scrambling to send me to the hospital. And we’ve been lucky – we only have one kid and our preschool has great Covid protocols so has had fewer closures over the last 3 months than many in our community.

    I wish there was an answer but I don’t think there is, unless you can hire someone to help (who is fully aware of the risks of exposure and willing to take that on). Or find a pod family? That is one thing we’ve done – we agreed to “combine” our families and share childcare during closures even though we know that if they get it we’re sure to get it too. It requires a lot of trust and open communication, but has helped.

    1. a tester, not a developer*

      I think pod families are the dirty little secret of some families with little kids now – technically it’s a violation of lockdown rules where I live, but you have to do what you have to do. My boss was looking for something like that, but she has 3 kids under 5, so she couldn’t find a pod that was willing to add in so many extra kids.

      1. Sara*

        Where are there “lockdown” rules? There never was a nationwide “lockdown” or mandatory “quarantine.” I am confused people keep saying this.

        1. Adereterial*

          The entirety of the UK has been on full lockdown on 3 occasions – non-essential businesses shut, work from home orders in place, quarantine requirements for those testing positive and those having been in contact with them.

          You do realise that the majority of planet is not the USA?

        2. WindmillArms*

          I’m in Canada, and some (most?) provinces have more draconian lockdown rules now than at the start!

        3. curly sue*

          My province in Canada has been in and out of varying forms of lockdown and reduced-contact restrictions for the past two years. We’re lucky enough to have good friends with kids about the same age as ours who also have minimal other family in the area, so we bubble with them as our ‘social group of 10 or less’ to get some kind of human contact during heavier lockdown phases.

          1. Fieldpoppy*

            Yup. Toronto had one of the most continual full lockdowns in the world (surpassed only by, I think, Melbourne). We are currently in no-indoor dining, no gyms, no cultural gatherings lockdown. (And it’s not exactly patio weather, with 40 cm of snow and -14 temps). Lockdown. It’s a thing. And not everyone is from the US.

        4. a tester, not a developer*

          I’m in Canada. We’ve had multiple lockdowns in my province. People have been fined for breaking the rules (usually for holding large gatherings).

        5. AnonToday*

          Some of my coworkers who live outside the U.S. had strict lockdown rules that prohibited gathering with other households (at least in Israel, England and parts of Canada).

        6. Ally McBeal*

          No one said it was a nationwide lockdown. But I lived in NYC when it started and LET ME TELL YOU, that was a lockdown. Not as good as lockdowns in other countries (*stares longingly at a map of New Zealand*) but the city that never sleeps was in a coma.

      2. Rock Prof*

        My sister has a 2-year-old, and she and my BIL are almost out of PTO too, and they’ve been relying on other families in at their daycare, when the daycare would close or their were close contacts. Obviously, it’s not the best solution if there was an actual covid contact, but I think we’re all doing the best we can in amazingly awful conditions. She had the added annoyance of finding out their favorite daycare teacher was anti-vax when the teacher quit because they didn’t agree with the vaccination policy.

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I wish I could bring you home and be your nurse for 48 hours. My Glob, YQE. Maybe superhero movies in 20 years will feature Pandemic Parents like yourself.

    3. Jortina*

      You could be on to something here! OP Could you become a “pod” family with someone else in your daycare and tag team these days? Clearly adding more adults to the mix is the only possible help. You all have all my hugs and empathy.

    4. LizM*

      Yes, I’m lucky that one of my closest friends has a child in my son’s class, so they’re already more or less exposed to the same risk. We share childcare when their school is closed. At least we can each get a few hours of uninterrupted work done each day. Since they’re both only children, they can also entertain each other, which at least allows the parent providing child care to keep an eye on email, etc., even if they’re not getting time to do work that requires focus.

    5. Data Analyst*

      I echo your sentiments – I feel like I’m barely holding it together and everything is impossible, and yet I am lucky in that I do have paid time off, and we haven’t caught Covid yet. How are people without paid leave surviving? Well, I suppose the answer in many cases is, they aren’t.

    6. Zorra*

      Can you and your partner trade off on “Me Days”? Like every other Saturday you get 4-8 hours to yourself, then switch for the next week? And really use that for self-care.
      I got divorced during the pandemic (with 2 kids under 6 and while switching jobs…I have terrible timing) and I was shocked at how much difference half a day (or more) of rest (without kids) could make. I began to recognize myself again, and even read a book after a couple months of this!

  14. In solidarity*

    I wish I had an answer but I’m right there with you…all our family is far away and we’ve had 5 quarantine/daycare closures since June 2021 when my husband’s job opened back up. My only saving grace is that I only have one kiddo so it’s easier to manage and distract with TV and my company has been very understanding. My son attends a LOT of meetings joining on camera and interrupting with his own commentary.

  15. Daisy Gamgee*

    LW, I am so, so sorry. What you need is reliable help, but if you had a way to access that you already would have. I wish there were a way to reliably “pause” your career without repercussions, but at least in US culture there isn’t, really.

    FWIW, this isn’t just you. Working as the mother of small children was already difficult and then came the pandemic. I know it’s cold comfort, but at least I can tell you this isn’t a personal failing on your part. This is a very very difficult and hugely common situation.

    I wish you all the luck and that some help comes to you. If I were your neighbor I’d totally babysit.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      This. My own medium sized humans were small-sized humans pre-pandemic, and I can verify that being the working mum of a 2 and a 4 year old was a special type of hell even pre-pandemic (circa 2012). The system as we know it is NOT set up for success.

      It is NOT a personal failing. You ARE (more than) enough.

      Like many others, I do hope that your partner is providing some relief after his 12 hour shifts, as you’re pulling 20 hour shifts. If he’s not, that’s a pile of crap and needs remedying. (Said as someone who in 2012, had a partner working full time AND going to school, and we both slogged through it while dazed and sleep deprived and made it out the other side)

      The one boundary I have drawn for myself when I do have to WFH is that I do not shrug off joke about “being part time”. I have more than once countered with a “I don’t find that funny at all” or “if I was off, who should I be speaking to who covered me?” (answer: nobody because I WAS working). I have the capital at work to do so, and its limited the ridiculousness.

    2. BasketcaseNZ*

      I remember the time of being a working parent to a preschooler as a special kind of hard. And yeah, that was well pre-pandemic.
      In my country we haven’t been hit that hard, but we are currently seeing a new cresting wave that will likely see lots of mini lockdowns / shutdowns. My work has already moved to fully remote. And I hate it.

      None of this is a personal failing. These are exceptionally hard times for lots of people. I feel so sad reading all the comments here.

  16. Stackson*

    I’m so sorry. I don’t have kids but have coworkers that do and I watch them wilt every time they get the text from daycare saying that their child’s class has to quarantine. One of my coworkers is WFH right now, actually, on her busiest week of the year. I know she feels awful about it but there just aren’t good options right now. No advice, just… know that you are not alone, and your coworkers see you and what you are dealing with and we understand.

  17. NYWeasel*

    My kiddo was small decades before Covid, and minus the parts about wfh, I could have written the same letter. My husband is super helpful and managed lots of the care, so it wasn’t a case of me being saddled with all the child rearing bc I’m the woman. It was hard bc having small children is hard work. You have needy, whiny humans that you’re fully responsible for, and in your case you have all the disruptions of the pandemic too. I’m sure you already have been looking at all the options so I doubt any specific suggestions will be useful but in general the mantra “this too shall pass” got me through a lot of hard times back then.

    1. Midwest Manager*

      My grandfather had the best take on that mantra: “It might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass”

  18. Xavier Desmond*

    I’m curious about your financial situation OP. I completely appreciate that it feels horrible to have to give up your job but is it worth taking a career break for a couple of years. The situation you are in seems completely unsustainable and can’t be doing your mental health any good at all.

    I hesitate to suggest this as it’s a man basically saying to a woman you should stay at home to look after kids but I think it’s worth thinking about.

    1. catsamillion*

      I am not the LW, but as a professional woman in a similar situation with my kid, the issue is that leaving your career during primary earning years can mean a significant hit to retirement later on. I run a business and if I were to leave it or pause it to stay home full-time, I don’t know that I could go back to where I was once I was ready to/once covid situation is better. It also means there are years I can’t max out my Roth IRA.

      That’s in addition to if I did that I would go absolutely batshit insane because I need this work as a way to maintain my identity as an adult woman and not just a mother.

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        Yeah I agree with every word you say. It’s disgrace that women have to make these sorts of choices whereas men rarely do (another way capitalism sucks).
        It may not be an option for the OP but in the circumstances she finds herself in it may be the least worst choice.

        1. iiii*

          No. Capitalism does suck, but the systemic way men refuse to do ‘women’s work’ is patriarchy, not capitalism.

          1. Pocket Mouse*

            As is the way men are systematically better compensated than non-men, heavily influencing individual family decisions like which parent leaves the workforce for a time.

          2. Ally McBeal*

            The two are very closely intertwined. Women weren’t involved in the creation of the capitalist system as it exists today.

      2. PostalMixup*

        Yep. I’m in a knowledge-based field that moves very quickly. If I leave, even for a year or two, I likely wouldn’t be a competitive candidate at my current level when I was ready to re-enter.
        That, and as much as I love my kids, spending all day every day with them, with no outlet and no ability to leave the house, sounds like torture. Even though I currently have breakthrough COVID that my toddler brought home from daycare, thank God for daycare.

      3. MsSolo (UK)*

        As well as identity, I find working just so much less stressful than parenting – if someone doesn’t eat their lunch, or puts a magnet in their mouth, or wants to go to the park without their gloves on, it’s none of my F-ing business. It’s brilliant! Love my toddler, but childcare is simultaneously staying on a constant high alert and not actually using your intellect, so you end the day exhausted from the adrenaline but wired from the need to actually use your brain. All problems, very little solving.

        1. Rolly*

          To me, I wish I had a part-time job so I could do more parenting better. Work and parenting can both be good in the right doses! Too much of both together is rough!

          I’m probably too lazy, but I’d be up for being a babysitter when I retired with parents who treat me with respect. Maybe I’ll find some gig as a youth volunteer or coach.

      4. kt*

        I actually changed my stance toward work quite a bit when I had a kid (and note I only have one, not more). Suddenly I realized that if my spouse were to die or leave me, I’d need the financial wherewithal to support a child appropriately. I moved relatively quickly into an area with much more earning potential, out of education, because I did not want to be in the situation of a number of my friends in their 60s: prioritizing family, and then having lost all their savings through a combination of caring for sick people and divorce. This is not to say that staying at home or caring for sick family is a poor choice — it is to say that if I am going to take that on at some point, it’ll be useful to have more savings in the bank so I can weather it more easily, and I can take those steps now.

        Being a mom puts you at a lot of financial risk. I am trying to plan ahead for future me, even if the worst happens. Stepping out of the workforce is one way to deal with present problems; looking out for future you can be part of the thought process though. How can you restructure your finances to ensure that you are working fairly as a unit, rather than simply “mom takes a step back financially”?

      5. OoO*

        Yep. All of this. Plus even if you are somehow able to pick up where you left off (which many can’t d0), you’ll be however many years behind on wage growth.

      6. bunniferous*

        That is absolutely true BUT her situation right now is just untenable. The damage to her physical, emotional and mental health is not worth it. Add to that the strain this schedule would put on even the best marriage, and the fact this has to be rough on the children as well….A year or two stepping back is obviously not ideal career wise but the alternative could be a lot worse. No one should have to live this way! Obviously everyone’s situation is different, but from my vantage point (I’m a woman in my 60s) work is NOT EVERYTHING. I’ve been a working mom-for awhile I worked third shift with toddlers and no day care-while there was no pandemic in the 80s I do understand how hard it is.

    2. DataGirl*

      a lot of my friends with small children have left the work force because they had no childcare options. It does suck for many reasons, but if paychecks are already being reduced from not being able to put in 40 hours, maybe it would be manageable to downsize more, since you wouldn’t have daycare costs anymore?

      When my kids were little many years ago, I couldn’t afford to work a a full-time day job and pay for 2 kids to be in daycare, so instead I got a job as a cashier at the supermarket down the road and worked 6pm-12pm, after my husband got home from work. Even though I was only making $6/hr at the time I still took home more than I would have at the $15/hr, full time day job I was offered that would have required daycare. It may not be possible for OP given that her husband is working 12 hour shifts, and a lot of stores/restaurants close earlier these days. And I can definitely understand if someone with small kids would not want to risk exposing their kids to all those germs from working with the general public. Heck I can understand if no one in America wanted to work retail/food service/etc right now, given how the general public behaves. Just throwing this out there as a thought for anyone who might need the extra income but can’t work typical office hours.

    3. TheseOldWings*

      I don’t disagree, but I also think a lot of this is dependent on factors like what industry you work in and how long you plan to stay home. I work in advertising and took about 3 years off to be with my kids a few years ago. I was able to go back to work in my field, got a promotion and just accepted a new position with a 30% raise. It’s not impossible, and I wouldn’t suggest people stay home for 10+ years unless they didn’t plan to go back at all, but it was something I needed to do for my mental health at the time and I am glad I was able to have that time at home (and now I’m happy to be back to work, albeit not in these pandemic circumstances, as I can completely relate to everyone struggling on this thread since my youngest is still not eligible to be vaccinated).

    4. DinoGirl*

      Women leaving their jobs should not be the solution. It’s infuriating that this is the “best”society has to offer.

  19. Meatloaf Airstrike*

    Dad here, but primary caregiver whose spouse has an incredibly time consuming career. I lost my job at the start of the pandemic with a 1.5 year old and a 3.5 year old. After about 6 months of looking for work and taking care of both of them full time, I gave up and started my own business. The older one is in school now but the younger is still home, so I barely manage a few hours a week of actual work between all the housework and childcare.

    I don’t think there’s a realistic way I could have gone back to full time work, for all of the reasons you’re mentioning. I think the only way to do it is with an incredibly supportive employer, which is sounds like yours isn’t. I’ve heard of some friends successfully using a nanny share instead of daycare since that limits the number of families involved but that is, of course, easier said than done.

    I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this, OP. I wish I had advice for you but it sounds like you are managing as well as you possibly can given the circumstances. It’s a really punishing position to be in.

  20. NeverEndingPandemic*

    This is a hard time on everyone. There is nothing wrong with you. You are doing what is right in a crazy never-ending pandemic!

    It would be nice if your employer was more understanding. If you are getting your job done and meeting metrics, would a conversation with your boss be productive? “Thank you for recognizing the need for flexible work arrangements and supporting employees. I notice you check in on me frequently on days I am working remotely, and while I appreciate your concern for myself and my family’s health, I wanted to check in to ensure I am meeting the company’s expectations. During in-person weeks, I am in the office 9am-5pm, do XX teapot inspections and respond to YY teapot handle compliance matters with an average turnaround of ZZ time. On remote work weeks, I begin my day at 4am, and with the flexible work schedule am responding to urgent matters throughout the day but primarily work 4am – 9am and 8pm-midnight, do AA teapot inspections and respond to BB teapot handle compliance matters with an average turnaround of CC time with urgent matters having a turnaround of DD time.”

    That may highlight that: (1) they are checking in on you way too much, (2) you are working way too much based on your description and a good manager should encourage you to cut back, and (3) show that everything is getting done.

    I am a man, the higher wage earner with the “higher” work title, but for me that gives me a lot more flexibility and so I take on more of the child and house responsibilities. I am the edge case though…most of the burden of childcare falls on women and that takes it toll both on job opportunities and on mental health. That is not fair at all and I am sorry you are dealing with this stress.

    There is no good answer, especially with companies that do not understand that adults do not have to be monitored like children, and butt-in-seat does not equal productive worker and remote does not equal binge watching tv and not working.

    Take time to take care of yourself and your family. Having a frank conversation with your boss may allay some concerns and allow you to work out a system that meets their needs and allows you to work a reasonable amount of time so you have time to care for yourself and family.

    You are not alone.

    1. Six Degrees of Separation*

      This is great documentation. OP, I hope you read this comment. I am taking note of it, too, as a working parent.

    2. MsM*

      Yeah, I’m glad that OP likes her job, but it feels like a solid amount of this pressure could be relieved if the company would just get on board with the reality that remote work is going to have to be the norm going forward for employees who need it, and adapt accordingly.

    3. But Wait There's More*

      This is really excellent advice, but I wanted to branch into another discussion: “If you are getting your job done and meeting metrics.”

      Given everything the OP said she is dealing with and feeling, it REALLY matters that the company acknowledges that these are not normal times or circumstances and the expectations pre-COVID just simply don’t fit the current working situation. “Be more understanding” is the least of it — I don’t think many of us are asking for slack or even recognition so much as a partner in how to navigate the way things are and how to meet the business’s needs within it.

      I can see some really unfortunate downstream consequences of this change in regard, particularly as it applies to the parents of small children or other caregivers. If you could hire a childless thirty something or a thirty something with 2 kids under 5, which would you hire? Companies aren’t currently prohibited from using this as criteria (so long as they discriminate against parents of all genders equally).

  21. Soup*

    I just had to dip into my retirement account again. I have my own business, but it requires a lot of thinking and I can’t do it with the kids at home. My kids have been in school for THREE days in 2022. I have made $0 this month.

    My business is failing, my kids are failing, I’m failing at keeping the house clean. Things were looking up before Omicron and now it’s all a mess again. I think I’m probably severely depressed, but who isn’t these days?

    1. Soup*

      But I am fortunate enough to have a spouse with a full-time job who seems relieved that I’m the one at home and is supportive in that way but is also not the kind of person who will figure out how to improve the situation, so it’s still all on me to fix.

      1. kicking_k*

        Sending strength to you.

        My spouse has depression and chronic fatigue and consequently has severe limits on what he can manage. He looks after the kids when they come home from school – and would have to if they have to isolate. But why isn’t he at work? Because he’s not in a state of health to be able to (see above). He’s not a spare adult at a loose end.
        Meanwhile I work full-time and have variously WFH, been on partial furlough, and been back in person. I still have to put in another 8 hours plus when I get back, because by then my spouse is exhausted.

        This isn’t great. We are past needing a nanny, thank goodness, but if we did we couldn’t have one because we can’t afford it. Ditto a cleaner. We do get some childcare from my parents though.

        I have no clue how single parents do it at all.

  22. Annie*

    All my sympathies to the other parents of littles.

    It feels like the world has forgotten about us and moved on when we’re still very much in a spot of between a rock and a hard place of kids can’t get vaccinated but we still have to work.

    1. Anon for this*

      I feel this in my bones. It’s felt like the world has given us a giant middle finger. Oh wait, not really, that would mean they’re thinking of us at all!

    2. lost academic*

      It’s as usual the attitude of “well you’re the ones who decided to have kids so it’s your fault and your responsibility” though.

    3. Rando Person*

      I don’t think the world has forgotten about parents at all.
      It’s just that absolutely everyone is struggling right now in different ways depending on where you live and your demographic and are bogged down in trying to solve their own issues.
      Don’t take it so personally, people do genuinely want to support each other so ask for help and keep telling yourself that it won’t be like this forever.

      1. dz*

        The American government certainly doesn’t care about parents right now, and the government has the power to materially improve people’s lives and ease this burden.

  23. JTP*

    I don’t know how you haven’t snapped at people “joking” that you’re never at work. I’d have blown my lid by now.

    Is there any chance of having a frank discussion with your employer about your situation, and what you can realistically do right now? Are there any employee resource groups for working parents at your organization?

    1. Ali + Nino*

      “I don’t know how you haven’t snapped at people “joking” that you’re never at work. I’d have blown my lid by now.”

      Preach.

  24. Kgulo*

    Solidarity. My daughter tested positive about a month after I started a new job, then the rest of us got it, and my older daughter’s school closed because of positive cases. We’ve had a week of feeling slightly normal, but it just sucks. My job was supportive, but it still sucks. I feel like I’m doing a terrible job at all of the things. This feels like an impossible situation because it is impossible.

    Even if your husband has earns more than you, this is not your burden alone. When we were in quarantine, my husband and I tag teamed work and childcare so we both did a little of each.

    There were some suggestions of a babysitter. If you can find some to have on call, even if it’s for a few hours while you’re working from home. That will give you a chunk of time to focus on work. I don’t know where you live, but local colleges and universities are good places to look for sitters. Do you have any high school age kids in your neighborhood? Is your work fine with you working and slightly weird times?

    Also, do not feel guilty about putting your kids in front of the TV or a tablet so you can get some stuff done.

    You are doing your best.

    1. anonarama*

      Seriously, if your kids are still excited by screen time, let them have screen time. My 4 year old started speaking with a slight australian accent thanks to all the bluey he watched during the november/december montessori closures.

      1. TatertotQueen*

        Mine too! I don’t hear “You’re welcome!” any more, it’s “No worries, mate!” Between Bluey and Peppa Pig, my son sounds very Commonwealth.

        1. kicking_k*

          Oh, I would so much take Bluey over Peppa. And I’m British.

          After too much Peppa you may develop an inner narrator. “Oh dear. Peppa and George are NOT being quiet while Mummy’s in a meeting.” (Didn’t Mummy Pig WFH before the rest of us did? No idea what her work was.)

          1. Overanalyzing Children's Television*

            Arthur (the aardvark)’s mom also works from home! She is an accountant. The dad has a catering business and it appears they flex their hours around to care for Baby Kate.

      2. curly sue*

        Mine have become extremely well-versed in some of the grosser aspects of western history thanks to the discovery of a streaming channel for Horrible Histories. It’s educational, right?

      3. bamcheeks*

        On the flipside, my northern English 7yo has a rhotic accent that she does when she’s playing at running a hotel or a boutique.

      4. Insert Clever Name Here*

        “How very dare you” and “strategic wee” are said on a daily basis in our household on the US East Coast!

  25. Blue Puck*

    So much sympathy for you and others going through a similar situation.
    You could consider getting a part time helper for days you work from home.
    Often kids below the age of being an overnight sitter (9-12) can make great helpers to care for your kids while everyone is still under your supervision. Even a few hours after school would help tremendously it sounds like.
    These helpers would be less expensive than traditional sitters (as the helper child is technically being watched by you) so it may fit into your budget better. You may be helping another parent out at the same time as well.
    Good luck and all the hugs to you.

  26. Person from the Resume*

    Does someone like me just give up and stay with my kids?

    Honestly a lot of MOTHERS have done so. There are articles about how the caretaking is disproportionately impacting women (over men) who “choose” to stay at home. In reality it’s not actually much of a choice as they have extremely limited options. I think the highly reported “great resignation” is mostly made up BS. Very few people are resigning simply to remove themselves from the workforce; they’re finding better jobs, but some near retirement age and other caretakers are actually leaving the work force. In the case of caretakers, it’s not often a decision they sought out but one they felt pushed in to. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

    That said it is impossible to work from home while also caring for a nearly two year old and a four-year-old. They need near constant attention; you are trying to do two things at once. As someone with a job who gets urgent calls, it really sounds like your job is not suited to time shift to work when the kids are asleep. I don’t know. I think you have to accept that you can’t do both well. It sounds like your reputation is being hurt by trying to work from home while caring for the kids. If you can’t get any help with the kids (baby sitter, nanny, someone) then I think you need to consider leaving your job and either taking care of your kids until they’re a bit older/COVID is less impactful or finding another job that’s less demanding/time sensitive more a fan of WFH so you can do work while the kids are asleep which is still exhausting but part of your problem right now is that your job isn’t to what you’re trying to pull off.

    1. Delta Delta*

      this is giving me a thought – I wonder if any recently retired people in OP’s area might be occasionally available for child care. Might be worth inquiring at a senior center to see if anyone’s appropriate and interested. We talk a lot about high school and college students (always women, natch) but there may be a pool of folks who retired, who are sort of looking for things to do, and who may be a resource. This all depends, on availability, comfort level, etc., but is worth considering.

      I’m thinking about someone like my dad, who retired at 52 and was bored for 2 years while he figured out what to do with himself. He was a public school teacher for 30 years; he could have watched some kids for a day or half a day here and there.

      1. PT*

        Most people who recently retired did so because they did not want to risk COVID exposures at work. They are not going to want to babysit kids who are in quarantine because they’ve been exposed to COVID at daycare.

      2. FridayFriyay*

        I am in the same boat as the OP, but no matter how desperate I am for child care support I would not feel right exposing seniors who are already more vulnerable to covid to my unvaccinated kids on days they are excluded from daycare for exposures or quarantines. Absent covid this is a great idea, but for me it’s too ethically dicey. I would never forgive myself if we got someone older who has less chance of effective vaccine immunity a serious or fatal case of covid.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      Finding another job sounds great, but can you imagine job hunting on top of this? If they can afford to risk not having her income for a while, she could quit and look for something else… or *he* could, because it sounds like *his* job is even less flexible.

  27. Ali + Nino*

    I feel like I could have written this – my kids are 4 1/2 and almost 2. I’m lucky enough to work part-time (an arrangement that came after being furloughed and on maternity leave during Covid) and my husband works a more normal 9 – 5. We have no family nearby. I feel your pain. I was just telling my husband yesterday that I feel that not only am I not exceling at my job – which, like you, I really enjoy when I can actually concentrate – I’m actively sucking at it and getting a reputation for low productivity. Even when my kids are in school/daycare I’m exhausted and on edge, wondering when the other shoe is going to drop and everything is going to fall apart. Here are a couple of things that have helped us:
    – Re: not wanting to expose other people: Ask friends/fellow parents in your area for recommendations of babysitters who are vaccinated and boosted, willing to wear masks, etc. A former babysitter of ours connected us with a friend who is normally a stay-at-home mom but was able to watch my kids for a week earlier this month. Almost all my meager earnings went to her but I didn’t care – it was worth it not to have to worry about working at night. I cannot function on so little sleep. In terms of “slowing the spread” – you are doing everything you can. Someone who is boosted, vaccinated, wearing masks, etc. is doing everything they can. You need to prioritize your sanity.
    – Is there any way you can cut back your hours and the expectations for your productivity? I don’t know if going less than F/T will impact benefits that your family needs, but if not, that could be a game-changer for you, in terms of the number of hours you have to make up.
    Other than that – maybe you are already doing this – lower your standards for everything else. Cleaning, cooking, whatever – you are in survival mode now. And it sucks. But to get to the other side of this, we have to somehow stay in one piece. Wishing you all the best.

  28. MD*

    Agree with the stepping up from the husband, especially at the weekend – he should take the kids away and let you breathe and recharge, which should help with the rest of the week. You should also consider getting in-home childcare rather than daycare – sometimes it can be cheaper than 2 x daycare rates and much more stable. I’m not sure if your eldest is at school yet (in my country it starts at around 5), but the in-home childcare would then be able to take care of them when sent home for quarantine.

    And finally – this will not be forever. We are all parenting on hard mode, this will get better. Your career is long, and in a few years you will look back on this time, wonder how the heck you survived, but be able to see that it is in the past.

    TLDR – husband steps up especially at weekends, switch to in-home childcare, and remember that this will pass.

    1. Mf*

      Agree but an important point regarding in-home child care:

      That’s only an option if you have a home with enough space. Most parents of young children are millennials who’ve been priced out of the housing market. They live and WFH in tiny houses or apartments, and can’t afford to expand. There’s simply not an additional room in the house where the nanny can go and care for the kid while the parents are working.

      1. Indigo64*

        I think MD is referring to in-home daycare (in someone’s home instead of a center). Smaller groups, less likely to have exposure as well

        1. MD*

          I actually mean someone who comes to your home but doesn’t live there – a regular babysitter or part-time nanny. It’s very common in the UK and they often don’t live-in.

          But what you describe would also work – fewer kids, less chance of getting sent home due to Covid contact!

  29. Daisy Gamgee*

    Also: it seems that every time AAM discusses balancing parenting and working, someone says, “Children are a choice, you should have anticipated this when you decided to have them.” Not only is that an unhelpful statement to begin with, but no one could have anticipated this pandemic, so can we just not have that discussion this time?

    1. BadWolf*

      Heard a manager say to an employee when pregnancy was disclosed and return to office was expected back in 2020:
      “Well, you obviously factored in the risks of having a baby during a pandemic when you decided to get pregnant, so I don’t see why we should exempt you from coming into the office based on being higher risk.”

      HR got involved and put a stop to that, but the damage was done.

      PS- That manager is somehow still a manager.

      1. Daisy Gamgee*

        Why are people. I am so sorry you even had to hear that, let alone that the pregnant employee had to experience it.

        1. Daisy Gamgee*

          I’m hoping to head them off this time. They can be found in pretty much all the previous discussions — I’d give you commenter names to look for but that would probably be against the posting rules.

      1. Here we go again*

        I’ve seen a lot of people saying why they don’t want kids. It kind of side tracks the conversation.

    2. Here we go again*

      +1 As a parent I came here for ideas from other parents about juggling childcare, work and chores and errands.

    3. jane's nemesis*

      I think those folks are the same ones who turn around and tell those of us who DON’T have kids that we’re selfish for not doing so!

  30. adminatlarge*

    I’m in the same boat, same ages for the kids too. I’m so sorry. It’s so hard. What helped me was cutting back as much as I could at work and life. I quit all unnecessary stuff at work (like being on the environmental panel) and cut back to doing just the basics demands of my job that have to get done. I dropped all hobbies and any big plans for the house (like painting or updating stuff) and just focus on getting through the week. I have the kind of job where I can always find work to do, but I had to cut back on some bigger picture stuff and just focus on getting through the day to day.

    Having an assistant sounds like a benefit though, can you give some stuff to them? Maybe they could attend some of the less important meetings and take notes for you, something along those lines.

    I would also advise getting a babysitter to come in a few hours a day in the morning (or all day if you can afford it). I know the concern is about passing the virus on, but you could ask that the babysitter be fully vaxxed and boosted, doesn’t have any other medical conditions and make sure they and the 4 year old wear the right masks when they are inside together and just be honest about everything so they can decide what risks they are willing to take. I know for me when the classroom closed because one of the other kids in the room caught COVID, mine still tested negative.

    1. Lord Peter Wimsey (she/her)*

      “Having an assistant sounds like a benefit though, can you give some stuff to them? Maybe they could attend some of the less important meetings and take notes for you, something along those lines.”

      ^ This. Not sure exactly what the assistant’s role is, but if they can take things off your plate, seems like it would be a good idea to have them to do more of that.

  31. Happy_Camper*

    Mom of 7yo and 5yo here. Been 100% remote since March 2020 and it’s a special kind of hell. I have made peace with just not being great at any one thing (work, parenting, wife-ing, self-caring) but not failing miserably at any one thing either. I have a good boss and company who accept and support the level I’m able to contribute now. And it’s scary because it’s not the trajectory I was on and I have no idea how much long-term growth I have given up. I was definitely on a management track before this and now I’m happy to tread water without additional responsibilities. I would say that you should have a real, honest conversation with your manager/s if your assessment of yourself matches theirs (I found I often judged and perceived myself much harsher than my boss did) and find a new remote position if they truly think they are giving you special treatment. We’re in the middle of the Great Renegotiation and many companies “get it”, you should take advantage of the moment to see if you can find something that better supports your whole self.

    1. Jessica*

      How many married men right now are thinking anxiously about whether they’re being an adequate husband?

      1. kicking_k*

        Let’s hope all of them?

        I’m a wife, but I work full time when my husband is at home (ill health) and I wonder this ALL the time. I know the emotional labour of household management is largely on him because he’s there more. I try but I don’t do well enough.

      2. SnapCrackleStop*

        My husband is: I’m very glad that he’s up front about it with me. Neither of us are spouse-ing at the level we would like to be, but we just have to keep talking about as we try to push through.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I have a good boss and company who accept and support the level I’m able to contribute now

      This is absolutely key. Me and my partner (4yo and 7yo) are in a pretty good place right now where neither of us is full time, so even if nursery or school shut we both get one full day of work a week, and if we don’t have access to the three days of full-time care we rely on, our employers are sympathetic to us both doing 4-5 hours of work on those three days rather than normal hours. So it is manageable. To anyone reading this who is managing people, I can’t emphasise too much how support and tolerance is the difference between “this is hard but manageable” and “this is intolerable and impossible”.

      OP, one thing I really recommend is accepting that there ISN’T a solution, you aren’t failing for not being able to find it, and don’t compare yourself with others. Other people have grandparents who live close enough and feel confident enough to be in a childcare bubble. They have understanding bosses. They have partners with more flexible work schedules. They have kids who will reliably zone out for a whole hour in front of the TV instead of getting bored after 10 minutes and needing more snacks.

      If you’re looking at other people managing and thinking, “Well, they’re coping, what’s wrong with me?” just — stop doing that. It’s not you. It’s a totally intolerable situation when you have no support, and you aren’t wrong for finding it intolerable.

      1. Sparrow*

        And conversely, if anyone here is looking at people who don’t have the things you have and saying, “Well, they’re getting by with even less support than I have, so what’s wrong with me?” you should also stop that. Signed, someone who does have nearby grandparents and is still barely coping, so I’m really talking to myself here.

        1. bamcheeks*

          that is absolutely true! I think part of it is that you actually can’t see what support other people do and don’t have, or where they are starting from. Jobs, families, relationships, the type of work you do, your perception of risk, the particular individuals that your children are– so many factors between “manageable” and “barely coping”.

  32. H.Regalis*

    There are no good options. I’m sorry. Honestly, I would say quit. What you have going on now is not sustainable, and you know that. Someone has to watch the kids, you don’t have any friends or family members who can cover for you if the daycare closes for an outbreak, and that will keep happening for the foreseeable future with no end in sight. The kids are too little to do their own things while you work during the day. You can’t leave them at home alone while you go into the office, and you can’t get any work done at home because you have to watch them. I think quitting is the best option here. At least you won’t be stressing about your job.

    I hate that quitting a job because of childcare issues is something that gets pushed on women in the vast majority of situations like this, but if your partner earns significantly more money than you, it makes more sense for him to work outside the home.

  33. Chriama*

    The brutal truth is that a lot of people just aren’t making it work. Like Alison said, a lot of women dropped out of the workforce.

    It might not be financially feasible, but a lot of people have looked to nannies to help fill the childcare gap. If you had a friend or relative also struggling with childcare then splitting the cost of a nanny, even one who looks after 3-4 kids, might not be significantly more than daycare for 2 kids. You would want to be a good employer, which means deducting payroll taxes and providing PTO, which would be a bit more to manage (having backup care). You’d also want to hire someone who has the same philosophy as you about COVID precautions. But consistency of care would likely be better with this method.

  34. Ann*

    I’m really sorry. Been there, and it’s an absolutely no-win situation. I ruined my health doing either work or child care around the clock, and am still picking up the pieces. Very burned out, and I’ll probably hate the number 40 (those elusive 40 hours!) for years. It really seems covid is never going away, and the only answer is to treat it like any other illness, and stop sending healthy kids home on two-week quarantines. It’s incredibly unsustainable, and doesn’t make sense any more when just about anyone who’s at risk can get vaccinated. Where I live, schools have been moving away from this policy… better late than never, I guess.

    It seems kids will be the ones facing the most restrictions long after adults can do anything they want. You’re not alone though. A lot of parents are pushing back. Hang in there. In the meantime… can you cut your work hours to part-time officially so you’re not scrambling to make 40 hours every week? Do you know any stay-home moms willing to pitch in to watch the kids? And I hope the quarantines aren’t still two weeks, at least – CDC shortened the guidance to five days recently…

    1. Robyn*

      Just want to gently push back on your statement “just about anyone who’s at risk can get vaccinated.” No, children under 5 can not get vaccinated. I agree we need something other than two week quarantines for small kids – maybe a testing policy to stay in child care. But it drives me bonkers as a parent of a toddler when folks throw up their hands and say, everyone who wants to be vaccinated already is.

      1. Ann*

        I’m sorry! I’ve got a toddler too. It’s just… I still remember how for the first year of this we never worried about her or her sibs. We knew they’re safe. Everyone knew kids are safe, or so it seemed. It’s the grandparents, the older neighbors, the teachers that we worried about. And I don’t know when this flipped to the need to keep up endless restrictions on the kids despite their low risk – this was for the sake of the adults only last year.

      2. kicking_k*

        And in the UK, nobody under 12 can get vaccinated unless they have special health requirements, and as far as I know they haven’t actually rolled that out yet.
        The quarantine requirements aren’t so long though.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      And I hope the quarantines aren’t still two weeks, at least – CDC shortened the guidance to five days recently…

      Our public preschool is still 10 days–I verified that today when our child’s Covid test results were lost by the doctor’s office (don’t ask me how that happens).

      Working from home is pure hell. I have to wake up at 4 am and work until my kids are up, work while they nap and then work once they go to sleep. I will still get urgent calls during the day and while I have an assistant she just isn’t equipped to handle most of these tasks. So this means I’m usually busy with work or children from 4 am to 11 or 12 at night.

      Is there any training that could help your assistant handle more? The assistant is probably also first in line for your responsibilities on PTO, so the business would benefit there as well.

      Are these calls so urgent that they couldn’t be structured–e.g. return them at 4pm same-day? Or do they need attention in real time?

      Are any of your children’s friends’ parents in a similar situation, where a reciprocal play date might buy you a day or two away from the children during the week?

    3. FridayFriyay*

      The CDC absolutely did NOT shorten the quarantine period for unvaccinated people, which, by definition is kids under 5. Kids ARE still at risk and CANNOT be vaccinated. Reading this comment as the parent of an under 5 kid is really frustrating.

      1. Ann*

        No, it’s a five-day quarantine if you’re not vaccinated, and no quarantine if you are vaccinated and symptomless: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html And NYC schools have switched to 5-day quarantines.
        And as for risk… unless your child has a health condition that makes them high-risk, they’re at about as safe, statistically, as a fully vaccinated middle-aged adult. All the precautions we took were mostly to protect adults, and especially the elderly. In the meantime we somehow lost sight of just how safe kids were the entire time. I don’t know how it happened, but here we are – most adults have their lives back, but kids and their parents are stuck in a loop of fear and exhaustion. I hope things improve soon for everyone.

        1. FridayFriyay*

          Interesting. I hadn’t seen that interpreted to mean that kids who are unable to mask (under 2) or mask reliably (maybe 4-ish?) can quarantine for 5 days. It seems pretty clear to me that the 5 days is predicated on masking for the 10 day duration. Our state’s daycare and school quarantine regulations have not changed, so this is not an option for us.

          1. Cera*

            It all depends on how the county health interpret and approves. I have a child in 1 school who no longer quarantines unless the positive is in the same household. A 2nd school (including children under 5) who has 5 day. And a daycare who thr state still says 10 days; but the neighboring county has 5 days for daycare.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          Actually the new CDC recommendation is 5 day isolation + 5 days of strict mask wearing. And this recommendation doesn’t supersede state and local public health guidance. In my area, the country health department is still requiring 10-day isolation for daycares, with the explanation that those kids are not vaccinated and cannot follow strict masking procedures.

        3. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

          My kids’ school will let them come back 5 days after a positive test, but they have to stay home for 10 days if a sibling tests positive and they stay negative. Which is probably fair, because, despite drumming proper masking behavior into my kids’ heads, my daughter’s teacher and other adults who work with her will have her remove her mask to talk so they can hear her tiny little voice. ::sigh::

        4. S*

          Thank you, this fear mongering is getting ridiculous. Children have a higher chance of drowning in a pool then getting seriously ill from covid.

          1. FridayFriyay*

            Responsible parents take precautions to avoid their kids drowning in pools, though. Covid is in the top 10 causes of death for young kids. We take steps to avoid every other leading cause of death where possible. Why would covid be any different?

            1. Calliope*

              The issue is that “steps to avoid” leaves a LOT of wiggle room. I take steps to avoid my child dying in a car accident and in a pool too but I don’t avoid all cars. So I’m judicious about Covid risk but a lot of people have taken the position that I’m irresponsible for sending my child to daycare for instance. (I’m in a situation where I could technically avoid it but at a huge cost). For me, that is not reasonable proportionate to the risk any more than never going swimming ever would be.

              Every family has to make their own decisions on risk, but I agree with the previous comments that there has been a LOT of fear mongering about kids and Covid that ends up mostly being judgment of mothers. (And of course in other places people say there’s no risk at all. I get that. It’s regional/social circle based. But where I am it’s crossed over into fear mongering a lot recently.)

            2. De (Germany)*

              That comparison just makes no sense.

              More people over the age of 70 died from heart diseases than from covid, too. Doesn’t mean we want all of them to get it. That there’s something more dangerous does not make another thing worth the risk. Parents are told that pools are dangerous for small children, it’s not a ridiculous risk to consider. Neither is covid.

          2. SpaceySteph*

            Its not just about kids. If my kid goes to school sick and spreads covid to another student in her class has a pregnant or immunocompromised immediate family member or lives in a multigenerational household with elderly grandparents… we could have just killed someone. The “every man for himself” mentality of your comment is a huge part of the problem with controlling the spread of covid.

          3. De (Germany)*

            2019 number of children drowning in the US: 756

            There were more than 300 children hospitalized with covid *each week* in 2022 so far https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/COVIDNet/COVID19_5.html

            750 died since the pandemic began, and remember that cases in children never really exploded until Delta/Omicron, so most of those were in 2021 (plus, you said seriously ill, not dead).

            Check your numbers before making such comparisons.

            1. S*

              750 in 2 years < 756 in 1 year. The cases from Omicron are very mild in young children. Just listened to The Daily's (The NY Times, so not some far right conspiracy platform) recent podcast episode on covid and it was stated that small children have the same risk factors when it comes to covid as a middle aged vaccinated adult.
              "There were more than 300 children hospitalized with covid *each week* in 2022 so far"…how many of those children were in the hospital for other illnesses and tested positive while in the hospital vs how many actually went into the hospital because of covid?

              1. De (Germany)*

                Did you even read my reply? Yes, I know one figure is from 1 year and one is from 2 years. But you also didn’t compare deaths, you said “seriously ill”. You think there weren’t twice as many seriously ill children than children who ended up dead?

                But of course, if you really wanted to, you could actually look these things up. For example https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.01.04.22268742v1

                4,500 children within 1.5 years. Median age was only 3. Oh, but now you will of course say Omicron is milder. These 1.5 years were when we were actively trying to protect children from getting sick. Over 90 percent of age group 0-4 years old can still get the disease because they haven’t yet had it (or their immunity from wild type / Alpha / Delta has waned). If they all get it, how many do you think will get “seriously ill”? Again, you were the one saying that it’s more likely for a child to drown. Based on what exactly did you do that comparison?

  35. Boo Radley*

    I don’t know if this is too Bay-Area-Hippie, but me and 3 other families have formed a parent pod. We don’t have much structure yet though we might benefit, but essentially we work from home from each others homes and take shifts on kid duty, while splitting a daytime babysitter. Maybe that wouldn’t work in everyone’s home situation, but it’s been a massive weight off.

    1. Minneapolis Mom*

      I was just going to suggest this! I know two young working parents who trade off watching four little kids (2 from each family) while they work from home. In their situation, they all go to one house. In the morning one parent watches kids while the other works, and they switch in afternoon. It’s certainly not perfect – tantrums and breastfeeding and messes. But both parents claim it’s the only way they’re able to get their jobs done at all.

    2. Miri*

      My husband was raised like this in the 80s and I’ve always loved the idea of the model. And he turned out okay :)

  36. Julie*

    This is SO hard. I have two kiddos under 5, and I work in client services, so I’m going to share what’s allowed us to keep our heads above water. If nothing else, it may just point out that you are not the problem!

    1. My husband and I both work from home (his office is “temporarily closed”, but he’s hoping to work out of the office one day. My work has fundamentally shifted, so even when our offices are reopen, I may go in once or twice a month).
    2. Most of the people I work with are in different states – so it wouldn’t matter if I went to my local office or not.
    3. We moved five states last year to be closer to family, but I maintained my job (buried the lede a bit, but there you go). Cost of real estate differences while maintaining the same salary is what allowed me to have a home office.
    4. We now live 5 minutes from my in-laws, and 45 min or fewer from my parents and multiple family members. When our daycare was shut down a few weeks ago, we were able to have someone come for a few hours a day most days.
    5. I have staffed my projects in a way that I can often (not always) provide guidance/answer questions, and I don’t have to execute every single step myself.
    6. I’m the primary breadwinner, so when push comes to shove, my husband’s job will take a backseat to mine.
    7. Our very crazy months coincided with slow periods for my husband.
    8. I have 4 weeks of vacation annually, on top of sick leave, on top of federal COVID leave.
    9. I have significant political capital at my job, strong relationships with the people that supervise me, and strong relationships with my staff. There’s a lot of trust in me, so I am generally left alone.
    10. My clients don’t mind if my responses come late at night, or on the weekends, if I can’t respond immediately.

    Okay – all of this is a combo of luck, my long tenure at my company, HUGE decision-making by my husband and myself, etc. None of this is likely to make your life easier. My point here is that we are making it work because of a set of intersecting privileges that are not easy to come by. You are not the issue here. You have been placed in an impossible set of circumstances.

    Things to consider: Is there a better job for you? Is there a better job for your husband? Is there a better daycare? Can you offload any of the home basics to make your day to day easier – cleaning, meal prep, laundry, etc.? There is not one simple hack that is going to solve this incredibly difficult situation you’re in, but gutting it out only works for so long.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I think you nailed it – if this is the list of what it takes (and you freely say its a pile of intersecting privileges, luck, etc. etc. etc. and I am honest to goodness thrilled that someone is actually able to do something to stay above water, because man, its hard!) then it certainly shows that:

      1. The system is set up to fail us
      2. This is freaking impossible
      3. None of this is the LW’s fault.

      Our heads are half-above-water because my kids are older (double digits) and because all four of the grandparents jumped in when school was virtual. My own technophobic dad learned how to text so that he could help us out (this sounds small. Its actually fairly big, believe it or not, as he hadn’t even owned a cellphone until that point.) Our fallback plan was to send the kids with their homeschooling aunt. And again – this is all a freaking ridiculous list that contains a lot of luck, a lot of privilege, and highlights why parents are breaking in the USA.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Seriously. So much respect for you and everyone else who’s trying to raise kids amid all this.

      1. Middle Manager*

        4th-ing or 5th-ing this. You are a great mom and it sounds like a great employee who is genuinely trying your best and these conditions are impossible.

        I do not have kids, but I’ve got siblings with kids too little to be vaccinated and I’ve very much become part of their daycare closure plans. If they didn’t have me and other nearby other relatives, there is just no way they could have all kept their jobs. They’ll essentially been able to quadruple their pooled PTO through the addition of my PTO, my mom’s PTO, etc. All that to say, I know it’s hard not to make comparisons, but forget comparing yourself to people without kids and even forget comparing yourself to people with kids but with extended family networks. You are doing your best with the hand you’ve been dealt.

  37. Anon for this*

    I am in a pretty similar situation though not exactly the same. I like my job. I like being a working mom. But I have decided to quit my job in a month. I don’t think it’s fair for my 2.5 year old to be plopped in front of the TV all day while my husband works from home. I’m in healthcare and expected to be in the office. I don’t think it’s fair to expose my child to long COVID or unknown future health problems because I want, but don’t financially need, to work (my husband makes 2x what I do, thems the breaks). There’s more though. My physical health has really degraded since switching to a full-time desk job. I have no time for myself or for hobbies. My mental health sucks. My dad has a terminal neurological disease. My mom needs help. It’s just too much and something’s gotta give. My family, my health, or my job? Guess which one is least important.

  38. StressedSingleParent*

    I feel your pain so much. Just last week, I was let go from my job after having to take 2 weeks off in the last 5 weeks due to daycare closures. I did what I could from home, but it wasn’t enough and I was working in a completely un-empathetic work environment where I was the only parent, let alone single parent. My ex spouse doesn’t take responsibility for their spawn, and the burden is all on me.
    While I’m extremely stressed about money and healthcare and paying for daycare, there’s a small amount of relief mixed in with my anxiety because I haven’t had a moment to myself in a long time and it’s so hard.
    Will be digging into Allison’s toolkit to begin my job search and praying this pandemic ends.

    1. SS*

      I’m pretty much in the exact same boat as you! Only difference is, my boss is passive aggressive and just made me feel miserable for the last 6 months, to the point of me needing to quit. If you want to commiserate, contact me!

      1. StressedSingleParent*

        SS, I know that awful feeling and I’m sorry this is happening to you. This is where the bit of relief feeling comes in. You’ll feel it too once you move on.
        I am hopeful we can both find new jobs and will work for empathetic managers!

  39. SS*

    I’m sorry. I’m in the same boat, although it’s just me and the two kids. Currently my 11 yo is in quarantine from two positive cases in her class. My 3 yo is high risk, and obviously not vaccinated. I just quit my job, because my boss has been unbearable for the last several months. I love my job and I feel so sad to leave it, but I couldn’t handle the additional stress and lack of compassion from my boss. Things are so hard right now. Just want to say I’m with you. I don’t know how, but somehow we’ll all get through this.

  40. Tema*

    I mean this in the most respectful way, is your husband that great of a helper as you mentioned if you’re up from 4am to 11 or 12 at night? Is he as burnt out as you? If not, you may need to reevaluate some things.

    1. Ann*

      It happens… my husband took over pretty much everything house and child-related when we had a kid not in day care, but my work still took a giant hit and I was totally working nights and weekends. Why? His job involves a lot of conference calls, so during the day I’d to spend a couple of hours keeping a toddler away from him. And even if he was watching her, they’d have to physically leave the house or she’d keep asking me to play with her – there’s really nowhere to hide at home. So they’d go outside for 2-3 hours if the weather was OK, and I’d put in a couple more hours when they were home, and… that’s only 5 hours out of an 8 hour work day. The math is pitiless when your job has billable hours.

    2. MsSolo (UK)*

      I think this is complicated by the fact that if he’s out of the house for 12 hours, he’s probably gone before the kids get up and back after they go to bed. He can help with household chores when he gets in, but he can’t do LW’s job for her, and he can’t help with the childcare on those days. I hope he’s taking sole responsibility for childcare on his days off, but that doesn’t help LW on her working days.

  41. Mina*

    I would cut yourself a ton of slack. I am also a mom, two kids under six. Right now, financially, we can afford to have one parent stay home and that is the only reason that I have been able to work normal hours… my spouse is home full time. First of all, I think you need to reframe this not as something you’re failing at, but something impossible that you are surviving with the best solution you can. the fact that you don’t have more support or viable support is not your fault.

    without jeopardizing your job, do you have a good enough rapport with your boss to be able to pull in support at work? I get that no one can do your specialized work, but it’s there anything that could be taken off your plate? it’s there something your team could do to push out deadlines so that your have a more realistic timeline? if you think it’s safe, can you be as honest with your leadership as you just were with us? if your bosses thought they might lose you if they didn’t give you more support (which, if you step down from the role is what would happen), would anything change?

    also, if you have the financial wiggle room, try to work hours that keep you rested. try to trade with your husband if you can afford it; maybe he does one day for every two or three you do. preserving your career and job is financially better for both of you in the long run, if you can take the hit in forfitting his salary for your occasionally.

    I also feel like you should give yourself a free pass to share honestly all of this with anyone who comments on your work product or time in the office… our society has responded in a way that does not support working moms, and that’s just not your fault.

    1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      First of all, I think you need to reframe this not as something you’re failing at, but something impossible that you are surviving with the best solution you can.

      This is beautifully put.

  42. AlsoMom*

    Same kid ages here. Here’s what we are doing:

    In-home family daycare that doesn’t require regular testing
    We… never test
    We both work from home, husband permanently, me until we “return”
    I am (now) very good at getting the basics done and avoiding everything else. Documents I’d spend a week on get done in a day
    Fantastic boss who gets it
    Find other parents in the same daycare and see if one of them will watch the kids, since you’re under the same quarantine

    We both had serious mental health issues trying to do what you’re doing when the pandemic started. It took us a year to feel fully recovered and this latest wave of closures triggered the despair we felt then. We had a backup babysitter who didn’t feel comfortable coming over once Omicron hit.

    Quit and take care of yourself. Or, since Omicron is almost past, this could be the last closure, if you can hang on that long.

  43. Buckaroo*

    No advice here either just solidarity. We have a 2.5 year old and 11 month old. Daycare quarantines mean I can’t work from home during the day at all with the a toddler and infant. We have no local family, my husbands job isn’t able to be remote, but thankfully my employer is flexible and understanding. It’s tough and it sucks all the same.

  44. LeftAcademia*

    Dear OP, Try to relax at least during the weekends. I irresponsibly work half time remotely with a 2,5 year old at home and no babysitter. This stretches through the whole day and evening. In the last few months the older kids seem to be permanently on distance learning. I am scared of going fulltime next school year with the youngest attending childcare.

  45. RagingADHD*

    Yes.

    There really isn’t another answer. Yes, when you have little kids — especially multiple little kids — it feels impossible to do anything else. That’s just the nature of the process of childrearing.

    The only things that ever made it possible for anyone were support, help, and flexibility. And so all the circumstances around Covid have taken those away. Other people, if they are making it work, are doing so by crossing lines you aren’t willing to cross: getting paid help regardless of exposure risk, letting their work slide and riding the edge of possibly losing their jobs, or sometimes making bad parenting decisions. Or they are burning out and having physical and mental breakdowns. (IMO, getting paid help from someone vaxxed is the best option if you can afford it).

    You are in an impossible situation, and it is not your fault. You are trying to do the right things and do your best, and there’s just a limit to what one human being can do. You’re up against it.

    I hope for all our sakes it gets better soon.

    1. kicking_k*

      Yup. If ever there wasn’t a good time to say “It takes a village to raise a child,” it’s now. We can’t access the village.

  46. Indigo64*

    Oh OP, I’m right there with you. My kids are 3 and 9months. Our state licensing board relaxed COVID restrictions so daycares no longer have to close, but it seems like they’ve given up and decided it’s okay for our little kids (who are too young to be vaccinated!) to get sick. My baby is immunocompromised and I feel like I can’t keep him safe. With vaccines widely available to everyone over 5, I feel like the rest of society is moving on without us, and us families with young kids are not okay. Sending big hugs- it’s really hard.

    Personally, I’m lucky enough to have family in town and a really understanding boss, so I work weird hours and have a family babysitter. But what about neighbors? I have 2 retiree neighbors who have volunteered to help, and our college-age neighbor is doing all of her classes remote, and she has babysat before too. It’s easier if you’re able to work from home (hopefully on another level and not the room next door?) so your nearby just in case.

    I know this might be out of reach, but have you looked into getting a nanny? It wasn’t doable for our family, but it was more affordable than I thought, might be something to look into.

    I’m sorry you are in this position. It’s really really hard, and you are not alone.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Oh, I feel your situation so much. If it helps at all, in terms of feeling alone, a lot of people got vaxxed and boosted, and got their older kids vaxxed and boosted, and wear their masks, and follow the quarantine rules, on purpose for your child and children like yours.

      It doesn’t make everything magically better, I know, but there are lots and lots of people who care and are trying, because they see you.

      Best wishes.

  47. Three Flowers*

    I don’t have kids and my coworkers’ kids are grown, so I haven’t had a front row seat for this.

    This letter and comments section are heartbreaking. I am so sorry. Are there things you wish that sympathetic no-kid (and no-aptitude-for-kids) folks would do to help?

    1. GRA*

      Call your senators and reps and have them vote to get our Child Tax Credit monthly payments back! That was huge help as a single working mom to help cover unexpected costs when everything shuts down (again!).

      1. Anonarama*

        And pandemic leave! My employer has rolled over remaining covid leave from 2020 and it’s the only way I made it through November to present

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      On a smaller scale, be understanding. Parenting was always a full-time job, and now it feels like a whole extra job on top of that. Parents are trying our best. We wish things weren’t this way. We made our parenting plans with the idea that child care would be available, because it always was. Now that it’s not, we’re struggling.

      So when Mark’s WFH again because his kid’s school closed AGAIN, don’t huff.

      When Jane has to bring her kid to work, because it was a choice of that or she doesn’t get paid, have compassion.

      And when Sam just can’t seem to be meeting deadlines, understand they’re juggling more tasks than possible and is trying.

      We don’t want to be bad coworkers. But we’re drowning.

      1. Indigo64*

        +1

        And check in on parents you know! Friends, neighbors, etc. As a parent of young kids, I feel very cut off from my community. Im fully vaccinated, but my kids aren’t eligible, so we’re still living like it’s March 2020.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          Us, too.

          Even if you aren’t “kid oriented”, don’t be afraid to ask what parents need. Sometimes it isn’t kid adjacent at all. Sometimes all I need is a 20 minute convo about anything that isn’t work or Peppa Pig.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      Seconding support for the Child Tax Credit.

      Also, help shut it down if you hear “parents are getting away with things” complaints. I see it here, and I imagine it goes on everywhere — people who think parents are getting undeserved accommodations and leaving others holding the bag. The vast majority are doing their absolute best in an impossible situation, and, like the LW, are probably already judging themselves sufficiently harshly without outside assistance.

    4. Starbuck*

      Funding for universal pre-K (and pre-pre-K) education programs would be a start. There’s no reason we need to wait to start social support of children until age 5.

    5. bamcheeks*

      Don’t post on twitter saying, “I can’t believe all these parents who want schools to open. Why are you so obsessed with academic achievement when your kids could DIE? How selfish!”

      I see those posts at least once a week from people without kids who seem to think that schools closed is just a nice easy decision with no real costs unless you’re a terrible parent who hate spending times with your kids and it makes me want to throw everything.

      1. fueled by coffee*

        Yeah, especially because I think well-intentioned people are talking past each other on this point. (Obviously there are bad-faith, anti-vaxxer covid deniers; not talking about them here).

        I think we need to decouple the ideas of “education” from “childcare.” Education can happen remotely; obviously we’d all prefer for school to be in-person 2019-style, but in an emergency situation (like when school districts are literally begging any adult person to stand in a classroom so that the school building can stay open), kids can still learn from their teacher over Google Classroom and be fine. But for younger kids, schools also serve a really important childcare function for working parents.

        Early on in spring 2020, my local school district was weighing potential plans for reopening, which included caveats like prioritizing opening up K-6th in-person earlier than the middle and high schools, or having remote schooling but giving parents of young kids the option of dropping their kids off to do their remote work from the school gym/cafeteria/auditorium, with adult supervision and as much social distancing as possible given the space constraints. Plans like this seem to have fallen by the wayside, and now are conversations are just about fully normal in-person school (+masks?) or totally remote school, and I have so much sympathy for parents.

        1. fueled by coffee*

          Oh, and while I’m on a rant about this –

          We as a society should have prioritized opening schools before all the other “stuff.” The government *should have* paid restaurants/bars/movie theaters/etc. to stay closed, kept capacity limits on gatherings, invested in outdoor heaters/etc. to make outdoor dining etc. more feasible during the pandemic, and prioritized schools. I completely empathize with parents who look at people gathering maskless in crowded bars while they are stuck getting up at 4am to cram in some work before their kids wake up for another day of no childcare.

        2. bamcheeks*

          But for younger kids, schools also serve a really important childcare function for working parents

          It’s not even just that– obviously not all children do well in a school environment, but my 7yo really, really does, and she misses her friends like anything. Every time school has re-opened she’s been thrilled and overjoyed. She absolutely learns better in a group, but also she’s just super social and loves being around people and part of big groups and just everything about school really, really suits her. Of course if school needs to be closed, it needs to be closed, but that’s a horrible decision– people acting like a seven-year-old kid not seeing her friends for three months is just a straight-forward, cost-free decision, and anyone who thinks there are any downsides is selfish or focussed on the wrong things — well, fck you.

          And we’ve got a safe, warm house and enough food to eat, and whilst she’s happier at school she’s perfectly OK at home– for other kids, school is the safe place where it’s warm and predictable and you know you’re definitely going to get a meal. School is so much more than just academic learning!

      2. Sparrow*

        What I hate is the way these discussions are pitting teachers and parents against each other. Parents who want schools to remain open don’t care about the possibility of making their kids’ teachers sick; teachers who want to close schools don’t care about parents’ (and kids’) mental health. I love my kid’s teachers, I don’t want to put them at risk, AND I know that my entire family’s mental health suffers when school is closed all the time. It’s just an impossible situation with no good choices, and I wish we could acknowledge that we’re all stuck in it together instead of acting like it’s a zero-sum game.

    6. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

      Help where you can. Don’t ask the parents, especially parents of small children, what you can do to help them. Send a meal (or a takeout gift card), not because someone is sick, but to give them a break for a night. Pitch in to hire a one-time maid service to come by, or show up yourself and offer some cleaning for close friends and family members. Think about the tasks that someone might need to do and really be struggling with, and step in and just…do them. Tell them you’re going to do those tasks, rather than asking if they need anything, because at this point, we have all learned that only a small fraction of the people who say, “Tell me if you need anything!” really mean it.

      Early days in the pandemic, when we were still virtual schooling (now there is no virtual school, just a lot of closures/quarantine time, where I am), I, like a lot of parents, was scrambling to gather my village. And I am incredibly lucky that I do have a village, and I love them, and holy crap, I’m not sure what we would have done without them. But also, some people surprised me. I had one friend who, when I asked for a life preserver, basically tossed me a weight instead. I did not take her up on her suggestion/the added burden she wanted me to add to my schedule, but it made me very reluctant to reach out again and ask for help in the future. On the other hand, when I told my dad, “I cannot do this alone,” he sat down with me and helped shuffle schedules so he could take my kids for a few hours a week, every week. He *did things.* He still does things.

      You don’t have to take kids/spend time with them to be helpful, but…do things. Take some of the burden, especially for people who don’t have a village. This will end eventually, and I promise you that when it does, the things we remember most will be the people who stepped up for us.

    7. Claire*

      I echo the call for the Child Tax Credit to come back – that was a huge lifeline for our family – and paid sick/caregiving leave. Also don’t be the coworker/boss saying that LW owes it to her work to quit. Maybe she decides to do that, which is fine, but employers need to step up here.

  48. Bob-White of the Glen*

    I am so sorry OP. You are in a truly horrific position, and I wish your boss was more understanding of that. Is there a compromise at work – can you temporarily work 50% or 75% as the current schedule is going to destroy your health? How much importance is 100% of your income to the family? (I know for most it’s critical, but how much are you paying for daycare, etc?)

    This isn’t terribly helpful, and I am sorry. I am sure you have thought through 100 different scenarios. But you are also in an exhausting situation, and sometimes that makes us overlook other answers. (Think of all the people here in toxic jobs that don’t feel there’s an escape, but finally get one.) Your boss is unrealistic. Your job should be more flexible, and they are not. Is it such a great job that you don’t want to look for a WFH option for the next couple of years? If you are not working, but cooking cheaply, have no daycare, earning money here and there (maybe taking care of other kids in the same boat?), could your family survive short-term?

    The only thing I do know is you cannot continue to survive on 4 hours in bed a night (not sure how much of that is sleeping with all your stress), and the level of stress that you have. I hate that we’ve built a society where both parents have to work just to survive, and this is a perfect reason why. And I am so sorry you are going through this. But it’s okay to put your family first, it’s okay to be worn out by this situation, and it’s okay with be done with this situation. What are some realistic alternatives? Please try to find the energy to find creativity, and just get through this time. Better times are coming I promise! (And possibly better jobs.) Will be sending my best energies your way.

  49. FridayFriyay*

    I cried reading this. The desperation the LW clearly feels mirrors my own. As so many other people are “getting back to normal” and accepting the risk, as vaccinated people, of getting a lesser illness or exposure with increasingly shorter quarantine periods, nothing has changed for us. The perspective that unvaccinated people have done this to themselves and don’t deserve consideration anymore feels really bad for those of us who have kids who CAN’T be vaccinated yet. I’d cut off my own right arm for the opportunity to vaccinate my own child. My 16 month old isn’t vaccine eligible and also cannot safely wear a mask, so we are batting zero with mitigation that we can manage ourselves. He has to go to daycare because we both have to work to afford our life. And yet, the daycare has to be responsible (as they should!) and every exposure still requires a TEN DAY absence from daycare (which impacts our work obviously) as well as a negative PCR test. Actual COVID requires essentially the same process. All of this is state regulation and I’m grateful to live in a state that has sensible covid laws, but it is incredibly disruptive to our work lives and life lives and honestly we are losing our minds. It does not feel good to be in this period where the risks are as great as ever for our families (arguably the risks are higher than ever for kids under 5 given the climbing hospitalization rates in this age group) but the rest of the world and our employers have moved on and most don’t even realize or seem to register that kids under 5 are playing by a whole set of different rules right now that have real impacts on us.

    1. Spearmint*

      “The perspective that unvaccinated people have done this to themselves and don’t deserve consideration anymore feels really bad for those of us who have kids who CAN’T be vaccinated yet.”

      I understand you’re going through a lot of pain, but your kid is safe even if they’re unvaccinated. Very young children have very *very* low risk from covid. I believe I read in NYMag that an unvaccinated child under 5 has less risk from covid than a *vaccinated* 30-something.

      1. FridayFriyay*

        This is not an accurate statement and is a completely unhelpful thing to say to someone when you don’t know their family’s situation. I am an epidemiologist by training and I guarantee I am more familiar than you are with the risks that children face from covid. My family’s level of risk tolerance is not your business and this patronizing “you’re doing this to yourself” attitude is not kind or helpful.

        Regardless, my comment is primarily about factors like state regulations for daycare closures and CDC quarantine guidelines that I CANNOT control as a parent, including the guidelines for quarantines for unvaccinated people (who cannot mask, which would allow for the shortened quarantine period.) All of that is incredibly disruptive and stressful for parents of the youngest kids right now and that fact has nothing to do with my own risk tolerance, so I’m not sure why your response acted as if it did.

      2. pancakes*

        I think I found the article you’re referring to. It’s about the risks of death and hospitalization, and your comment is somewhat misleading. What the author actually said:

        “This is not to say that unvaccinated children face absolutely no risk from COVID, given that many millions of Americans under the age of 18 have gotten sick, and almost 500 have died, over the course of the pandemic. It’s just that the risk those 73 million minors do face is — relative to the risks faced by their parents and grand­parents — very, very small. (As I wrote a few months ago, though a better, clearer first line would have been not ‘The kids are safe,’ full stop, but ‘The kids are safe, relatively speaking’). Precautions are still worthwhile for the unvaccinated young: regular testing, better ventilation in schools, perhaps mask-­wearing, too, when community transmission is high.”

        1. Calliope*

          Hoapitalization and death is what most of are worried about. Not a bad (or mild) cold. It doesn’r solve the issue – child care is not shutting down due to risk to kids as much as other reasons – but it is true that very few small children have a significant risk from Covid. The risk of RSV to thar age group is higher and it’s one parents worry about and then decide to live with every year.

          1. pancakes*

            Right, but it’s not as if small children are the only people present in schools and daycares. They’re not there looking after themselves. Teachers and care providers are right to be concerned about their own safety. As far as I can tell over 1,600 teachers in the US have died of Covid, and I don’t know that anyone is tracking the number of them who have long Covid. I don’t think it’s helpful to speak of age groups in isolation when the people in them aren’t in fact isolated from one another.

      3. Nynaeve*

        I ‘m sorry, I have to call out this comment. Comments like this completely miss the point of what is stressing out parents of children under 5. I have a 4 year old and a 6 month old, both of whom go to daycare because my spouse and I both work.

        The problem isn’t them getting sick, necessarily. I know the risk of them getting severely sick or dying is minimal. The problem is the disruption and unpredictability. I don’t know, on a day-to-day basis, whether I’ll get a call in the morning telling me that daycare is closed for the next week. If the kids are home, I can’t work. So far, my kids have been at daycare a total of 5 times this month between closures and their own cold symptoms (because they can’t go in if they have a runny nose or cough or anything). Keep in mind I’m also paying $680/wk for this. I’m very very fortunate that my employer has been understanding about this, but the weight of this stress is crushing.

      4. Critical Rolls*

        It’s not at all accurate to say small children are safe from covid. You can say their risk of death is very low, although it’s still not a very sensitive thing to say to a parent who is reasonably worried about their child catching a disease that has, in fact, killed over 500 children in the U.S. But the truth is we don’t really know what covid is doing to bodies in the long term; we find out more about long-haul covid every day. It’s not irrational for parents to be concerned both about the painfully difficult logistical disruptions *and* the potential health impacts of this disease.

      5. Tired40Something*

        From your comment it seems like you either don’t have children under 5 yourself or you aren’t well informed. Telling someone else they are “safe even if unvaccinated” is assuming a lot of things and really unhelpful. You have no idea what someone else’s family medical history is.

        Your comment didn’t define what type of “risk” you are referring to. Risk of death? Risk of hospitalization? Risk of long covid? Risk of transmitting covid to other vulnerable family members? Risk of reinfection? Risk of being miserable for two weeks while a parent takes time off from work to care for them? I will refrain from diving further into data about covid since that is not the main point of this post or blog….just a quick mention that in the U.S. over 10.6 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and over 2 million of these cases occurred this month according data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

    2. turquoisecow*

      I have a 16 month old too and I feel the same way. We are lucky enough to be able to avoid daycare but I still feel like she’s missing out on so much of life. We couldn’t spend Christmas with the family because of positive tests, and I have unvaccinated (adult) relatives which means that I can’t see them because I’m not putting my kid at risk, and I have vaccinated relatives I can’t see because they won’t put their feet down and tell the unvaccinated relatives not to come.

      I’m not taking her to stores and public indoor places because of the risk, which means I can’t go out to public places with her. I know lots of people think that’s a risk they can take (I see lots of kids in stores without masks) or that they have to take without childcare, but my baby was in the hospital before she was year old (for an unrelated issue) and I don’t want to go through that again. I just can’t. And it does feel like the rest of the world has moved on without us.

      1. FridayFriyay*

        I hear you. And then on top of everything else battling comments like the one above acting like we are nuts for continuing to take precautions and downplaying the risk for kids. None of it is fun. All of it is hard. Hang in there. I’m sure you’re doing great in less than ideal circumstances.

      2. Sparrow*

        I hear this so much about missing out. My older kid was 15 months when the pandemic started. She’s now 3 and doesn’t remember the world before there was a pandemic. She has friends and family whom she doesn’t remember meeting in person. And now I also have an infant for whom this has been literally her whole life.

  50. Annika Hansen*

    I am curious to see what the long-term effect of the pandemic will have on the birthrate. I could see this pushing anyone on the fence about having children to not have them. My husband and I must have said a million times during the past two years that we were so relieved not to have children. It’s too late for us at this point anyway so it’s not like the pandemic caused that decision.

    1. The Original K.*

      I think it’s already dropped and I suspect it will continue to, for many different reasons. The pandemic has laid bare the ways in which the US has virtually no safety net. I also know people in my generation (older end of the millennial generation) who have opted out of parenting because it’s simply financially out of reach.

      1. Annika Hansen*

        Yes, I have seen that has dropped. I am Gen X. I didn’t have a huge motherhood yearning. I chose having a retirement fund (not a huge one either) over children. There was no way to have both with my income.

        What I am curious about is let’s say a now 12-year-old who watched her parents struggle with caring for her younger siblings during the pandemic. When she gets to be in prime child bearing years, what affect is that going to have?

        1. J.B.*

          I hope my kids don’t have kids when they grow up :( They have special needs so this has been brutal.

      2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        I’m one of those old millennials. The only way would be to be in a relationship with someone with equal or more pay than me, and considering I haven’t been lucky enough to get even a date, I won’t sign up for such responsibility.

      3. Jo*

        Yep, childcare is expensive. We were paying 2500/month for two kids in daycare. That’s more than our mortgage payment.

      4. Dragonfly7*

        Yup. I have two older millenial coworkers who explicity do not intend to marry or have children. I’m increasingly ambivalent.

    2. Wats*

      On the other hand, I know multiple couples who are using the pandemic as a chance to have children because they have jobs that have never been as flexible before. I know one person who’s taking a developer boot camp and trying to get pregnant because she’s never had the ability to do all this before because of the nature of the way her job was structured. It’s interesting to see how based on what job people have right now, how the pandemic is affecting their lives for the positive or negative.

    3. Fredericke*

      Just to not be all gloom… For us being ‘forced’ to spend time with kids had some up-sides. We were both super career obsessed people (very demanding professional jobs) and had left the kids’ education to schools and after-school classes. Being forced to really take care of them ourselves opened our eyes to the joys of parenting. I know this might sound a bit tone-deaf relative to the despair in this letter, but in case it’s any consolation, I think at least some of the ‘pain’ right now might translate in some way into a sense of gratification that you spent so much time with the kids during those toddler years you won’t get back. Actually taking care of kids even improved my management and multi-tasking skills at work. There is kind of a flip side to the suffering…

      1. Junebug*

        It’s not quality time under these circumstances. Kids do not benefit from their parents being physically there but emotionally absent, forced to ignore them much of the day to work and do the CPS minimum survival chores. We’ll be carrying the fallout of that “extra time” with us for many years.

        1. This Old House*

          That’s true! In summer 2020 some of my childless teacher friends were sharing things about how opening schools would be bad for kids because teachers would need to keep their distance and couldn’t give hugs or tie shoelaces, and that would be scary and traumatic for kids. And I was like, “LOL who do you think has been tying shoes while I’m in meetings?” Parents working from home are technically home so no one calls the cops, but definitely not present and available all day!

          1. SpaceySteph*

            Yup, my poor 1yo when he’s stuck home with us while we’re both trying to work just gets so bored and then angry that nobody is entertaining him. Every time he brings me a book I can’t read right now because I’m on a meeting it breaks my heart. I change diapers, I dispense snacks, I keep an eye out for dangerous activities that need to be stopped, and otherwise… you’re on your own, kid.

      2. Anonymous Me*

        It’s really, really, hard to keep it in perspective when we’re struggling the way parents are in Jan 2022 (more daycare closures than ever before, less flexibility from work who expects everything to be back to normal, Omicron, winter, etc.), but I do sometimes think that when I look back on my kids’ childhood, I will looking back specifically on March-August 2020, when we spent more time together than any other part of their lives, when they actually got to play in the backyard daily instead of the daily crush of school/aftercare/dinner/bed. I wouldn’t exactly say it opened our eyes to the joys of parenting . . . it was SO SO hard, and with behavioral issues from one of our kids, we were also subjected to screaming and tantrums daily, and had no escape and no help, but there are some pleasant memories in there.

    4. Just Another Zebra*

      For my husband and I, we were on the fence about having a Little Zebra #2. We love our daughter and she is such an amazing kid, but the last 2 years have pushed us firmly into Camp One and Done.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah I’m excited that people have stopped pestering me about “when” I’m going to have kids now. I think they recognize all the things I already felt about the lack of support, cost, and difficulty involved for my situation. People used to try to argue with me and now they nod knowingly.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        I got pregnant at the start of the pandemic. I had my baby and was dealing with the newborn stage before vaccines were available, so even having my retired parents come to help out seemed too risky all around until my husband had to travel for work after I’d started working again, and it was necessary (and by that time, my parents had gotten their first vaccine dose). We had gone into the parenthood experience with a mindset of “we like the idea of having two, but let’s have one first and see what we think.” The more time has gone by, the more we’ve been sliding towards definite one-and-done ourselves. (It doesn’t help that we’re both over 40 and things don’t get easier as you get older.)

    5. cacwgrl*

      The pandemic cemented it for me, no kiddos here. I make more than twice my SO, who is on shift work in a job they really enjoy, so quitting or cutting back to devote time to family would not be an option for me. I love my job and have been WFH since March 2020. SO has been considered mission critical on site from the start and spends about 75% of this time for work on nights, which means sleep all day. Add to that my mom having two major health crisis that meant me traveling to her every morning, caretaking and working. I’m sure it could have been done, but I can guarantee we would not have made it as a couple because like OP, I would have had all the responsibilities being the one that’s home or at least able to not go anywhere other than my moms. I know I’m lucky that I was able to care for my mom as needed and it worked, but it became clear to me how grateful I was to not also be parenting a child at the same time, worrying about child care, care costs, who will watch kiddo while mom and I are in the hospital, etc.

    6. mli25*

      This is my husband and I. 100% childless by choice (I made it so I cannot get pregnant EVER). We feel for people with kids, especially the little ones(under 5 and thus not in kindergarten). I think more people will opt out of having kids or will stop at one.

      1. Zephy*

        Same here – I’m aiming to get sterilized by the end of the year or early 2023. I do not want to ever be pregnant, I do not want to raise children in *gestures broadly* all of this (or at all, but like, especially not now).

    7. dresscode*

      I am in prime conceiving age as are all of my friends. Four of us had kids in 2019. So about now you’d think we’d start thinking about having another… One is pregnant (She had the earliest 2019 baby in Feb.) and while the rest of us are all thinking about it, no one else is pregnant and a primary reason is the COVID situation. we are all waiting it out. I have two other friends who want to start conceiving and they are just kinda waiting until things settle down a bit.

      1. fueled by coffee*

        Yeah, I’m a younger late-20s millennial, so my social circle is split between a handful of parents and mostly non-parents (by choice, or because they haven’t started trying yet, or because we’re still single). I know a handful of people who have had kids over the past two years, but even beyond the childcare concerns, there’s also what feels like a very serious “the pandemic is still going strong and if I get pregnant now, I will be at higher risk for the next 9 months of whatever variants come at us, and then my kid will be at risk from birth until (under-five vaccination???).

        I can see how this calculus would be different for people who are coming up on biological clock stuff, but I can definitely see a trend where even people who really do want children are delaying pregnancy until later ages.

    8. I'm A Little Teapot*

      My sister has wanted children since she was a kid. I just had a conversation with her which boiled down to: she wants kids, but she doesn’t want to be abandoned and beaten down by society because she had kids, so she’s not sure.

      I do not want children and never have. I stick with cats.

      1. AnonBeret*

        God. I don’t want kids and never have, but I have so many friends who do and who will make excellent parents and some of them feel the same as your sister. It’s heartbreaking to watch our country fall apart in this way (and a government that not only lets it happen but has a large contingent trying to accelerate it) and to then on top of that know that it means my very beloved friends may never get to experience something they had waited their whole lives for. All this while watching my extended family and friends in Norway experience a completely different world with strong social safety nets and leave and pay and and and…

      2. Calliope*

        You know, it sucks but IF you want kids, I think it can still be worth it. (Had my daughter November 2019). Like, yes, there’s a lot of rage about what society could have done to help but didn’t – but the alternative is that rage about society making it so I couldn’t have what I desperately wanted AND not having the child I wanted, and I am very glad that’s not the trade off I had to make.

    9. Ann*

      Yeah. I can’t see anyone voluntarily choosing to put themselves through this. Though funny enough, I know a few people that did decide now’s a good time to start a family. Maybe they have more family support than I do… or maybe (yikes) they don’t know what they’re getting into, because work from home without kids and work from home with kids are two very different things.

      1. FridayFriyay*

        The number of people I see referencing deciding to have kids now that they can work from home, assuming that they can just work from home WITH their kid instead of having childcare as a long-term planned solution is just wild to me. I’ve worked from home for the past couple of years since having my kid and childcare is a necessity for my ability to do my job. The people in my Sept 2020 birth cohort who went into this thinking they could just work from home with their baby no problem are already burning out and realizing that this isn’t sustainable in a lot of jobs (and that a lot of employers don’t really allow it…)

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Well, I mean, this pandemic is now stretching into its third year. If people want kids, they don’t have infinite time to “wait until things get back to normal.” I’m older and a lot of my friends waited until they finished their education and were stable in their careers before they got married, so they were already in their mid thirties. I can’t blame them for going for it now.

          1. Anon for this one*

            Yeah, this. I’ve been wrestling with biological clock vs. pandemic for the last year. I was finally ready to try, but Omicron and the data coming out around COVID and miscarriage (not to mention the long-known data of the effects of high fevers on a developing fetus) have me reeling. I’ve always wanted kids, took a while to find the right partner, and now the window for the (usually) least expensive way to build a family is steadily narrowing. And that’s not even taking into account the tremendous, soul-crushing hardship most of my friends with little kids have been under and how long that might play out. It sucks.

          2. Applesauced*

            Yep…. my biologically clock isn’t quite ticking at “My Cousin Vinny” levels, but I’m mid-thirties, not getting any younger, and already paused my kid plans for two years because of COVID.
            If I wait for things to be normal before starting to try, it would probably be too late.

          3. FridayFriyay*

            I don’t at all mean to imply that people should wait for things to be back to normal or shouldn’t have kids now if they want them! Just that for folks who are thinking they can afford kids they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford because they are assuming their WFH set-up will be perfect with kids, they may find that it is indeed not as great a set-up as it seems on the surface. I had 5+ years of infertility before successfully having my son so I’d never advocate that people delay having kids due to the pandemic.

        2. Ann*

          That was actually me years ago! Before I had any kids I was all “so when my FMLA is up, I’ll find a nanny for my three-month-old and head right back to work!” And then I’m looking at this teeny tiny baby that’s not gaining weight well, and there’s just no way. So my next brilliant idea? He’s a very laid-back kid, so why not ask to work from home, with no help at all?

          That. Was. Stupid. I have no idea how I survived two months of it. Then again, leaving the baby with family and going back to work didn’t feel any better emotionally. Now that I think of it, there are just no good choices when you’re a working mom with a baby. No matter what I did, it felt wrong. I wish we had longer maternity leave!

      2. calonkat*

        Well, and the EFFECTS of the pandemic will continue for awhile. We have lost a lot of people, and they weren’t all in nursing homes. A lot of workers in childcare moved to better paying jobs.

      3. This is a name, I guess*

        I’ve had a few friends have kids. One husband stayed at home, so Covid doesn’t have the same impact. Another took a sabbatical. Others have jobs where they can afford hits in productivity for short periods of time. I’m an older Millennial, so some people have limited choice based on their fertility.

      4. Ann Perkins*

        Ha, I’m pregnant with kid #3 and my other two will be just 3 and 5 when this one is born. We have zero family support but are fortunate that our daycare hasn’t closed nearly as much as others, so covid didn’t impact us as much as it did other people. We also both get generous PTO and can WFH when needed. I realize we’re fortunate, in a lot of ways, with our job situations. I’m nervous about when the five year old goes to school next year and then we’re juggling two potential sets of exposure, but he’ll be in a small private school so I’m hoping it won’t be too bad.

        1. Ali + Nino*

          I’m in the same boat – 4.5 yr old, almost 2 yr old, and pregnant with #3 (very early). We are struggling a lot and the past two years have not been easy. Having a newborn (and a toddler) during a pandemic was the hardest thing I have ever done. If I could survive that, I can survive anything. It’s hard in the moment, but I’m banking on it being worthwhile in the end. That’s what keeps me going.

    10. braindump*

      I am childfree and never wanted any in the so called best of times. Seeing how much society crapped on my single, poor parent solidified that choice.

      Some people would push harder for shaming others into not being single or poor, but it has always made me push for more safety nets for all. (which I can do in my free time since I don’t have kids.)

    11. 101*

      My spouse and I have been talking about this too. We’ve been firmly One and Done long before the pandemic, but the struggle we’ve gone through the last couple of years with an elementary-school aged child has really drove home how society is (at best) incredibly dismissive of the needs of parents. We love our child beyond all description, but this realization has made me hope our child never wants children, just so they can escape some of the pressures that comes with parenting that only seem to be getting worse. It feels awful to say that but there it is.

    12. AVP*

      I have one and am on the fence about a second – but I think in normal circumstances we would have easily gone for two, and now I’m seriously considering not.

    13. lobsterp0t*

      Honestly, I wasn’t having kids before this but after covid? You couldn’t pay me. The way society has treated parents and families in this pandemic is shocking.

    14. Kate in Colorado*

      I had my daughter in February of 2020 and I have cried thinking about how impractical it feels for for us to have another child. We have been so fortunate with how certain things have worked out with jobs, childcare, etc. so far, but another child would be so hard, and I’m not in a position to take a break from my civilian career or my career as a reservist in the military. So I have accepted that my darling girl will likely be an only child.

  51. Anhaga*

    I’m so sorry, OP. My kids are all school-age now, so at least they can be vaccinated, but we’ve been dealing with really similar sorts of problems where we’ve been home almost once a week with a kid who is sick (with something not COVID) or quarantining. Schools in our area have stopped closing for outbreaks, but I have a feeling that’s why my entire family had COVID (very mild cases, thank goodness) last week.

    Parenting small kids–the under-5s–while working from home is *hard*. I tried to do it for the first 6 months of my oldest’s life and I could not. I am wish I had some kind of advice, but the only thing that comes to mind is to, if you can afford it, hire a sitter or a nanny. Depending how much you’re paying per month for childcare, it might not be a bad wage for an 8-hour-a-day nanny, and that would let you keep your job and not be forced into being a SAHM (some of us are NOT suited to that role, even when we’re not trying to also work a paying job).

  52. Missb*

    My kids are in grad school. I had them while holding a version of my current job. It was fabulous- Dh and I worked a few blocks apart, we took the same bus to and from work, daycare was in my building.

    But you know what? I still couldn’t handle it. I left that job after a couple of years, stayed out of the workforce for almost a decade and then returned to the same job. And I had *everything* going my way.

    Cut yourself a ton of slack. Yes, everyone is actually a mess right now. Pandemics are stressful. You have the extra burden of working full time with small kids around and zero breaks. You can’t eke out time for yourself and it’s all overwhelming.

    If there is any comfort to be had, realize that everyone feels some level of stress and in some cases it is popping out as feeling like failure. It isn’t.

    You are doing fine. It may not feel like it, but you are.

    Take your joyful, quiet moments whenever you can and wherever you find them. And move forward, as best as you can.

  53. EngineerGirl88*

    I ran into that issue two times for two weeks each. It was hard and I had to take unpaid tome or juggle work like a crazy person. What does your husband do for work? I notice that you said your husband is a good helper. Helper as in as soon as he is off he’s taking the kids and cooking and cleaning so thar you can focus on work? I say this bc the situation is for working moms is awful in the US and not manageable hence women quitting at such a high rate. However husbands need to step up and put in as much effort as you are. I know he helps but is he waking up extra early and staying up late to help prioritize your career when possible? Is he giving you Sunday to get as much work done so your weeks are more manageable? I say this from experience and wish you nothing but the best.

    1. CG*

      This was the main thing that stood out to me. Regardless of the job situation, husbands should be partners, not helpers. If even one of you is stretched to your limit, that is an issue for your whole family, not just your problem to handle alone as the Senior Household and Child Manager. Even if there’s no resolution here where you’re not both deeply stressed and at your limits, OP, it sounds like you may need to work together to find ways to alleviate your load or give you a break here. Others have suggested trading off more, and I’d also suggest that if it’s possible for him to occasionally take an unpaid day or a day where he maybe isn’t as attentive to or good at his job, do that. Can you work early mornings to midday and he works midday to late night, or something similar? If it is genuinely not physically possible for you to handle all of both of your jobs and the childcare, then you may need to look at your work situation, but BOTH of you need to look at your work situation, not just the lower income earner. You could quit or back away from your job, but he could also look for a more flexible job with similar pay. Or you could look for a higher-paying job and he could back away from his career for a bit!

      One more gendered thing: as a woman, I’ve been trained to minimize how much effort and energy things cost me. Now is a really important time to be open with your partner about how much work you’re doing and how much you need a break or lightened load (and in what specific ways). He may have ideas on how to alleviate things, but may not be fully aware of the intensity of the problem.

      I am so, so sorry that you and so many others are in this situation, OP. It’s such a nightmare right now, and it sounds like you are doing the absolute best you can for your family and for your job. You’re amazing, and I hope you get some relief soon.

  54. Tea Girl*

    Another mom here, though mine is older (8). Frankly, the only people I know with smalls who are making it work at all have had to call in air support. For some, this has been family, but for others this has been a sitter/nanny or podding up with another family and swapping care. You CANNOT do this alone and it’s probably worth looking into what help you can get. That may mean taking kids out of daycare or it may mean just having a nanny for a few hours a day, like the plan mentioned above with the 4 hours a day. Yes, it’s an expense, but your sanity is something worth paying for. If hiring someone just for your kids is too much of an expense look into pooling up with another family (possibly from school) either to pay a person or swap care. I’ve seen lots of pods be very successful, especially if people communicate up front about how COVID-cautious everyone is expected to be.
    Wishing you all the luck and sending all the good vibes.

    1. Tired Too…*

      The issue is in some places you can’t find help.

      Where I live we have a 50% vaccination rate for people over the age of 5. Every daycare center has a 1-2 year waiting list (even for toddlers and pre-k) because they can’t find people to hire. Home daycares are closing because people around here can’t afford to not work and pay for childcare. Some of the daycares that are open happily boast about not being vaccinated and not wearing masks.

      In many places it’s not as simple as paying for help, even if you can afford it,

      1. Tea Girl*

        I am well aware. I live in a place where if you don’t get your kiddo on waitlists for daycare while your pregnant, you are going to scramble and likely won’t get care until they are eligible for preschool. Parent groups are FILLED with people trying to figure out care, even before COVID. That is why I also suggested podding up either to hire OR just to swap care with another family. At this point for OP, any relief, even one that carries some risk might well be worth the mental break.

  55. M Jonas*

    I’ve been reading this blog for over six years religiously and I have never felt the need to jump into the conversation so fiercely as today. I cannot feel the OP’s visceral pain more acutely. I have two kids, 5 & 2, and am working from home with my husband. I am working from 8am-9:30pm to fit in a workday in addition to childcare. Because even if there’s no quarantine today, we wake up every morning with the knowledge that there will be an email and the classroom will be closed. My daughter has special needs and a regular babysitter can’t handle our kids. What are we supposed to do when the world has forgotten us and the government has decided we’re no longer worthy of support? We are collateral damage that’s apparently not worth protecting.

    But none of that gets to your question. First, we are using an in-home daycare for our two year old. Much less chance to get exposed because it’s so small and is not licensed and so they do not need to follow CDC rules about quarantine. Because we are well beyond the ability to protect our kids from this virus. They are going to get it. It’s a matter of when at this point; there is no point IMO of trying to ignore this fact.

    I also second the advice of others to consider a babysitter (teenager after school even?) to help with the kids. Use your local facebook groups and start an open thread to ask around for recommendations. We have a local university; if you have one nearby consider their job board too.

  56. WorkingMomToo*

    I really feel your pain. The past two years have been impossible and it feels like all the support got taken away and no one cares about parents with kids 5 and under. We’re just supposed to keep working while Omicron goes through our daycares and our kids get infected because a vaccine isn’t available for their age group yet. I have one daughter who is under 2 and even with a flexible job, a great support team, and a boss who never questions when I need something (working diff hours, her to cover a meeting, etc.), it’s still hard. I focus on getting thru each day and that’s it at this point. Something has to give in your situation and it can’t be you. Here are some options to consider:
    1. Hire in a sitter or at home care part-time or full time if it’s financially feasible to allow you to work undisturbed for at least part of the workday and then you can work 2-3 hrs once the kids go to bed if needed
    2. Do an income analysis and decide if you can afford for one parent to stay home or take a sabbatical to get your family to the summer when vaccines are likely to be available. We considered giving up our house to make this feasible if we really had to go down this route or pausing long term goals like putting into our retirement, paying student loans, etc.
    3. If your income analysis allows for you to walk away if needed, negotiate HARD with your current work to get what you need or job search during your evenings when you have the energy to find a more flexible workplace. 100% remote is more and more common these days and people are hiring, so you could get higher pay or take a step down to maintain your sanity if needed
    4. Talk to your coworkers and your team about your situation. My team takes notes for me, runs math analyses on occasion, and is willing to cover just about anything if I tell them I need it and none of them have kids or have kids with family help nearby. They really wanted to keep me, so they’re willing to go the extra mile. I repay the favor when they have technical issues during a meeting or so to try to keep the balance.

  57. Nonprofit Lifer*

    First, solidarity. I’m really with you and this just sucks all around. I’ve got a kindergartener and another one on the way and… it’s just really, really hard.

    That said there are things employers can do to make it easier and your employer is just not doing that. The comments and pressure you’re getting are not a necessary feature of every job. I do a better job when I’m in the office, but my employer recognizes that I do get the job done at home as well and has been marvelously understanding. My coworkers also are understanding and have been willing to be flexible about things like meetings and response times so I can flex my hours. Part of it is the nature of the job, but a lot of it is cultural. We really didn’t have a work-from-home culture before the pandemic, but IMHO we’ve adapted really well.

    Basically, I think you need to do a job search for a company that’s more than grudgingly supportive of work-from-home/flexible hours. They are out there and it sounds like that even if you had to take a pay-cut that might be better for your sanity and your family than staying at a place that’s grinding you down OR leaving the workforce entirely.

  58. Jules the 3rd*

    Are there any other moms at the day care that you could do a co-op with, trading days, or even half days?

  59. Aunt Illogical*

    In my area, some daycares were getting hit harder than others. I switched daycares and went from quarantining 2 out of every 3 weeks for months on end to only having to quarantine every couple months. Might be worth calling other local daycares to get a sense of how often they are closing (though I’m not sure with what time. Maybe your husband could make the calls?)

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      This is also key. Our daycare requires vaccination and masks for all teachers, and masks are strongly encouraged starting in the 2s and 3s, and required in the 4s. Teachers used to do a fair bit of floating between the ages, but haven’t since 2020. Classes also don’t mix with each other at all anymore (used to be the 4s might be on the playground with the 3s, stuff like that). While there have still been exposures, it keeps the exposure limited — if there’s an exposure in the 3s, only that class has to quarantine, not the entire daycare. We are inordinately lucky that we wound up at this daycare years ago…the wait list is long.

  60. JustKnope*

    Is there any work you can cut out or aggressively cut down on until this current surge has petered out? I think you need to take an honest assessment by yourself first and with your boss second of what’s humanly possible, and either work out an agreement for reduced hours or reduced workload temporarily. You can’t sustain this pace of work, and the halfway measures aren’t doing anything for you at work.

    I also want recommend reaching out to local college students nearby who may have flexible daytime schedules and could come by for even a few hours in the morning on days you’re out of daycare for a reprieve.

    Finally, it’s been noted (not very kindly) by some other commenters, but it’s worth looking at the balance between your husband and yourself. Even though he’s the higher wage earner, it’s not fair for you to take on the vast majority of work+childcare stress. The higher wage he makes won’t matter much if you’re constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I say that with all the respect I can.

    Sending support and strength over the internet.

    1. Esmeralda*

      College students: good idea, but insist on seeing their vax card, two shots (or one J&J) plus booster. Many schools are testing, so you could also ask for (weekly) proof of negative test.

      Because undergrads at most schools are not vaxxing at the rate of grad students and faculty. (In fact, a grad student might be better. Usually a more flexible schedule.)

  61. Cheesecake2.0*

    I’m so sorry OP. I don’t know a huge number of people with young kids right now but every single one that I do know had grandma or grandpa move in to help once the adults were vaccinated last year and even then it seems to be a real struggle for the families at times.

  62. Sympathizer*

    Virtual hugs and heartfelt prayers for the OP and other moms going through this.

    It’s truly a nightmare in real life.

  63. Barbara*

    I am so sorry. The pandemic has been extremely difficult on working parents, and many many women have left the workforce because of exactly what you are describing. I am in a similar position. I don’t know what your relationship is with your supervisor, but you may want to set a time to talk with them and explain very clearly what you explained in your letter. That you are concerned, and you value your job and you are trying your best, but outline all of the challenges and things you are balancing. I am a manager, and I would absolutely want my staff to talk with me about their struggles. But also, if ultimately you do decide to leave the workforce for now, there is no shame in that. Hopefully future employers will be understanding of the gap in resume and the reason for it. Good luck to you

  64. KimberlyR*

    I work from home full-time but can’t get stuff done as efficiently when my kids are home. My husband is dealing with long COVID and has been slowly easing back into work but is still having health issues. I work in a healthcare (non-clinical) field so we’re on our third or fourth or fifth surge of 60+ hour weeks until the surge dies down (we still work over 40 hours when it does go down). I would love to not work overtime but its also a blessing because my husband isn’t working much. Its untenable. Its relentless and exhausting and there is no end in sight. I have no good advice except that maybe the LW should find a new job IF things ever get back to normal, so she can be seen as the contributor she is and not be remembered as the mom who had no childcare. Its completely not the LW’s fault-the US (I am assuming here) has a terrible system for working parents, but that might be what her coworkers take away from all this. Not everything she was able to accomplish, but the things she couldn’t :(

  65. Breathless*

    I have an incredibly supportive employer, my husband and I both work from home, and I am still pretty much in despair most days about my ability to work and parent my infant and 3 year old. We have a daycare we love that has stayed open most of the time, so we are incredibly lucky compared to many others. I breastfeed our infant several times a night and pump 4 times a day while working at home. Most days I feel so depleted I want to cry the minute I wake up. All the normal isolation and stresses that go with being parents of small children is magnified 100 times over right now. Meanwhile our friends and other family members who are young and healthy are working, traveling, going out to eat, and in some cases enjoying the increased flexibility of WFH that COVID has provided. The outside world hasn’t slowed down and the work world is tired of making exceptions for parents after 2 incredibly long years.

    I can’t remember the last time I genuinely laughed out loud. My children give me so much joy but a lot of the time I fantasize about quitting my job just so I can take a breath.

  66. r_caraway*

    This is pretty much my situation too–my spouse’s job pays quite a bit more and is extremely demanding. My solution, which is imperfect, was that I switched to part time at work and hired a sitter who has availability for closures in addition to working about 12 hours a week when things are running normally. So basically we’re not keeping much of my (reduced) salary but I’ve been able to remain employed and can ramp back up “when this is over.” Obvs we’re pretty lucky that we can swing this but it’s not a solution for everyone.

  67. Silver*

    This is a system level failure. I am so sorry that the systems have failed so catastrophically. I think the solution has to be to organize – I’m sure that there are other moms in your position in your area. Find them. Collective action may be the only solution when the government fails so abysmally.

    1. GRA*

      I know this is probably a well meaning comment, but someone who is hanging on by a thread and is working/taking care of her children from 4AM-midnight daily probably doesn’t have the bandwidth to organize local moms into action.

      1. Ann*

        Agreed. Silver is right though – this is the way. It should never be on OP though. She’s overwhelmed enough as it is. But lots of moms of older kids have been organizing to push for more rational policies for kids. It seems parents have always been easy to put last because we’re overwhelmed, disorganized, treading water. Now we have a situation where adults can crowd into theaters and sports arenas, whether they’re well or sick, but kids get sent home for a week or two if they were just in the same room with someone who tested positive for covid. It makes no sense, and more and more parents are pushing back. We’re not quite as helpless as we used to be.

        Not that this makes any difference to OP or anyone else in this boat, in the short term… it’s such a tough situation to be in!

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      Nah, that action is already being done by people who aren’t running on less than 4 hours of sleep and zero down time. It definitely doesn’t need to be started from scratch by the LW right now.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        However, LW, definitely seek out already-established organizations and see if they have any resources that could help you! They may be able to connect you with local programs or individuals to get some support.

  68. Esmeralda*

    My kid is in college, so not currently in your shoes.

    I have to say, your employer sucks. Really really sucks.

    Did anyone even do your work when you were on leave? If you were in the office, would you still have that many hours of work?

    You say you’re the only person who can do the work you do –and you seem to be seeing that as, I’m trapped.

    But actually, you have leverage. You’re the only person who can do the work! They need to treat you better or maybe you won’t be working there. Then what would they do?

    Can some things come off your plate? Do you need more than one assistant? Is there stuff that won’t get done because there are only so many work hours in the day? Can you set up a queue or ticketing system (something your assistant could do, right?) so you’re not running around responding to every urgent text/call? (and are those urgent requests truly urgent?)

    I know you don’t feel you have time to look for a new job…but maybe you need a new job.

    BTW, this is why we have lost two talented admins, one right after the other, in the past three months.

    1. Foila*

      Yes, good point – OP, your work values you, but they’re not acting like it. They are acting like they need you, but not giving you what *you* need to take care of them.

      Also, just because it can’t be said enough: OP, you are valuable. These things that you need – at work, at home, personally – you deserve those things. You deserve support and free time and being taken care of, and I am so, so sorry that you are not getting what you need. You’ve been given an impossible assignment an you’re doing a hell of a job at it anyway.

  69. code red*

    I have 3 kids with the oldest being 6 and the youngest 1.5. Ever since she turned 1, the youngest has picked up pretty much any sickness imaginable except covid (she’s been tested more times than anyone in the family poor thing). I’m lucky that I work for an amazingly understanding company and that most of my job doesn’t require interacting with people. I hate it, but the days I have one or more kids home with me, the TV is pretty much on the entire day so I can work and just get them food or change diapers as needed. I can flex time, but I’m basically useless in the evenings so try to get as much done as I can during the day. I can also make up time on the weekends when my husband’s home, so I’ll do that as well when needed. It’s hard and I’m completely exhausted and burnt out any week I have to juggle work and kids. My husband is also a big help and will let me try to recuperate some on weekends when I get too burnt out. I feel your pain and I hope you can find something that works for you because I know it’s damn hard.

  70. Sabine the Very Mean*

    Sweet Mary Mother of Glob….I’m officially taking myself out of the reproductive pool. This terrifies me.

    1. It’s Almost FriYay Ya’ll*

      This is the exact reason my husband and I decided we won’t be having any more children. We have one little, who just turned 6, and while I would love for her to have siblings I can’t honestly imagine trying to go through the new born/toddler years in this new pandemic job/geopolitical landscape. We essentially did nothing for a year while she was under 5 and wasn’t able to be vaccinated and thankfully she’s at the age where she can entertain herself if she’s quarantined/home from school due to exposure.

      It’s so disheartening.

    2. Llama Llama*

      Right? I had already decided I don’t want to have children for a bunch of different reasons and watching parents during the pandemic and seeing how tenuous everything is for them solidifies that choice for me.

    3. Joielle*

      Same here! This pandemic has taken my spouse and I from “no kids for now but maybe we’ll change our minds” to “absolutely not, no way, never.” I have never been so grateful to have a house full of us, pets, and nobody else.

    4. too tired from parenting to make up a cool funny name*

      it’s really sad that this is the takeaway of many people when reading about the nightmare parents are living through— not saying it’s wrong for anyone to feel this way but dear god, it’s WORK culture that has created this hell, not parenting itself. yes, having kids is hard at times, but it’s made 1000x harder by a culture that expects all workers to be able to prioritize a company’s interests over their own. i’m a parent too (one young kid, flexible work, still feeling this) and my takeaway from the last few years is that we need to utterly rethink work culture, which brutalizes caregivers, people with chronic illnesses, and so many others.

      1. CG*

        Yes!! On the flip/positive side of this, I have a friend who had a really high-powered burnout job at a toxic office who had thought about what her life was like and concluded years ago that she was never going to have a kid. She found a new job at a much saner workplace mid-pandemic and was (intentionally and happily) pregnant within a few months, in part because suddenly she could picture her life in a way that made children possible for her situation.

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        I’m also conscious, on this thread in which we are supposed to be offering advice or support to OP, that “so glad I don’t have kids” isn’t helpful. I liked some of the suggestions above about what people could do to help parents of young kids in the workplace right now.

      3. Paloma Pigeon*

        Came here to echo this. My two are older but we’ve had our bumps with constant uncertainty due to Covid exposure/carpool issues. My two cents is the constant zooming is making everything worse, eating up valuable time when you need to be ‘on’ but the actual work can’t get done until late at night or early in the morning. It’s killing people.

      4. kiki*

        I agree completely that work culture needs to be seriously overhauled and I feel like everyone I know agrees but then… it’s been two years and little has really changed. Everyone is just kind of barreling forward, hoping we’ll get back to some semblance of normalcy. Parents are trapped in this hellish situation and business-owners seem content to let their workforce struggle instead of making actual changes besides saying, “Oh we understand, feel free to wake up at 4am to get all your work done. Wow, we are so flexible!”

        What are the next steps? Do I just send postcards to everyone and pick a day for a strike? Can I trick CEO’s into thinking they’re guest-judging shark tank and then personally yell at them until they take action?

      5. Ann Perkins*

        This! I’m currently pregnant and never even thought before reading this thread, “gosh, are people judging me for getting pregnant during a pandemic?” I can definitely see why people would want to factor in pandemic conditions into their choices, it’s just so hard to know by the time 9 months is over what the world will be like, with all the societal changes that have happened over the last couple years.

    5. kiki*

      I’m still on the fence about kids, but I did end things with my boyfriend of several years. Seeing all my female coworkers and friends struggle so much during this time really made me think how helpful my ex would actually be if I needed him. I was already pulling most of the weight in the relationship– if we had kids I would become the mom on zoom leading a meeting while changing their infant’s diaper as their husband played Rocket League in the background. This pandemic really helped me solidify what I need in a partner.

    6. Ally McBeal*

      I’m turning 36 this year and have ALWAYS wanted kids. Needed to work on myself before I was ready for parenthood. So now I’m watching my friends and family drowning and I hate myself for being grateful that the only thing I’ve always wanted hasn’t happened yet.

  71. Gracely*

    This sounds awful and beyond exhausting, LW. The only remedy I can think of is getting a sitter who comes for a few hours each day(maybe in the morning so you can actually sleep a couple more hours) to give you a break. Or maybe share a sitter with a friend/neighbor, so you can split the cost? My friends with kids that age have given up on daycare because it’s too unreliable; they have a sitter who comes to one of their houses (one of them works from home, so that’s the house the sitter goes to; the other friend drops their toddler off in the morning). It’s not perfect, but it’s made it so the one who can’t WFH can go to work without using all their PTO, and the one who does WFH can actually work reasonable hours.

    And I don’t know how closely you have to watch your kids (I know some are more prone to getting into stuff than others), but there is nothing wrong with putting something semi-educational on the TV or on a tablet and letting them engage with that for a few hours. My husband has a STEM ph.d, and swears most of his learning (and wanting to learn more) came from all the TV he watched as a child.

  72. Lorelai*

    OP, you sound seriously burned out. You and others similarly situated desperately need a break! Sometimes when things are soooo rough, it’s time to consider options previously thought to be unworkable. Can you and your husband survive on one salary for a while? Can you take a leave of absence or work a part time schedule? Is it time to consider changing jobs all together (for either you or your husband) to make things work? Is hiring a part time babysitter to come in to your home a few days a week possible? Do you have a retired or otherwise available relative who might be willing to come and stay for a couple weeks to lend a hand? You might have to tap savings, or slow or stop retirement savings FOR THE SHORT TERM, or sell something valuable, or otherwise tighten your budget, but you and your husband really need to sit down and just lay out all the options and discuss them all seriously, no matter how crazy they seem. It sucks, I know. You’re in survival mode, right in the trenches, and it’s miserable. Do what you have to do. Keeping a good thought for you, OP.

  73. Mf*

    Reading this was painful.

    My husband and I were planning to have our first kid but we’ve put that on hold. If we had a an infant or toddler now, we’d have *no* access to childcare. We both work, have no family in the area, and we live in a tiny condo with no space for in-home care. Also, he’s immunocompromised so daycare is not an option.

    If/when a vaccine for infants is released, then it might be feasible. But I’m in my mid 30s, so by then I may not be able to have kids.

  74. Same Boat*

    Echoing other comments: if at all possible to get a nanny, go for it. We had our kids in daycare only until COVID, but once our daycare shut down in March 2020 and we spent ten weeks without childcare and with two full-time jobs we went the nanny route and haven’t looked back. For us it has been so much better to have the peace of mind that our kids won’t be exposed to COVID through school and won’t get quarantined that it’s probably worth even dipping into savings if necessary. It may not even be necessary though — two kids in daycare is usually pretty close to the cost of a nanny anyway.

    And agreed with all the other comments re: your husband stepping up to the plate more in terms of both actual child/house care and mental load of parenting.

  75. Same, girl*

    I would just scale back and do when you can on the days the kids are home due to quarantine. It is an extenuating circumstance and you should treat it as such. I would stop getting up at 4 AM to do work and working late. Maybe reserve an hour or two after bedtime so you can really focus on work. Your current schedule is not sustainable, and you shouldn’t sacrifice your well being for this!

  76. SolidarityAndHugs*

    If you can’t afford a nanny or babysitter to come regularly, what about making a “pod” with another family and trading childcare? Like Monday/Tuesday you work, Wed/Thurs you get all 4 kids. When the pandemic started in my city a lot of pods of 3 to 5 families formed, where each day a different adult had the kids and taught school. Even a small pod or a 2 day (one you, one other household) might help. Ask on Nextdoor or your city facebook/reddit/wherever. You are definitely not alone. Talk to your boss too, can you go part time for now or otherwise reduce your work expectations? Has work any ideas for childcare? Everyone’s facing this right now, maybe there are other options if you ask, or maybe asking will nudge them to create options.

    Other thought – house cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry – What else is eating up your time? Can you outsource any of it? Some laundrymats do by the pound, you drop off and then pickup folded clean laundry. Could a cleaner 1 day a week give you back a couple hours? Would springing for grocery delivery spare you taking 2 kids to try and get a pickup slot? Would paying a person to make you frozen meal preps save you from cooking? Everyone is desperate for money right now, there’s a lot more options than there were. Barter system is stronger too now.

  77. DarthVelma*

    Ok, I’m going to rant and be really judge-y here…

    I’m sorry but your husband is not “a fantastic helper”. He’s not a “helper” at all. He’s a parent. Those are his kids and he needs to step up more. I don’t care about his 12 hour shifts if you’re either working or doing childcare 19-20 hours a day. If he’s getting any more than the 4-5 hours of sleep every night that you’re getting, then he needs to suck it up and parent his children at least a couple more hours a day so you can sleep.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeeah, I was just going to say: Where do we read the part where this encroaches this much on the husband’s job, too?

      The childcare time disparity says that he’s not parenting enough. Is this job the only one he can do, or can he look for one with better, or at least more-flexible, hours? Can they move? If the LW is this burned out, it’s time for seismic changes.

      (And this will end, it’s just a question of whether it ends soon enough to save the LW.)

      1. Clare*

        Plenty of families, my own included, aren’t able to risk both parents’ jobs through constant quarantines, especially since most people rely on jobs for health insurance. Employers are fed up, coworkers are fed up, and it’s a very perilous place to be in with no safety net and knowing the next quarantine could be the one that costs you your job. My family decided to prioritize my husband’s job because he makes more and has better health insurance offerings, and I know lots of other families have done the same. Putting both parents’ jobs in danger is incredibly risky.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          My husband and I are taking turns. Last year, his job got prioritized for all the reasons you mentioned. This year it’s my “turn”, but some of that has to do with what’s going on at my job. Not everyone has that luxury.

          1. Clare*

            If you have time, could you share a little more about how that worked for you? In about 6-8 months we may be in a position to reprioritize my career (possibly even transitioning back to full time), but we’re not sure what that might look like in reality.

            1. Mama llama*

              If you go back to full-time and he quits, that will be a qualifying event to get everyone on your health insurance. Then you could take a few months where everyone get enough sleep and you’re not paying for childcare, then have your husband look for part-time work in his field.

              It’s hard to avoid the trap of feeling like you have to keep the better paying job!

              If you get support, you’ll have an easier time focusing your mental energy on work. An easier time negotiating for a raise. And if your husband is so well-paid, he may be able to match your financial contribution by working part-time.

              Less total money in the short term but better for your career.

              Also – Check if your state has expanded eligibility for Medicaid during the pandemic- mine has, and it’s been amazing.