Every single parent I know is obsessed with what’s going to happen in September. Will schools fully open? Will we have to continue to home school our children? Will we do some sort of hybrid model?
There are so many questions and no good solutions. Consequently, everyone is freaking out.
I was talking to an acquaintance the other day and we were lamenting what the fall might look like. She and her partner are able to work remotely, but noted that without school, she gets very little done. I commiserated with her, because I get it.
But do you know what I was thinking?
It may be bad for you, partnered mama, but it’s a Hell of a lot worse for all of the single mamas I know.
Because what are single moms to do right now? There is actually no way to perfectly isolate from everyone else while simultaneously working full-time and raising kids without childcare. The impossibility of this situation grows exponentially if you have to work outside the home, as many single moms must. It is simply untenable.
So you have to break the rules.
You have to decide to send your kids back to day care when it opens, even though you know your 2-year-old is terrible at social distancing. You have to let your middle schooler play Fortnite for 8 hours a day, because that’s the only thing that will get him to leave you alone so you can work from home. You have to team up with other parents or relatives and shuffle the kids from house to house, knowing that you’ll be asking for much more help than any of your partnered friends or family.
But you cannot stop working. That is not an option. You have to keep your job if it’s at all possible. You need to pay the damn bills and since this is America, you have to have a job if you want to be able to go to the doctor. Which, of course, is something you’re more likely to need to do if you have to send your kid to day care or work outside the home. All of these choices increase your health risk as well.
But that’s the option. If you’re a single mom, these “choices” about school openings can feel not much like choices. The parent survey asks: “Do you want your kid to go to in-person school 1-2 days a week or full weeks every third week?” And every solo parent thinks, “how am I going to do this?”
To be fair, every parent in America thinks this same thing. It’s just amplified for single parents. And sometimes I hear comments or see posts online that tell me that many partnered parents really don’t understand how much harder it can be if you’re doing it alone.
Take this post that I saw the other day – a married mom meets a single mom at the waterpark and realizes that the single mom really needs childcare in order to survive. In many ways it’s a lovely post, and it shows how one (married) person changed her point of view. It’s been shared over 20,000 times, so clearly it hits a note with other people.
But it made me think: really? You hadn’t imagined that scenario – the one in which you have no other adult support – until you met this single mom?
I mean, I get it. There’s a lot I didn’t understand about loss and parenting before Shawn died. I was able to imagine that it must be harder to parent alone, for example, but I didn’t really get it. It’s often hard to understand something we don’t experience ourselves. (Yes, it’s hard for me too, on a host of other issues!)
But I’m here to say this: whatever difficulty there is for partnered parents, it is often much, much harder for single parents. Especially right now.
So what does this mean for opening schools? Listen, I’m a teacher too, so I don’t want to be cavalier about sending teachers out on the front lines without a good plan. But maybe this means we need to prioritize certain kids over others. Maybe we need to look at each family’s situation and say, “what does this family need?”
Maybe that’s untenable and maybe there would be too much pushback from parents. I don’t know. But I do know this: we can’t expect single moms to work full time with no reliable childcare plan.
If schools stay closed, we all need another option for our kids. Especially if you’re trying to do this parenting thing alone.