Inside the daily lives of 7 work parents battling pandemic isolation, virtual learning, and the guilt of raising kids in quarantine

  • Working parents are having a hard time right now. 
  • Up to 87 million working parents are poised to lose access to paid leave if Congress doesn't pass a new coronavirus relief bill. 
  • Paid leave gives parents time off to take care of sick family members or children. 
  • Business Insider spoke with seven working parents about how they are coping during the pandemic. 
  • Many of the parents expressed concerns about their children's education and juggling the responsibilities of childcare with their jobs. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Working parents are struggling right now. 

When corporate America shifted to remote work in March, parents had to take care of both their children and their jobs. It wasn't an easy transition. And without benefits like paid parental leave, women — who have shouldered an outsized portion of the caregiving responsibilities — are dropping out of the workforce in droves. 

About 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce in September, which is about 650,000 more than men. Many cited balancing work, school, and caregiving responsibilities as the main reason for leaving their jobs. 

If Congress doesn't pass another coronavirus relief package, up to 87 million workers could lose access to benefits like paid sick and family leave — benefits that many parents are relying on to care for their children during the pandemic. 

The result: Many of those who haven't left their jobs are hanging on by a thread.

Seven such working parents that Business Insider spoke with are concerned about their child's education. Some feel they are failing as mothers, or that they haven't been able to give their children the attention they deserve. 

If you're a working parent or a parent that recently left the labor force and would like to share your story with Business Insider, please email Caroline Hroncich, chroncich@businessinsider.com.

Cheryl Jacobs has a lot of 'mom guilt,' or the feeling that she's not doing enough for her 4-year-old and 1-year-old daughters.

Cheryl Jacobs, director of marketing and corporate communications at Vitality Group, a global health and wellness company, worries her daughters aren't getting the socialization and enrichment they need since they are at home nearly all the time now. 

She worries that it will be harder to find activities for them to do in the winter, when they can't go outside.

"I have a lot of mom guilt," she told Business Insider. 

When Vitality Group went remote in March, Jacobs was quick to speak up about the challenges of balancing parenting and her job. So, she helped the company establish a new time-off benefit called a "breathing room block," a two-hour period every day that employees can use to take care of their personal needs. It can be used to go to the grocery store, to put your child down for a nap, or anything in between. 

"That was the biggest godsend," she said. "It gave everyone breathing room. There was a tangible solution to help us get through the days." 

Priscilla Von Sorella said that she's grateful her boss provides her flexibility to take care of her 6-year-old son.

When Priscilla Von Sorella's 6-year-old son came down with a slight cough and sore throat, she had to keep him home from school. 

It wasn't coronavirus, but the experience put her behind significantly at work. Juggling caring for her son, her corporate job at an academic journal, and her business was nearly impossible. Fortunately, her employer was understanding. 

Without that flexibility, she said, it would have been even more challenging. 

"I'm really fortunate," she said. "I don't see that's the case in a lot of people I know." 

Remote work and school has given Ami Parekh a glimpse into how her children learn.

Ami Parekh, chief medical officer at healthcare company Grand Rounds, said she has been fortunate to have a partner and family close by who can help her to take care of her two children, who are 12 and 7 years old. 

Even so, she still regularly struggles balancing the needs of her family, her job, and personal care. "I know I am not alone and my experience is shared by Americans in all states," she said. 

But there have been some positives — most notably, seeing glimpses into how her children learn. They also get a look into what her experience is like at work.

"In some ways we have had months of simultaneous 'bring your child to work' and 'bring your parents to school' days," she said. "And that likely leads to a lot of new mutual learning and understanding."

Aaron Gordon said virtual learning was an isolating experience for his children.

For Aaron Gordon, partner at Schwartz Media Strategies, being home all the time has posed serious challenges for virtual learning.

He found it was a lonely experience for his two children, who often had to sit in a room all day by themselves on video calls for class. The technology can also be difficult and the children sometimes struggle to focus.   

"It was painful," he said. Gordon said he's seen a lot of parents similarly struggling with virtual learning. 

It's not perfect, and he is happy that his kids have been able to return to in-person school. 

"I think that there's a lot of advantages through online learning if it's done the right way," he said. "But it has really put parents and children at a disadvantage." 

Stephanie Cooley hired a nanny to help take care of her children during the day.

Cooley is a PR consultant and has been working remotely for a while. Remote work wasn't a big change for her. But for the first few weeks of the pandemic, when her children were home, it was nearly impossible to do everything. 

"It was basically round-the-clock juggling both of our schedules with being with the kids," she said. 

She was fortunately able to hire a nanny to help with some of the daily responsibilities, and some of the pressure has been lifted.

"That has been immensely helpful," she said. 

Cooley's 15-year-old nephew came to live with her during the pandemic. He started at a new school and has been adjusting well, she said, but admitted it's still challenging.

"I can tell that he is itching to find friends," she said, noting her 6-year-old is the same way and "wanting for playmates." 

Jessica Brooks tries to be as flexible as possible with her team members, because she understands their challenges.

Jessica Brooks' days normally start around 6:30 am and sometimes go until midnight. 

Brooks is the CEO of the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health, a nonprofit business coalition. She is also the cofounder of a tech startup. 

Working both of her jobs while simultaneously taking care of her four children has been challenging. 

"It's overwhelming," she said. "There's days that I feel like I'm failing as a mom."

Her six-year-old daughter struggled with virtual learning. She's started to disengage and has lost her excitement about school. Brooks said watching her daughter struggle has been tough. 

"That takes a toll on you mentally," she said.

As a CEO, she's also responsible for the well-being of her employees. She says she's tried to be as understanding as possible with employees who may be dealing with similar challenges. 

"I give a lot of flexibility to my entire team," she said. "I give mental health days." 

Jane Allen frequently begins her days at 5:30 am.

Jane Allen's days are long. 

The partner at professional services firm PwC often starts meetings at 5:30 am. Most of the day she's in back-to-back video meetings. Allen is also a single mother, and sometimes she's been so busy that she's forgotten to eat — or prepare food for her daughter. 

"She may come in the room and she's rubbing her belly and it's like 3:30," Allen said. "I feel horrible." 

Allen considers herself an optimist, but she often feels like she is "hanging on by her fingernails" every single day. Juggling the responsibilities of taking care of her daughter and a demanding job can be overwhelming. 

Companies need to find better ways to support working parents, she said. It's important to make sure parents have the resources they need to take care of their children, and their career. It starts with parents talking more openly about the challenges. 

"I think all of us collectively need to help each other feel okay about speaking up," she said. 

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email covidtips@businessinsider.com and tell us your story.

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