Before the pandemic, our spouses went to work each day, and we thought nothing of it – it was just business as usual. Then the pandemic hit, and, suddenly, the simple act of them going to work completely threw us for a loop. Now, our spouses weren’t just our spouses. They were “essential workers,” and every day they went into work was anxiety-inducing. We transitioned to working from home, but our spouses couldn’t. They went to work at much greater risk. Could they contract the virus from someone at work and bring it home to our family? This was the question top of mind last March.
Elisa’s Story: Making Time for Family
Being the spouse of a firefighter is a lot to handle on a regular day. Add in a pandemic, and things escalated quickly. As soon as the news started spreading about COVID-19, I knew our family was in store for a whole lot of added stress. With my husband being at high-risk of potentially contracting the virus, we had to decide early on about what we were going to do as a family. Do we separate to keep myself and our daughter safe, or do we tough it out together? We decided the best thing to do was to stay together but keep our bubble limited to just the three of us. Our childcare was immediately cut out of the picture like it was for so many other families, which meant I became both a full-time employee and a full-time caregiver.
The weekends were never a problem. But, when it came to Monday through Friday, I began to burn out. Quickly. How was I supposed to navigate being a good employee and being a good mom to my then one-year-old daughter? Being a new mom, I wanted to ensure my daughter hit all her developmental milestones and that I was doing everything I could for her – but how could I do that when I’m supposed to be working 9 to 5?
Pre-pandemic, our parents cared for her during the workweek. I knew she was being entertained, so it was easy for me to disconnect and focus. Suddenly having her with me while I tried to work was incredibly hard. She was starting to walk and get more playful, so it wasn’t exactly easy for me to sit down at a computer from 9 to 5. I’d find myself working when I could during the day and staying up until midnight trying to play catch up. During the day, if I tried to get some work done, she wanted me to play with her, and I always felt so guilty when I couldn’t. This feeling hit me day in and day out for about two months until I realized being a full-time parent and full-time employee wasn’t a viable option for me, especially with my husband away for days at a time between the firehouse and his second job.
I made the decision to temporarily go part-time to better balance my work life and my mom life, and, honestly, just keep myself sane. It was still hard to work and parent at the same time (not to mention worry about my husband), but the free time at the end of the day was the best thing for my daughter and me. It may not have been an ideal situation on the professional side of things (especially when my husband’s work life didn’t change), but on a personal level, it was exactly what I needed to make it through that tumultuous time.
Mary’s Story: Helping my Kids Understand
My husband works in the healthcare industry as a fabrication supervisor for a leading prosthetics and orthotics company. So, while my day-to-day routine of going into the office came to a screeching halt last March, his routine didn’t skip a beat. Similar to Elisa, I worried about him bringing germs home to our kids and me. However, I was most concerned about him bringing home germs to my mom, who is our primary childcare provider and has pre-existing conditions that put her at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications.
Not only were we trying to process our own pandemic-induced stress, but we were also suddenly trying to help our three kids understand their new normal. Our youngest, Grant, turned one on Saint Patrick’s Day. I remember being terrified as I masked up to run into the grocery store to buy a birthday cake and some balloons to celebrate this milestone as best we could in our little pandemic bubble.
My then three-year-old daughter, Bailey, was in half-day preschool at the time, so it was hard for her to understand why “the virus” meant that suddenly she couldn’t go back to school and see her teachers and friends. Within a few weeks, though, we discovered Play to Learn preschool, a virtual preschool program I’d highly recommend, which helped restore some sense of normalcy and gave her a chance to keep working on the fundamental skills she was no longer being taught in person.
My oldest daughter, Gracyn, was in Kindergarten, so making the switch from in-person school to virtual school was tough for both of us. I was used to having kid-free focus time during the workday, and suddenly I found myself cramped in the corner of my bedroom at a desk with a little sidekick who had never used a laptop before, couldn’t read yet, and didn’t know how to navigate to the umpteen different websites where her virtual assignments lived. One day she looked at me in disgust and asked if I had signed her up for this. I had to laugh as I was thinking, “No, Gracyn! Nobody signed me up for this either!”
Like Elisa, trying to juggle everything – helping Gracyn with virtual school, pitching in between meetings to help my mom with our other kids who would’ve otherwise been in preschool, and trying to (virtually) bring my A-game to work every day – was tough for me, and I too went part-time for a few months. While that helped with things at home, I felt guilty that other people at work were having to pick up my slack and sometimes jealous that while everything had changed for me, nothing had changed for my husband.
As hard as these initial months were for both our families, we eventually found our groove, everyone stayed healthy, and we learned there are a lot of things we will never again take for granted. We also learned the importance of asking for help when you need it. Working full-time and parenting full-time was a true test for both of us (as it was for so many others) and, while we did have our struggles, it was reassuring to know both G&S and our teams understood our situations and had our backs through it all.