A three part series from Pandemic Pods, Workplace Flexibility, Co-Parenting Gameplans, Pandemic Anxiety to Worldwide Teddy Bear Hunt. Michelle Travis, award winning author, law professor, and expert on work/family integration, offers help for parents to cope and find hope in this original series for The Child Therapy List.
Part 2: Work/Family Integration & Covid-19: Thriving in Transitions
This is a back-to-school season like none other. For most, it’s back to the kitchen table for online classes or homeschooling, or it’s back to driving by shuttered schools to pick-up and drop-off assignments. For a few, it’s back to class with masks, without friends’ hugs or high-fives, and probably with quite a bit of fear. And for far too many, there’s no “back to” at all—childcare centers nationwide are operating at less than 50% capacity, and we’re facing an estimated permanent loss of nearly 4.5 million child care slots.
As a researcher whose been studying work/family issues for two decades, I’ve never seen such daunting challenges. But I’ve also never seen such resilience, creativity, tenacity, and resourcefulness.
Author Rebecca Solnit has studied the human response to a wide array of natural disasters—earthquakes, fires, floods, bombings—and she’s discovered that we always rise to the occasion. Not only do people become “urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them,” but we become tremendously creative when disasters strike. “It is when people deviate from the script,” say Solnit, “that exciting things happen.” It turns out that parents in a pandemic are no exception.
Thriving in Transitions
In the midst of our exhaustion and worry, I find myself taking inspiration from parents’ crisis-borne creativity. Here are just a few of the resourceful things that parents are doing—and sharing with the rest of us who want to rise to the occasion as well.
1. Microschools and Learning Pods
Many resilient parents—particularly working parents—have creatively reinvented the one-room schoolhouse by joining forces with other neighborhood families to form learning pods. These family groups hire educators to form microschools in someone’s backyard, garage, or a nearby park.
Microschools (sometimes known as “pandemic pods”) are giving children a way to feel connected to the learning process again. They’re allowing parents to meet the demands of their own jobs. And they’re offering rewarding and safe places for many out-of-work teachers to do what they do best. They’re even giving new start-up companies, like Weekdays, a way to use their entrepreneurial skills to support families by connecting pods with educators, offering training, and providing curriculum.
This all began with a few caring parents who got resourceful when their childcare and school options disappeared. A few of those tenacious parents launched a facebook group on pandemic pods, which now has over 40,000 members sharing advice, resources, and support with one another.
2. Using Tech to Build Human Connections
As parents, many of us are worried about the increased screen time that our kids are spending during the Covid-19 lockdown, and how that might affect our kids’ mental health. Kids have increased their screen time by 50-60% during the pandemic, which means that kids aged 12 and under are often spending over 5 hours on screens per day. But resourceful parents have recognized that not all screen time is created equal. Technology can actually be a pathway to the human connections that kids are missing so much during this isolating time.
Thanks to some very industrious parents in my community, my daughter has had Zoom socials that have gotten her off the couch, interacting, learning, and laughing along the way. My favorite has been the Sunday afternoon baking playdates. On Sundays, the kids join a Zoom call, and one child leads the others by reading a recipe and instructions, while they all hone their craft in their respective kitchens. The sessions usually end with bragging rights for whoever made the gooiest brownies or the most beautiful lemon cake.
My daughter’s favorite Zoom-connecting activity has been a scavenger hunt. All of her friends gathered on zoom to receive a list of random items that one creative parent had compiled—a ping pong ball, a rubik’s cube, a pair of orange pants, a birdfeeder, a map, a piece of art they created as a toddler, and a spider’s web, just to name a few. Each child had an hour to locate as many items as they could—which meant an hour running around their own homes, yards, and neighborhoods taking photos of their discoveries. Then they gathered back on Zoom to share their findings and declare a proud winner.
Resilient parents are sharing ideas for online and virtual playdates, social games, sleepovers, birthday parties, grandparent storytime, and many other ways for us to use screen time to combat isolation rather than contribute to it.
3. Back To Basics
Another pandemic trend that is bringing me joy is resourceful parents’ back-to-basics approach. With so many scheduled activities, lessons, sports practices, and other gatherings cancelled, parents are recalling the simple but rewarding ways that we used to fill our own days as kids.
During the early weeks of the pandemic, sales of sidewalk chalk rose by 56%—and our neighborhoods have never been so colorful. Sales of jigsaw puzzles and board games have skyrocketed, and the demand for arts and crafts supplies is through the roof—including a 313% increase in sales of finger paints. Even MadLibs and water balloons are making a comeback. Many kids are also being introduced to the therapeutic joys of gardening, which has had an enormous pandemic resurgence.
In all of these trends, we’ve seen generations connecting in new ways, parents reliving a piece of their own childhoods, and kids finding joy in simple pleasures that I thought had become a thing of the past.
4. A Worldwide Teddy Bear Hunt
The pandemic has not only connected families and neighborhoods, but also parents around the world who are facing the same challenges. As parents started realizing that our only outings of the day are socially-distanced stroller walks and family bike rides, word spread that we could help each other by making these outings more fun for one another.
Suddenly, stuffed teddy bears started popping up in windows and yards, and on porches and trees around the country, turning mundane family walks into exciting “bear hunts.” Kids have begun keeping a tally of their bear sightings, and sharing them with other kids on the internet. To date, teddy bears have been spotted in 13 different countries—including Australia, Japan, Germany, and Scotland—and in all 50 U.S. states.
This worldwide support system—parents uplifting parents around the globe—happened without dictates, laws, or official sanction. It happened out of the innate caring and creativity that parents are sharing with one another during this extraordinary time. On difficult days of juggling work and family, worry and fear, and a whole lot of exhaustion, it’s this generous spirt borne of parenting during a pandemic that gives me hope.
Michelle Travis is a Professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where she studies work/family integration. She is the author of the award-winning children’s picture book, My Mom Has Two Jobs, which celebrates working moms. She has also written Dads For Daughters, a guidebook for male allyship to support gender equity.