I am working in my bedroom when my 7-year-old pops in to tell me he has to poop. An hour later my daughter comes in to give me a hug.
A little while later I will open my door and tell my kids to turn down Alexa. Shortly after that my third child will come in to tell me they are heading to the park. These minor interruptions come with minor responsibilities from 9:30 a.m to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. I am fortunate to live in a place where our state’s reopening has been slow and thoughtful and mostly respected by the people who live here in Vermont. Our curve has flattened, and our cases have remained low.
Because of this, my ex-partner and I decided to take the calculated risk and hire a full-time babysitter to watch the kids for the summer, and it has totally paid off.
Parenting through a global health crisis has been rough. It’s OK to acknowledge this. Even if health and jobs stayed stable, our kids’ fears, needs, emotions, and schoolwork took precedence over everything this spring. They had to, not just because the kids were physically always in our presence, but because they demanded our time and attention. As much as we were out of our routine, they were, too, and with fewer coping tools.
Balance became a bad juggling act at best, and most parents felt like we were failing at all of the things, myself included. My ex and I don’t have family nearby to help, and our network of friends was also scrambling, so even if we wanted to quarantine with another family or set of helping hands, we didn’t have that option. Like most people, we white-knuckled our way through the months of March, April, May, and most of June.
When our Vermont governor allowed the opening of day care centers and camps throughout the state, I became cautiously optimistic that my ex and I could find care for our elementary school-aged kids. My job doesn’t allow me to work full-time from home, so when more in-person jobs were allowed to resume, that meant I could pick up more work, too, but not without help.
I also needed to take care of my mental health. I recognize the privilege in both health and finances to be able to have someone care for the kids while we resume a bit of normalcy. But in order to work and get my mind right, I needed outside help. Thankfully we found someone who is both affordable and amazing.
While I still work from home half of the time, hearing my children but knowing they are in safe hands has been a huge relief. I am less stressed, the kids are having a blast, and I am able to be more present with them when I am not working.
Before all of this started, part of our normal was time away from each other. School, playdates, work, travel, and sports were all reasons and opportunities for me and my kids to have some autonomy. The time and space away from one another created excitement and conversation when we were back together.
My kids would tell me about interactions with friends, tricky situations they had to navigate, or their good luck at lunch when they scored an extra juice cup. I was receptive to this chatter because I also had days filled with purpose and productivity. Their energy was better and more even, and so was mine. I hadn’t realized how much we all needed this until a bit of it was given back to us.
Our sitter provided an opportunity for me to emotionally reconnect to my kids by cutting the physical connection. I had time to breathe and even miss them a little; I was able to take a break from being their constant source of care. I am always their parent, but all parents need breaks when we can get them.
My kids are getting the attention they want in ways I can’t provide while also trying to work. I felt guilty about that at first, but after my kids burst into my room to tell me about their day at the beach, which was followed by a stop for ice cream, I let that go. I knew I was providing them with joy and love, even if through someone else for six hours a day.
And because I am able to get more done during the week, I don’t have to do as much on the weekends. Instead of a frantic, seven-day-a-week grind, I have been able to turn work off for chunks of time. I am able to spend quality time with each kid individually or during family outings that allow for social distancing.
None of what we are experiencing is ideal, and as we start to think about what the fall will look like, my anxiety is rising again. I don’t know what we will do when our bubble bursts again. But for now, summer break has provided the break we have all needed from the stress of the global health crisis, and I give full credit to our sitter, who has more patience and enthusiasm than I do when it comes to playing board games and distributing 18 snacks an hour to my three kids.