If you are a parent with young children, the concept of juggling work, child care and schooling has transformed as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to redefine what is normal.

“There is no balance [amid] COVID-19,” says Brittany Fritsch, a senior policy analyst with a five-year old daughter and 22-month-old twin boys.

Since the start of the pandemic, the mental and emotional load has been heavy for the 35-year-old Fritsch and her family. In the early days in particular, Fritsch said she and her husband immediately went into survival mode.

“It was sheer madness. And with no outside support, playgroups or activities, it was incredibly challenging for all of us. My husband was often working until 2 or 3 a.m. We were getting very little sleep. The demands were incessant,” she says.

The schooling part of the equation has been challenging for Fritsch. Like many other families, her daughter had to finish off the 2019-20 school year virtually.

“In my opinion, virtual schooling is not a legitimate alternative to in-person learning for young children. It was more trouble than it was worth,” she says.

Due to a lack of clarity around COVID-19 measures at her daughter’s public school into the middle of September, Fritsch made the costly decision to put her daughter in private school. The move required her and her husband to dip into their savings. They also received some financial support from family to make this happen.

With no family in Ontario where she and her husband live, Fritsch said the stresses of the pandemic became even more challenging when she sustained a concussion at the end of June. Fritsch felt more caregiving support was needed and as a result, she decided to turn to a private nanny arrangement.

“We are stretched so thin and so we have tried everything possible to reduce our load to just make it to the other side,” she says.

These changes have brought on additional challenges, however. In the case of child care, their nanny is currently isolating because a close contact of hers recently tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, there have already been two virus scares in the five weeks that Fritsch’s daughter has been back in school.

Fritsch’s story highlights the challenges many parents across the country are facing as the pandemic drags on. 

Embedded Image
Brittany Fritsch and her family (Photo supplied)

Earlier this week, some of the impacts of COVID-19 on students and parents were revealed in a new poll conducted between October 2 and 6 by Abacus Data and commissioned by Children First Canada.

The survey found 13 per cent of the 751 respondents across Canada have had a child sent home from school for COVID-19-related symptoms. Meanwhile, 16 per cent of parents have missed work to abide by school regulations, and 10 per cent of parents have had to quit or change where they work because of child care or schooling issues, the poll found.

For 31-year-old Amanda Burnett, who previously worked as a restaurant supervisor and is now a freelance social media manager in British Columbia, the biggest challenge during the pandemic has been getting steady work, fluctuating income and securing child care for her four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter.

“It was rough when COVID first started. Our daycare closed, but my husband continued to work. I had just picked up a new client, but I had to let them go after only a month,” she said in an email.

Her son has been back in daycare since September, but her daughter’s spot is unlikely to open up due to staff turnover during the lockdown period.

“We have no guarantee of child care. No parent does,” she says.

Meanwhile, there are some parents that are starting to find their footing during this disruptive time.

Thirty-five-year-old Susana Cipriano works as a legal assistant in Ontario, and is married with two children aged seven and nine. Currently, her children are physically attending school.

Early on in the pandemic she found it very difficult to manage her workload, child care and virtual schooling.

“It’s a bit easier now,” she said in an email.

Cipriano praises her employer for being supportive and flexible.

“They allowed me to bring home a work laptop to help facilitate my schedule,” she says. “Some people were allowed to switch up their shifts if they had small kids that required more care.”

Ultimately, these accounts from parents highlight the need for more affordable child care, as well as the importance of adaptive employers.

Morna Ballantyne, executive director of Child Care Now, hopes Canada will move towards a fully publicly-funded and publicly-managed child care system that would make early childhood education and child care available at an affordable price to everyone.

In its throne speech last month, the federal government made a promise to create a Canada-wide early-learning and child care system.

“This is a project that will require a sustained effort and a lot of collaboration with the provinces and territories. It is also going to require that the government listens and engages those of us who know a lot about child care,” Ballantyne says.

As for employers, Daniel Imbeault, talent strategy partner at Mercer Canada, encourages creativity and communication.

“Engage with and listen to your workers to develop solutions that balance empathy, economics and equity,” he says.