Updated Mar 16, 2020 - Health

Parents' daunting new coronavirus reality

Illustration of keychain with regular key and child’s plastic key.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new reality sets in today for many working parents: double duty as a remote employee and a home-school supervisor.

The big picture: As schools and offices both shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak, parents are trying to figure out how to do two full-time jobs at once. It'll be a struggle even for privileged households, and it could border on impossible for some working-class families.

Working from home with kids in tow is a lot to juggle, no matter what. And social distancing will make it even harder to redirect kids' short attention spans long enough to write an email.

  • Steve Silvestro, a pediatrician in Bethesda, Maryland, advises against most playdates, especially indoors or on playgrounds. Outdoor playdates with one or two friends are probably OK, for now, but not in crowded places.
  • "We need to spend time with our own germs and only our own germs," he wrote in a blog post that's been making the rounds among D.C.-area parents.
  • "If you’re still set on getting together, here’s my suggestion: Pick your best friend family," he wrote. "If you can trust them and they can trust you, agree that your families will only hang out with each other. This way you’re at least minimizing possible exposure."
  • Another pediatric practice recommends virtual playdates, over Skype or FaceTime, instead.

Craft stores in the D.C. area were picked over this weekend as parents stocked up time-filling activities like slime-making kits, paint sets and coloring books.

  • And screen time limits? Those have flown out the window.

Reality check: Playdate bans and juggling kids while working remotely are problems of the privileged. White-collar professionals often have the leeway to work from home, even without a crisis to force it.

  • The real challenges will fall on parents who aren't able to work remotely and don't have or can't afford child care outside of school, as well as those who are not working because their hours have been cut now that more people are staying home.

Many teachers have sent home online lesson recommendations, worksheets and assignments to help kids stay in a school routine and keep up academically even while they're out of the classroom.

  • Again, that's no problem for families with high-speed home broadband and plenty of devices at home.
  • But it's not so easy for families with slow internet connections that can't handle multiple people online at the same time or those sharing one laptop for both school and work.

To try to help, Comcast is making Xfinity WiFi hotspot access free, even for noncustomers, and AT&T is waiving data overage fees.

  • Some schools have sent students home with iPads that would normally stay at school, and companies have made extra devices available for their staff to log on from home.
  • Some online educational programs are offering tools for free. Outschool, which offers online classes via video chat, is making classes free for kids affected by public school shutdowns.

The bottom line: Getting into a routine will be crucial for both kids and parents, according to psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker Perri Shaw Borish.

  • “It’s going to be crucial to plan ahead and schedule the day to have a balance of planned activities and free play," she said. "For parents who will be working from home, you should have a frank discussion with your boss about a realistic workload."

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