I would pick up my son around 5:30 or 6 p.m., have dinner and do our bedtime routine: bath, pajamas, and various "Little Blue Truck" readings. At 8:30 p.m., if I was lucky (and often much later), I'd finally have time to myself. I aspired to use this time for something noble like progressing on my dissertation leaflet or reading for fun, but most of the time it was used just for sleeping.
Although this balancing act was difficult before the pandemic, it has become almost impossible since life as we know it has been paralyzed. With most daycare centers closed, the large amount of uninterrupted work time that had once disappeared. Working hours are now fragmented by screaming, moaning, and the theme song "PAW Patrol".
I share many of my son's fears, in addition to mine. I am concerned about the effects this pandemic will have on my health and economic security, and that of my loved ones and society in general. Meanwhile, developing a dissertation lead in this environment is like trying to build a sandcastle on a beach engulfed by a hurricane.
In a highly successful competitive sociology PhD program, every minute I can't spend working can seem like a downside, and the pressure to catch up with my peers can be overwhelming. At the same time, in an intensive parenting culture, every minute that goes by without developing my child's vocabulary, fine motor skills, or other cognitive milestones can make me feel like a failed mother.
As a sociologist, I know that this working mother's dilemma is not unique to me, but one that has been well documented by researchers since Arlie Hochschild published her now classic text "The Second Shift," about how women enter the force. work in the 1980s balanced work and household demands. The key point: they were extremely stressed and their husbands were not helping much. And the tensions between the demands of work and motherhood are at their highest for many families like mine who can no longer rely on formal child care.
To adapt to this challenging new environment and find meaning in my everyday life, I had to break with my status quo. In other words, what has helped me deal with this situation is not what I have trusted in the past. I can't handle the time to get out of this. I can't carefully work out schedules for my son and I to maximize efficiency and "productive" production. Believe me, I have tried.
This has been a difficult truth to accept. I am a problem solver and I am used to facing any challenge I find through hyperorganization, hard work and mental resistance. But this global crisis is a problem that I cannot "solve". It is one that I simply have to accept, in all its messy uncertainty.
What I can do is know the situation I am in: recognize what is and is not under my control and appreciate the positives. I may not be able to make as much progress in my dissertation as I would have liked. My prospective advocacy will be delayed by at least a semester, and possibly two, depending on when my son's daycare reopens, and I cannot begin fieldwork in person for my dissertation until the restrictions of social distancing are relaxed. But now I have more quality time with my son than I will probably have with him again.
The closeness I feel to him in discovering the complexities of his personality on these slow and aimless days we spend together far outweighs the loss of productivity. I learned that her defiant rebellion corresponds to a sincere concern for others. I am impressed by his remarkable memory of the technical names of auto parts and the surprisingly skillful way in which he uses adult phrases like "once again" or "theoretically." I am inspired by his intense curiosity and exuberance. I wouldn't trade these details for anything.
I am also very lucky to have the support of my family. My son and I moved with my parents during the pandemic, as did my brothers. This has been immensely helpful to my mental health, as being alone with a young child all day can be very isolated, and has given me and my sisters a rare opportunity to get back under the same roof. Every night we have dinner together (thanks dad!); We spend the weekends exploring parks or snuggling up for a family movie, and the help of my parents and sisters to babysit allows me to attend Zoom meetings or catch up on work.
While being cooped up with a large family can generate a fair amount of cabin fever, I am truly grateful to have such an intimate connection with my family and to know how difficult this crisis is, we are dealing together.
Regarding my academic work, I have been slowly and constantly analyzing and reviewing my research papers and reviewing the literature for my dissertation prospect. Recently, a colleague and I also began collecting data for a study on the impact of Covid-19 quarantines on family dynamics in families with young children.
We may not be able to meet the high standards we set for ourselves before the pandemic, but if we come together as a community – of families, students, neighbors – we can get to the other side of this stronger, more resilient, and better prepared to face the next challenge that the future holds for us.