Elevate or Educate: Working Mothers Struggle with Choosing Between Children and Career Amid COVID-19 Crisis

COVID class is in session, and many parents are being forced to make some tough decisions. With an increase in single-mother homes, the shift towards a virtual learning experience has created a dilemma for most working moms. Faced with working full-time and navigating online learning, mothers are forced to choose between education and bringing home the bacon.


Due to the overlap in school hours and traditional 9-5 jobs, mothers are readjusting their work schedules to assist in their child’s virtual learning experience.

Ditte Woodson, an educator with a degree in Early Childhood Development, is familiar with traditional school practices. Taking a leave of absence from her current role, Woodson decided to take a pay cut and homeschool her child.


“My son is five and starting kindergarten. I had to choose between going to work or choosing a random place for my son to go,” Woodson says. “In addition to staying home with him, I have an additional two five-year-old’s who come because their parents needed help and they’re all in three different school districts,” Woodson explains.


While switching to online learning may be challenging for all grade levels, smaller children deemed the ‘COVID Class of 2032’ face a different set of difficulties. As older grades are used to the constructs of a rigorous school schedule, the COVID class is just learning the ropes.


“Part of this age group is teaching independence,” Woodson shares.


While each school district looks to navigate their virtual learning program, there are stark differences in rollout, direction, and teaching methods. As Woodson looks to guide virtual learning for three small children, she can also compare their individual school systems.


“One child goes to a suburban public school; another child attends a city public charter, and the other child attends a suburban public charter. I get to see how three different districts are handling this,” Woodson shares. “One school focuses on building an academic routine; another school is focused on social and emotional learning; the last school student needs more support, but is getting the least amount of instruction.


Parents of students with learning disabilities are also finding it challenging to manage the virtual learning experience. Mothers of special needs children require additional support. Shalayla Williams, a Special Education Teacher with the Oak Park School District, sees the need of these students and their parents and has chosen to continue teaching full-time.

“Every day is about prioritizing and each day priorities differ,” Williams explains. “As a special education teacher, I can’t let my paperwork fall behind. I’m often up very early or late. My student’s parents have my cell number and they definitely use it.”

Along with teaching full-time, Williams also leads her second-grader in his virtual learning courses.

“My son has a very involved teacher and their learning platform is kid friendly so after modeling a bit, I’ve taught him to navigate independently at times,” Williams says. “Our schedules completely intertwine. I try to make it so he can do a few things independently while I’m supporting students and then we work together in the early afternoon.”

For some, the delicate balance between students and their teachers can prove to be a daunting task. However, for Williams, virtual learning has increased the relationship between herself and her parents.

“To be honest, virtual learning has made communication with families improve times ten. Families that may have had little contact before are reaching out more and creating partnerships because they need extra support,” Williams says.

While mothers continue to juggle work and virtual learning, some have chosen to quit their jobs to be full-time mothers and provide around-the-clock assistance to their children.

Alexandria Pelt walked away from her position as a Noon Hour Aide with the Detroit Public Schools Community District to dedicate her time to her two small children.

“I am considered Support Staff for the district, and this required me to report to work daily,” Pelt explains.

With a child in kindergarten and another in first grade, more time was required to guide both through virtual learning. Although this is a two-parent home, with one parent working full-time, the responsibility of remote education rests on Pelt.

“Because of my husband’s work schedule, it is difficult to do distance learning with my children as I am mostly doing it alone. My Kindergartener requires special accommodations and has difficulty sitting for long periods of time,” Pelt says.

A system that seems to be unorganized, unstructured, and unorthodox; virtual learning is creating an atmosphere of discomfort and painstaking on time.

“For my household, the toughest challenge is time. The amount of hours expected for a school day are far too long. Children become antsy in a way that they would not if they were physically inside of a school building,” Pelt expresses.

In addition to academics, social skills are a vital life lesson learned through peer interaction in standard school settings. As social distancing protocols have put a strain on face-to-face interactions, mothers are concerned the COVID class graduates will severely lack interpersonal skills.

“It’s definitely going to put them at a disadvantage. We’re looking at a generation of kids who won’t know how to have peer-to-peer communication,” Woodson says. “There’s so much research about social and emotional learning at this age.”

To counter this, mothers are planning playdates and building relationships outside of virtual learning.

“Letting your kids guide their play is major. Set up times where the kids can talk to each other on Zoom or have socially distanced playdates,” Woodson shares.

“There are so many life skills, lessons, and exposure you can offer your students aside from virtual learning,” Williams concludes.

Despite its difficulty, distance learning provides parents with an in-depth look into their child’s learning abilities.

“Its an opportunity for parents to take on more agency in their kids’ education,” Woodson shares. “Parents were not aware of what their kids do and do not know.”

As mothers are given a hands-on approach in virtual learning, it also provides the opportunity to spend more time together.

“We both enjoy our lunch and recess together. It’s important to me that we spend time away from screens doing something with each other. One of our favorite activities is baking healthy. He is becoming a great cook,” Williams says. “Get to know your kids, step away from the screen and enjoy this time together.”

In addition to the stress of virtual learning, the concern of screen time has many mothers worried. Due to long hours in front of computers, young children are being made to center their time around a monitor.

“I fear that the attempt to make virtual school the very same as real school doesn’t put accountability on parents, but rather puts stress on the students and teachers. Not to mention the negative effects of sitting and staring at a screen for that long, even with provided breaks,” Pelt shares.

As the virtual school year continues, uncertainty around standardized tests, grades, and system failures is growing.

“Equipment failure ranges from non-functioning speakers to faulty batteries. Standardized testing is still expected, but as some parents are home and some are not, we cannot be sure of the accuracy of these tests. Giving the children grades this year feels unfair for all parties involved,” Pelt concludes.

Hopeful of the outcome, mothers are striving to provide their children with an adequate virtual learning experience while still providing financial stability in their homes. Laced in sacrifice, the COVID class is one that will not be easily forgotten.


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