How Working Parents Can Cope With New Realities and Pandemic Uncertainty

Mother putting face mask on her young daughter

Justin Paget / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The past several months of the coronavirus pandemic have been extremely hard on parents and caregivers as they’ve had to balance far more responsibilities than usual. 
  • The experience has been especially taxing for many working mothers who have had to pick up more of the slack than their male counterparts.
  • As offices and businesses reopen, working parents must navigate a new pandemic reality as it pertains to supporting their children while also tending to their own mental health needs.

When the world went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, parents everywhere were suddenly faced with the daunting task of juggling childcare, their kids’ online education, and their own careers.

A recent survey conducted by the University of Southern California showed that women with children—especially those without a college degree—were more likely than men to experience exacerbated stress and pressure due to the pandemic. Now, as lockdown restrictions are lifting, working parents and caregivers have to figure out how to navigate this new world of hybrid schooling while also going back to work themselves. 

Transitioning Out of Lockdown

Many schools are starting out the fall semester remotely. Or, they are taking a hybrid approach, where students are attending on alternate days, or only a few days a week. This means that parents, particularly working mothers, are scrambling yet again to figure out a way to make their job life work alongside their children’s schooling.

This whole juggling act was supposed to be temporary. Yet the pandemic is still here, and unfortunately is not under control in many parts of the country. As such, even though working parents were holding their breath that school would return to some level of normalcy come fall 2020, this has proven impossible in many places.

Working Parents Were Hard Hit During the Pandemic

It's true that many children have two primary caregivers, both of whom are tasked with caring for them while balancing their work-lives with challenges like distance learning.

But during the pandemic, moms have been the ones who have felt these burdens most, and whose jobs, careers, and mental health have suffered the most, according to the USC survey.

Moms were also more likely to be tasked with childcare than men, and this was true even when both parents were working. For example, according to the USC survey, 1 in 3 working moms described themselves as the main caretaker of their children compared with 1 in 10 working dads.

These sort of disparities have been noted across the board during the pandemic, with reports of women being more likely to give up their careers to care for their kids than men. According to a recent report released by the United Nations, experts are concerned that the advancements that women have made in their careers will be damaged for years to come.

“As the pandemic upends work and home life, women have carried an outsized share of the burden, more likely to lose a job and more likely to shoulder the load of closed schools and daycare,” write Patricia Cohen and Tiffany Hsu for The New York Times. 

“The impact could last a lifetime, reducing their earning potential and work opportunities,” they add.

How to Protect Your Mental Health and Well-Being as a Working Parent

Job stress is a major part of what working mothers will be faced with this fall as their kids return to school—or whatever school will look like for them.

But it’s not just employment stress they will be forced to manage. They will also be facing the stressors that come with managing their children’s education from home, balancing work and childcare, taking care of household tasks—not to mention the fear that living through a global pandemic brings.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is not going away anytime soon, which is why overworked caregivers must take proactive steps to manage their mental health during this challenging time. Here are some ideas to get started:

Find Ways to Fit Self-Care Into Your Day

Self-care is so much more than luxurious bubble baths and massages. It can mean sitting your kids in front of the TV for an extra 15 minutes while you take a quick hot shower. It can mean saving the “good” ice cream for yourself and indulging after your kids go to bed. The idea is to make sure to prioritize your need for relaxation and moments of uninterrupted "me-time."

Get Family Involved

Social distancing will still be important for a while, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get extended family involved with schooling and taking care of your kids. Have your mother help your second grader do their schoolwork over Zoom. Arrange masked, socially distanced park dates with grandparents.

If you are comfortable, form a “parenting pod” with extended family—just make sure that everyone understands the rules and doesn’t socialize outside the pod.

If You Can, Hire Outside Help

This fall, more teachers and tutors will be available for online tutoring. You can hire a tutor to guide your students in lessons or provide extra help. If you are comfortable and can ensure that proper safety precautions are taken, hire an in-person tutor or childcare provider.

Consider a Pandemic Educational Pod

Many parents are considering forming pods with other children who are not attending school in person. These pods, usually led by certified teachers, may provide your child with schooling help and community—therefore lifting the burden of schooling off of you to some extent. Once again, it’s important to make sure that safety protocols are followed.

Connect With a Mental Health Professional

Everyone deserves a kind therapist who will listen to concerns and stresses without judgment. These days, therapy can be via telemental health through online platforms, video chat, and even good old-fashioned phone calls. This is a wonderful option, especially for busy parents working from home during a pandemic.

Let Go of Your Idea of Perfection

Now is not the time to be overly concerned about the dishes in the sink or your untidy living room. You also have to release yourself from the idea that your child has to have a "normal" academic year to thrive.

Remember that this is a public health crisis, and things just aren’t normal. We all have to cut ourselves a lot of slack, and good enough needs to be the motto from here on out.

Be Honest and Upfront With Your Employer

Many employers are understanding about the issues facing working parents these days, as many are in the same position themselves. But it’s important that you are clear about what is going on with you.

If your children are home during working hours, explain how you are planning to get your work done—and that it may happen at different times of day than usual. Ask for grace and understanding. Most likely, you will get it.

Do Not Let Your Partner Get a Free Pass for Chores or Childcare

Many of our partners mean well, but they still may simply not be aware of how much extra childcare and chores you are doing. You often just need to sit down with them and lay it all out. Either way, don’t let it slide. It’s not fair for you to be burdened with the majority of this type of labor, especially as a working parent.

Do Not Sacrifice Sleep

It can be tempting to stay up till all hours of the night to complete your work, and sometimes that’s necessary. But losing sleep is not only exhausting but also bad for your mental health and well-being. So try to limit that as much as possible.

Remember That You Are Not Alone

This is such a difficult time, and everyone’s situation is unique. But remember that you are not alone here. Almost every parent out there is struggling with how to balance work and children home from school.

There are not easy solutions, and in many ways, the challenges aren’t fully solvable. Connecting to other parents who are experiencing these same things can be so helpful—and we all need a safe place to vent.

What This Means for You

This a tumultuous, scary time for everyone. Parents in particular are challenged with juggling work and childcare along with all the frightening unknowns of a deadly virus. It’s important to keep things in perspective, though. The pandemic will be over eventually. While no one can know for sure, you will get through this, and so will your children.

Until then, it’s all about doing the best you can with the circumstances given, and taking care of yours and your children’s mental health along the way. When all is said and done, you might find that your family actually comes out of this with more strength and resilience than you could have imagined.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Miller J. USC News. COVID-19 has hit women hard, especially working mothers.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States COVID-19 cases and deaths by state.

  3. United Nations Population Fund HQ. COVID-19: A gender lens.

  4. Cohen P, Hsu T. The New York Times. Pandemic could scar a generation of working mothers.

  5. Russell BS, Hutchison M, Tambling R, Tomkunas AJ, Horton AL. Initial challenges of caregiving during COVID-19: Caregiver burden, mental health, and the parent-child relationship. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2020. doi:10.1007/s10578-020-01037-x

  6. Coyne LW, Gould ER, Grimaldi M, Wilson KG, Baffuto G, Biglan A. First things first: Parent psychological flexibility and self-compassion during COVID-19. Behav Anal Pract. 2020;:1-7. doi:10.1007/s40617-020-00435-w 

  7. Whaibeh E, Mahmoud H, Naal H. Telemental Hhealth in the context of a pandemic: The COVID-19 experience. Curr Treat Options Psychiatry. 2020;:1-5. doi:10.1007/s40501-020-00210-2

  8. Medic G, Wille M, Hemels ME. Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nat Sci Sleep. 2017;9:151-161. doi:10.2147/NSS.S134864

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.