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I’m Terrified to Send My Kid Back to School, But I Don’t Have a Choice

It’s really been a banner year for mom-shaming, hasn’t it? I mean, 2020 has been a banner year for all kinds of horrible things, from wildfires and police violence to that little ol’ global pandemic we’re all still living through (yep, it’s still here! Don’t forget!). So really, the ongoing mom-shaming shouldn’t feel that awful in comparison. And yet, ask any of us who have been on the receiving end of the constant snide remarks, social media commentary, and “wow, you really shouldn’t [fill in the blank]” and we’ll tell you: It’s awful.

Especially if that comment is “wow, you really shouldn’t be sending your kid back to school right now. It’s just not safe.” Gee, thanks for the vote of support! Clearly I’m going into this blind without having had, oh I don’t know, about six months stuck at home to research and plan and strategize and make the best or at least least-shittiest decision for my own family and our unique circumstances!

Because consider, if you will: If you are talking to a parent right now, chances are they have been spending the past six months in panic mode, trying to keep their jobs and maintain their kids’ education and not get COVID-19. And that’s just the baseline. For families of color who are trying to do all of this amidst the confines of systemic racism in the United States, it’s a lot harder. For immunocompromised folks, low-income households, parents of kids with special needs, essential workers, single parents like me, the list goes on… we’re all dealing with our own unique parental stressors that make a global pandemic uniquely difficult to deal with.

Of course, I’m lucky. (This is the part in the article where I try to preempt, likely unsuccessfully, all the mom-shaming comments and emails I will inevitably receive after writing this article about mom-shaming). I’m white. I’m educated. I’m able-bodied. I have a full-time, salaried job with benefits — one that I can do from home. I only have one child. We’ve both been, knock on wood, healthy throughout the pandemic. I have great friends and a loving boyfriend. And my son’s school, which closed March-August, is the most wonderful, supportive community of teachers and parents.

But my son and I are a single-income household. I have no family in my state — no grandparents where I can drop off my kid for a few hours or even overnight without having to pay per hour. I received minimal child support in the past; now I receive none. I’m 35 and I still have a roommate (who is lovely! But I’ll admit I’d hoped to be able to afford to live on my own by now). I already have a side job teaching, and I’ve started to look around for potential (flexible) third jobs. Tutor? Dog-sitter? Is this the year I start driving Uber?!

When my son’s school closed, I spent the first few weeks like so many parents did: trying to Do It All. Lollllll. I was getting up at 5 a.m. and “working” until midnight, which really meant desperately trying to write and edit and manage my department while my 4-year-old drew on the bookshelf, put stickers on the windows, and ate popcorn for lunch. I was vaguely trying to keep my kid busy — but mostly I was just trying to keep him alive. “Educating” him was just not going to happen. Meanwhile, I missed deadlines, and the sleep deprivation was debilitating. I was bad at my job and bad at parenting. It was a disaster.

So, I tapped into my savings: I hired two Quarantnannies who came to my house on alternating days. They were, and are, like these fun, strong, calm, smart, modern Mary Poppinses and I miss them so much every day. My son, although he continued to miss his friends from school terribly, truly thrived throughout his months with these babysitters. They taught him about letters and marine wildlife, and they dyed his hair pink with Kool-Aid (okay, I helped). They helped him paint me a Mother’s Day card that made me cry. And they ran me straight outta money by August.

My top priority is and always will be my son’s safety. But that safety includes food and shelter and, you know, health insurance.

If I could afford a nanny long-term, I’d keep my son home from school. If I were independently wealthy and could quit my job and homeschool, I would. My top priority is and always will be my son’s safety. But that safety includes food and shelter and, you know, health insurance — and I need to work to make those happen. In the words of SheKnows writer Nikesha Elise Williams, trying to keep kids at home until the pandemic ends means that working “mothers are faced with the impossible choice: educate, or eat?” So back to school he goes, as much as it terrifies me.

We’ve seen plenty of parents, from writers to doctors, explaining why they’re doing the safest thing and keeping their kids home from school despite reopenings. But there are privileges (a second income, a second parent, a stay-at-home parent, grandparents nearby) hiding between the lines of these stories. It can feel like the only parents who were praying all along for schools and daycares to reopen during COVID-19 were selfish, science-ignoring pandemic deniers (including the parent who is our president).

But I am here to tell you that for so many of us parents, without the resources necessary to keep our kids at home, under a U.S. administration that has failed to act to support working families in this dire time of need, the choice to send our kids back to school is not a choice. It’s a matter of survival.

Please, don’t make it worse by shaming us for it.

Whether you’re sending kids back or keeping them home, these excellent school supplies will make both learning and “learning” a bit more fun.

Fun Back to School supplies

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