Six families share what it’s like to work remotely with kids at home: the challenges, the lessons, and the unexpected perks.
Growing up in the 1990s and early Millenium, both my moms - yes plural- worked. My twin brother and I attended school and then daycare throughout grade school. When we were 12, our parents allowed us to walk home on our own and tend to ourselves. Back then, our neighbors looked out for each other, so this wasn’t a foreign concept like it seems to be today. On the flip side, my brother’s best friend, Chris, never went to daycare. His dad was the sole provider for their family, and his mom stayed at home to care for the children. I remember being aware of the stark differences in our households.
Juggling the balance between work and dependents, emotional wellness, nutrition, homework, deadlines, and deliverables is enough to make heads spin. Even though I am not a parent (dog mom here), I reflect on the dynamics I felt growing up with two parents who worked outside the house. I wonder how our society resists embracing an office model that could make life easier for everyone. Somewhere between what we’re used to and what we’ve had to adjust to, I’m left wondering how parents continue to balance the reality of a pandemic with children and a career.
So, I decided to ask some.
Meet the family: Melanie Frazza, Social Media Director and Ketch Wehr, Illustrator and Graphic Designer, were married in 2011. Their daughter, Rosalia, is 1 and is becoming an active toddler. They live outside of New York City and have both worked remotely for the last three years.
“Once the shutdown happened, we went from the comfort of help to complete isolation.”
You were both working remotely before the pandemic started. Have you felt much impact since quarantine began? We definitely have felt an impact, but not really because of work. Even though we both are used to working remotely, when Rosalia was first born last fall, we had a lot of help with her. Our parents and friends were close by to help watch her, and we were able to do things like mom/baby yoga for social outings. Once the shutdown happened, we went from the comfort of help to complete isolation.
Have there been any positives from this experience so far? Between the two of us, we have never missed a milestone moment in Rosalia’s life because we are with her all the time. And, as a couple, our bond throughout this experience has gotten even stronger than it already was.
As new parents, all of the digital alternatives have been positive. Us staying in doesn’t feel like we are missing out on things because everyone is home. I can join new mom meetings or dance parties- we just attended one with a DJ in Brooklyn hosted over Zoom, and actually have had meetings with other queer Italian families on Zoom. All this stuff that normally we have been like - oh my god, I don’t know if she can go that long outside - and we would have to pack a million bottles and cans and all this. Now, you know that’s right there.
Meet the Bodines: Kevin and Damary live in Chicago and have three children together: Addison, 8; Kylie, 10; and Jaycob, 11. New to remote work, Kevin has spent his career working in recruiting and talent acquisition.
How did work change when the shutdown first started? Before the pandemic, most people in the organization, myself included, were expected to be in the office. Once Chicago’s shutdown happened in mid-March, we quickly moved everyone to remote, which was a really tough transition. We didn’t have the setup for remote work and six hundred people who had just received offers to start but didn’t have computers or a location to go to. Ultimately, we ended up changing the entire onboarding process, which I led. It was a very stressful time.
“My wife and I are getting a lot more visibility into where they are strong and struggling in school.”
How is it working remotely with three kids in the house? Luckily, my wife stays at home. That was our situation prior to the pandemic, so she has been really helpful in making sure that the kids don’t interrupt me when I’m on certain meeting calls.
A blessing from all of this is that I’m able to spend more time with my family and be present in their days. Prior to the pandemic, there were days I’d be gone by the time they woke up and wouldn’t return home until right before they would go to bed. My wife and I are getting a lot more visibility into where they are strong and struggling in school.
How do you organize remote schooling with three kids? Every morning we create a checklist of what needs to be done, and at the end of the day, we sit down with the kids to make sure everything on the list is complete. At times it feels like we need to micromanage them to make sure they stay on track with completing all of their assignments and homework. Although it has caused more work for us, it’s something we have adjusted to, and we make it work because their education is important.
Meet the family: Pete Hodgson is an independent software development consultant living in San Francisco. He and his wife, Briana have two children, Nico, 8, and Josie, 3. Pete has been working remotely for over four years.
Working remotely isn’t a new concept to you. How has the transition been since the pandemic began? It’s definitely had its pros and cons. I already had the ideal set up for working remotely before the pandemic, so my wife and I had a system. I converted my garage to an office so that I had a dedicated working space with everything I needed workwise. While I can close my door, they can still see through the glass on the door that I am home, so we bought a button that has three colors. Red, green, and blue. They know if the light is red, they are not allowed to come in at all; if it’s blue, it’s okay to potentially distract, and green means I am free.
I enjoy spending more time with them, but it’s been challenging to get “focus time” without distractions since one of us has to supervise Nico’s schoolwork. It is very hard for 7-year-olds to focus and stare at a computer screen for over an hour. Homeschooling has been challenging, but it has given us better insight into where Nico is in school.
What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience? It opened my eyes to how untechnical teachers are and the impact that has on the learning process. “Zoombombs” were a thing in the beginning. Think of a photobomb where someone pops in the picture but isn’t supposed to be there, but it’s a stranger doing it in virtual classrooms. The Berkely school district switched to Google Hangouts to avoid this from continuing. Everyone was in survival mode. It was absolute chaos those first few weeks in the Spring, and the teachers were barely in control of their classrooms.
It also shed light on the disparity and gaps between socioeconomic classes and the digital divide that can exacerbate that. Some of Nico’s classmates quickly disappeared because they didn’t have internet access at home. My wife is a nurse and an essential worker, and we are fortunate to be able to use daycare when we need to, but not all families have the same setup.
Meet the family: Amer-Marie is an Atlanta-based neuropsychologist working as a PRN employee (this means “as needed” in the medical field). She also runs her own travel blog and travels internationally six times a year. She co-parents her son, Amari, who is 11. Before COVID-19, she toggled between working remotely on her blog and being on call to the hospital.
What have been the most significant challenges during the pandemic? I actually had COVID-19 at the beginning before they knew what it was. I had flown out to DC to visit my sister in February and started feeling the symptoms when I got home. I work out four times a week, and it started feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I was fine when the actual shutdown happened in March, and my son never felt any symptoms. A big challenge for us once the shutdown happened, though, was that Amari was unable to see his father for four months because of the line of work he’s in and the risk factors associated.
“Because he sits next to me, I can hear how both the teacher and students interact. ”
How have you managed ensuring Amari gets his school work done? It’s been challenging managing my client work for my blog while also helping him with his homework, but I figured it out relatively quickly. Their school district has done a great job using tools and platforms that are kid-friendly. There are a lot of click interactions, and it’s been interesting to see how they continue to enhance the experience as time goes on.
Have there been any benefits to being home with your remote learner? Hearing the teacher and student interactions have been very eye-opening, both positively and negatively. I think this pandemic will expose a gap between those who can and should teach and those who can’t and shouldn’t. Because he sits next to me, I can hear how both the teacher and students interact. In Atlanta, there have been studies done about the disparity between disciplining students concerning race. It’s been really interesting for me because I can now see and hear everything. As an example, I overheard one of his teachers responding to his classmate in a pretty rude and demeaning way. The student said, “I don’t know the answer,” The teacher shamed him in front of the entire class, saying that was never an acceptable answer in her classroom.
The way it was handled, and her tone rubbed me the wrong way. I’m also able to get a better understanding of his classmates’ backgrounds and what their family settings are, which gives me a lot more context to the bigger picture. When they are in school, you don’t get to see the family setting like I have been since the pandemic started. I’m also able to see the gaps in where my son struggles. I’m always asking the teachers for ways I can help my son, and the shutdown has given me that opportunity.
Meet the family: Altimese is a best-selling author and the founder of Ezer agency who worked remotely well before the pandemic. She currently lives in South Carolina with her husband Chris, and their 3-year-old daughter, Ayana.
Your entire family had COVID-19 at the end of July. What was that experience like? The worst symptoms were a few days. The indicator for me that something was really off was when my smell was completely gone. Ayana had chills because she would say she was really cold and put her jacket and socks on in the house. My husband Chris and I both tested positive, and they never tested Ayana because of the fact she was around us all time meant she was definitely exposed. They didn’t want to waste the kit.
Despite having COVID-19, what are some of the benefits you have experienced, if any? My daughter is almost 3. Even though I worked remotely before the pandemic, I’ve been spending a lot more time with her. I had to adjust my schedule to work really early while she sleeps so that I can be engaged and present with her when she’s awake. I’m so fortunate that she can be back in daycare and beginning to socialize with other kids, but if it had not been for COVID-19, I would have missed moments of her personality that are just starting to show up.
I also think that COVID-19 caused the world to see what has always been going on in America. Black Lives Matter is not a new movement. People were more captivated and aware of what was happening because everyone was in the shutdown together.
Meet the family: Ashley is the managing editor at Virtasant and a freelance writer based in New York City. She co-parents her son, Orion, who is 8. Before the pandemic, she split time between working in an office part-time and remotely from her home.
As a working mom, what were the biggest challenges you faced before the pandemic? Before, it was juggling the logistics of my son’s schedule with mine - pick-ups, drop-offs, school functions. His school would end at 2:00, and then he would go to his after-school program. By the time I would pick him up at 6:30, a lot of his day would be lost in translation between his school and the after-school program. So, I would miss out on the specifics of his educational needs sometimes.
What have the benefits been since the COVID-19 shutdowns? Since the shutdown, it’s been incredible getting insights into what his strengths and weaknesses are. I’ve realized some of his math challenges that the teacher expressed to me before the shutdown are from communication gaps. Since I know my son and can see what he is supposed to be doing in realtime, I can explain to him what he needs to do in a different way than his teacher. It’s all about how he approaches it.
What have the challenges been? Time and energy management has been a challenge. Even though I might be in my living room or bedroom, I still need to work even when Orion might want to play. Social interaction has also been a challenge since the shutdown. Living in New York, there was so much to do before the shutdown. We’d go to parks and museums often. Since Orion is an only child, his father and I have been his primary source of entertainment since the shutdown, so it can cause pressure at times when I am also trying to work. I simply try to remember grace and patience about this situation we all are in.
“A lot of his day would be lost in translation between his school and the after-school program. So, I would miss out on the specifics of his educational needs sometimes.”
Our global economy takes a significant hit his year. Still, the silver lining of COVID-19 seems to be that it provides families (albeit, by force and coupled with some inconvenience) with something they have been missing. I asked every parent here and all of my friends and family with kids what challenges and benefits they discovered over the last several months. Across the board, everyone said they felt that remote work was the future for all industries that can reasonably accommodate it.
It will be interesting to see how expectations shift for parents as they return to work as well. It will be equally as interesting to see how future parents seek jobs that accommodate family time. Despite the hurdles these families experienced--new distractions, alienation, and even illness --the consensus is that family bonding time rises to the surface as a prime benefit. We can only hope that as we return to “normal,” companies who need their workers back and children who need their parents will find some common ground. In 2020, we have the infrastructure available to meet these demands and find solutions that work for families - even after the world goes back to normal.
Cindy Echevarria is a freelance illustrator based in Miami, Florida. She's inspired by bright color palettes, badass women, and the tropics. See more of Cindy's work at cindyechevarria.com.