Opinion: Schools out, but where does this leave working parents?

For thousands of families across our city and about 70,000 students in the Long Beach Unified School District, a long and strenuous school year has come to an end.

Whether you were a parent of an online or in-person student(s), the puzzle of teacher-led online or in-person instruction is over. None of us were prepared for a pandemic, much less the added demands while working. Particularly for those with younger children in which their support systems—schooling and day care—were upended and made it incredibly challenging to balance. There were no how-to books on balancing the demands of work or for someone like myself, business ownership, while supporting our children with their technology, classwork and schedules.

Some parents are elated to finally get their kids off screen and allow their children to be schedule-free. For me, there is a sense of relief, ending a three-month juggle since March 29 of morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups for two elementary aged children that went something like this: 9 a.m. drop-off; 11:30 a.m. pick-up; 12:30 p.m. drop-off; 3 p.m. pick-up, all while working, or should I say, trying to work.

With a 5- and 7-year-old, the idea was that it would allow me to work more without as many interruptions, questions, tech support, food requests and the never-ending call Moooooommmy! Not sure it did that but it allowed our daughters to not lose their teacher so every day, the shuffle began. As I waited in line for pick-ups and drop-offs, I often thought how are others doing it?

The answer sometimes revealed itself as I waited and saw a neighbor, auntie or grandma arrive: the village. I had the flexibility but it didn’t make the task any easier. Without the extra hands to help or provide relief, every day starts to feel like a blur…running from one task to the next; a never-ending list of to-dos and work to catch up on. The days felt arduous to keep track of with work emails, school updates, teacher/kid requests, community boards and meetings and more emails and more meetings. And yes, pick-ups and drop offs. The thing is, I know I’m not alone.

As working mothers absorbed a disproportionate amount of child care and homeschooling responsibilities, much of what we were experiencing we kept within our four walls, minds or within our inner circles. It’s had an effect on our mental health and how productive we feel and are. The disruptions to day care centers, schools and afterschool programs have been hard on working families but evidence shows mothers—especially women of color—were more likely to reduce their work hours or leave their jobs entirely in response to these demands.

But now that school’s over and state restrictions have been updated, we’re almost back to normal right?

The initial shock for families in March 2020 was grappling over closures and child care, a year later a similar conversation has taken place across our city. The cost of camps and limited summer-care options has become the new stressor. If you had the financial means to reserve a spot during early enrollment, as early as February of this year, or were lucky to book one of the extremely competitive and low-cost summer camps through our parks and recreation department ($50 per week for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. care with early and aftercare options) you are ready!

However, for many families, the challenge remains as the cost of camp is beyond reach and parents are calling on their village or finding new strategies to fit their needs. A friend who is a single mother of twins is traveling to another city where the cost of camp is $75 per week per child for 6 hours of care. Meanwhile Long Beach options are as high as $350 per week for as little as 2.5 hours per day. Multiply that by 10 weeks with multiple children and it gets really expensive.

What about the parents of 0-5 aged children? While child care capacity is expected to expand in the coming months, many child care providers are struggling to recover from the financial losses during closures and doing their best to plan for full capacity. In a predominantly female field, fewer women are returning to the workforce, adding to the challenge of hiring experienced staff to meet the state mandated adult-to-child ratios. As part of the city’s economic recovery plan, our mayor and city council allotted $2.1 million for early childhood education to serve our city’s more than 30,000 under-the-age-of-5 population, but it’s not enough to meet the need. Similarly, the state subsidies do not cover the true costs of care for providers and so, collectively both undermine the entire child care provider system and economic recovery for women and families.

Where does this leave parents who are seeking employment, still working or those desperately seeking care as they are being asked to report to work in-person? Aside from a mental relief for every working parent juggling multiple roles over the school year, child care more importantly allows us to be part of the economic engine. We have largely ignored the importance of child care, serving 22% of our city population, according to our parks and recreation strategic plan presentation, in the conversation of economic recovery. The result: Child care and summer camp becomes more difficult to access and women will more likely stay at home, remain underemployed or leave the workforce.

This crisis provides an opportunity to highlight the need for our city to invest more in early childhood education and the Parks department. They provide recreational and educational opportunities for our children and a crucial piece in economic recovery for women and families.

As businesses continue to open and demand for child care grows, employers must be deliberate about offering more flexibility to their in-person work schedules, consider day care centers in the workplace or risk losing talent and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward workplace diversity, in backgrounds and thought process.

As for me, I’ll continue to shuffle kids around town and work. At some point I hope to enjoy a cup of coffee—a first in a long time.

Mariela Salgado is a mother, small business owner and Parks & Recreation commissioner for the city of Long Beach. She is a member of the Post’s Community Editorial Board.

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The Community Editorial Board is made up of seven members of the Long Beach community and are drawn from different life journeys, different parts of the city and different socioeconomic experiences. The board writes on issues and subjects in which it has a personal interest, experience or expertise. The board operates wholly separate from the newsroom and members serve a one-year term. The Community Editorial Board can be reached at [email protected]
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