If you’re a working parent with a school-aged child, to suggest the future feels fathomless right now would be a colossal understatement.
Over the last four weeks, there’s been a 90% increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among U.S. school-aged children, according to one recent analysis. Among the states with schools that have reopened for in-person learning, several of these districts, including in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma, have already been forced to direct students and staff to quarantine.
Of course, for many families, there isn’t a clear-cut alternative to sending their children to in-person schools. Most remote learning models remain a shaky solution at best, with students’ access often determined by class (and, within that, race). To cut ties with such crucial development opportunities, both educational and social, for your child is no small ask. And that’s even truer if your family also relies on a school system for childcare and some of your child’s meals.
No matter what way you look at it, it’s an intensely difficult decision for parents to make. But for some working parents, the decision is being made for them.
As some companies are clamoring to send their workers back to offices — for no good reason, as many of us who’ve remained productive from home would argue — the expectation that you’ll return to work, if only for one or two days per week, is tying many working parents’ hands. If you’re a single working parent whose manager wants you back in the office ASAP, or if your partner also works outside the home, what choice can you make other than send your child back to school? For some working parents — namely, the ones who can afford it — the only solution they’re left with is to quit. And that’s happening too often along gender lines, with potentially dire consequences to women’s lifetime earnings.
In short, if you manage an employee who can do their job just as well from home — don’t ask them to return to the office just because you can.
That’s true for any employee, regardless of parenting status. But as working parents continue to grapple with what it means to have school-aged children during a pandemic, to force a return to offices right now isn’t just insensitive. It’s a completely toxic expectation to enforce — not to mention actually dangerous.
If you’re being asked to return to the office against your wishes, read about some of the steps you can take here.