Reflections on Civic Life and the Pandemic: Kelly R. Allen on Parenting and Working from Home

At the time that these pictures were taken in April of 2020, the United States had been grappling with the early stages of COVID-19 for close to two months. Weeks after the country’s first major outbreaks, public schools began closing their doors. While kids in middle schools and high schools are probably more equipped to look after themselves, elementary-aged children still need a lot of caregiving. Surprisingly, the lives of children and their caregivers has not been a part of major news coverage. People who were fortunate to keep their jobs during all of the closures, still have obstacles to face. For parents and guardians that are able to work remotely from home, we have the added burden of everyday being “take your child to work day.” Based on the information gleaned from parents and guardians who have made the shift to working at home with kids, we find ourselves grappling with restless, confused, and bored children. So, too, parents are restless, confused, and unproductive.

The top photo is of our son and daughter watching a video on one of their tablets. One of the results of public school closures is that children must continue their education remotely. Their options are either to complete school work via the internet, or to pick up printed packets of work each week. We have wifi and our salaries allow us to buy each of our kids a tablet so they can do their work without having to share our work computers. While they like having their own devices, the change to their routine has been taxing. Like most young children, they do not deal well with transitions and the COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of change to their lives that is sometimes difficult for them to understand. While their tantrums, complaints, and seemingly endless need for attention is to be understood, it is not an environment that allows anyone to function at their best. So we fall into the easy cure for their boredom, one that allows my wife and I to get work done or enjoy a rare moment of peace as we let them play on a tablet for hours.  

Two children play in an open grassy space with a blooming tree in the background.
The Allen children, making the most of their yard during Covid-19. Photo Credit: Kelly R. Allen.

The second photo offers something that perhaps the tablets in the first should also indicate: these children, while subject to the same state restrictions, are dealing with their new reality in a relatively privileged position. The photo only captures about a third of the yard space. They have an area to independently run around. Spring 2020 in Bethlehem, PA has been warm and people are spending time outside. The outdoors is a place where adults and children alike have been able to find a break from the confines of their homes. However, in the early morning when this photo was taken, I heard on the news that state and local parks are closed or will be closing soon. As I look at this photo, I wonder where children without yards are expected to play.

The day after I took these photos, I received an email from a colleague who, after sharing her concerns about the impact COVID-19 restrictions are having on the ability of both her and her students to do their jobs, concluded with what I know was a well-intentioned remark: “I’m sure you are loving being home with your wife and children. A bright spot in this drastic turn of events.” I had to walk away from the computer. While my wife and I love spending time with our kids, this is not an ideal situation for anyone. We want to be good parents and we want to do our jobs well. We are only a few months into our new COVID-19 lives and we have yet to find a balance that allows us to do both. Last week our son lashed out at his sister, my wife, and I. After we helped him settle down, I asked him if he could explain what he was feeling. His response was that he didn’t know, but he just wanted to go to school and see his friends. Yesterday we heard our daughter moaning in her room. We found her on her bed, surrounded by Barbies and stuffed animals. When asked why she was moaning, she said she was bored and wanted to see her grandmother. Sadly, we had to tell them both that they would have to wait a while longer. 

In the meantime, as you can see from the image below, we’ll find ways to have fun.

Children ride a tricycle down a homemade ramp.
The Allen children get creative to combat the challenges of stay-at-home orders. Photo Credit: Kelly R. Allen.

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