‘You don’t get days off’: Single parents struggle during pandemic

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Channon Jackson and her four-year-old daughter. (Courtesy photo)

(NEXSTAR) — When the pandemic first started, Channon Jackson was scared. So she pulled her 4-year-old out of daycare and decided to homeschool her.

The trouble was, the California mom had her own work to contend with as a science program manager for the Alameda County Office of Education. With the pandemic, much of that work involved sitting in Zoom meetings, sometimes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jackson and her daughter would sit side by side most days, Zooming simultaneously.

“At the beginning, it was really hard,” Jackson recalled. “I was trying to balance homeschooling [my 4-year-old] and working. It was really difficult and really stressful.”

At times, Jackson said negative thoughts began creeping in.

“I think my biggest battle was trying to be a good mom, and that became really overwhelming for me during that time because I felt like I was neglecting her,” Jackson said. “I think both of us became really irritated with each other, which added to me feeling like a horrible mom.”

Almost a quarter of the children in the U.S. live with a single parent, according to a Pew Research study from 2019. As schools across the nation remain closed, or open for just a few days a week, many single parents are struggling to balance taking care of their children with day-to-day responsibilities, such as work.

Early in the pandemic, Latoya Giles, became caretaker not just for her two children, but also for her parents, who fell sick with illnesses unrelated to COVID-19.

Giles, who lives in Baltimore, Maryland, couldn’t balance it all with work, so she quit her job as a “problem solver” at Amazon, where she was working night shifts so that she could be home with her children during the day.

“My mom would come to my apartment at night and watch the children so I could cut childcare costs,” Giles said.

That ended when her mother came down with a life-threatening infection of sepsis. Then her dad got sick. Giles said she felt like her life was spiraling.

“The world doesn’t stop if I’m tired, anxious or sick,” Giles said. “You don’t get days off. I can’t wake up and say, ‘I’m not doing this today.’”

Now that her parents are in stable condition, Giles said she can’t find work. She’s looking for a job that will allow her to work while staying home with her children, but such careers are hard to come by. She hopes Amazon might let her come back, but in the meantime, she’s stretching her unemployment checks to make ends meet.

“I believe things happen exactly how they’re supposed to,” Giles said, citing the durability of her children through tears. My children are just so resilient, so supportive.”

Jonathan Barney, of Hudson Valley, New York, is raising a 12-year-old boy who’s on the autism spectrum. He says the lack of socialization has been the biggest challenge for him and his child.

“Because he’s on the spectrum, making friends becomes more difficult,” he said. “And if you’re neurotypical, you have a bigger friend group to begin with.”

Much of the burden of socialization has fallen on Barney, who said he and his son have gotten to spend quality time together playing Legos or the new Super Mario Brothers game on Wii.

Jonathan Barney and his 12-year-old son (Courtesy photo)

Managing schoolwork is another issue. At school, Barney’s son receives extra support with classwork, but with Barney working from home — he works in information security for a management consulting firm — the added attention is hard to spare.

“He’s not used to not having support, so that’s been a bit of a struggle,” he said.

Therese Connolly, of Marin County, California, knows the feeling. She says raising an 11-year-old during the pandemic is equivalent to having a part-time job. Though her son is at school two days a week, it’s the days in between that tend to take up much of her time.

“I have to go through all his assignments, make sure he’s completed them and so on,” Connolly said.

Connolly, a licensed clinical social worker, works from home. Sometimes, while her son is on Zoom school in the same room, she’s balancing paying attention to work and listening to what her son’s teacher is saying.

Therese Connolly with her 11-year-old son, Casey. (Courtesy photo)

“It’s constant management,” Connolly said, saying she spends at least “a couple of hours” each day going over her son’s work. “And I’m the head implementer and organizer.”

“There’s no precedent for this,” she continued, “so I’m just winging it.”

But there’s an upside to the pandemic, according to the parents Nexstar spoke with. They all said the pandemic has given them one thing the find invaluable: time with their children.

“I’ve gotten to see her grow, see all these milestones,” Jackson said of her 4-year-old. “I’ve seen her do all this stuff I didn’t know she could do.”

Connolly also said she appreciates how much life has slowed down.

“Before COVID, it was off to school, then sports,” Connolly said. “I’d see [my son] just for little snatches of time.”

“I gotta say,” Connolly continued, “I kind of love [all the time with him].”

Giles has found a silver lining, too. Despite her struggles, she’s “trying to remain positive” by spending time telling her own story through writing.

“Maybe I’m not supposed to be working right now so I have time to write,” Giles said. “This time next year, I keep telling myself, people will know your name, know your work … I have a story to tell and I’m going to tell it.”

And her children have supported her through it all.

“My children are very supportive, resilient, appreciative,” Giles said. “Their kind words, support and love is what makes it worthwhile for me. I’d sacrifice anything for them.”  

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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