The great reopening and return to pre-pandemic life is a tale of two timelines — and parents are caught in the middle.
Offices are itching to get back to normal thanks to the vaccine rollout, but the rest of the world hasn’t necessarily caught up. Major companies have made clear they’re expecting workers to return to the office this summer. Yet many schools and child care facilities are still partially remote, running shorter hours or fully booked.
That means some parents, often mothers, will face a difficult decision about whether they can return to the office — because of care logistics or due to safety concerns as young children aren’t set to be vaccinated anytime soon. But some are struggling to make their challenges heard at work.
“I have a manager who is not sensitive to parenthood. That has always been a problem since before the pandemic,” said Amanda, a mother of kids ages 4 and 1, who lives in the New York City suburbs and works in finance. CNN Business is omitting her last name for privacy.
It’s an even bigger problem now for Amanda, whose employer asked her to return in person at the beginning of June.
Health concerns and logistical issues
While Amanda’s older child is back in school, the younger one isn’t. Amanda’s mother has helped out with child care and home schooling during the pandemic, but another care obligation in the family means that solution doesn’t work long-term.
Beyond the care logistics, Amanda is also worried about the exposure risk on her commute to the city. Unlike herself, her children can’t be vaccinated yet: Pfizer expects to submit its Covid vaccine for emergency use authorization for children ages 2 to 11 from the Food and Drug Administration in September. That means months more waiting for parents like Amanda.
In the meantime, she said, if she returns to the office her exposure risk isn’t just limited to the commute as she can’t be sure everyone in her office will be inoculated.
That’s because, while employers in the health care industry might require workers to get their jabs, the situation is different in other industries. Some companies, including Aldi, Target and American Airlines are offering employees perks like extra vacation days as an incentive to get vaccinated.
Amanda is not ready to be in the office June 1, she said: “Any way you look at it I’m not going back to [the office] in two weeks.”
The rush back feels too fast for her, she said, and she thinks it’s mostly for the benefit of face time with her manager as many of her direct co-workers are in different locations.
Now Amanda is weighing whether she can keep working at all given the circumstances.
It’s a fraught choice after an already challenging year for for parents, who in many cases turned into substitute teachers and care workers while also still doing a full-time job as they hunkered down at home.
Are offices ‘considering what’s actually going in the community’?
Even for parents whose children have already returned to school, pandemic-related care challenges rage on.
James Smith, who works as a financial analyst at a mid-sized bank in the Dallas area, is back in the office full-time already. His wife, a pharmacist, never stopped going to work.
Although they are both vaccinated and their 2- and 5-year-old kids are back at daycare and kindergarten, the pandemic is still disrupting their lives.
“Covid is still fairly prevalent in the community,” he told CNN Business. “Our oldest has been subject to two quarantines in March and April,” because of possible exposure at school. For Smith, that meant working from home again, which he said created friction with his employer, or getting help from his elderly parents, who are at greater risk from the virus.
“There aren’t really any statutory [rules] if your kid is out of school,” because of Covid exposure, he said. “It’s kind of a rush to get back to normal on the business side. I question whether or not that’s considering what’s actually going in the community.”
Recognizing the importance of care work has been a big part of the pandemic puzzle. The next piece may well be how employers handle workers who have sudden child care commitments to prevent another outbreak.