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Spartanburg County families juggle demands of work with childcare during COVID pandemic
Herald-Journal - 3/5/2021
Mar. 5—A Spartanburg mother juggling teaching online classes while taking care of her 7-month-old twins.
Across town, another mother has to cut her job hours outside the home to help her children who are at home learning virtually during the coronavirus pandemic.
Two parents who are both respiratory therapists working on the front lines of the pandemic have to work opposite schedules to take care of their children learning virtually.
Similar stories are playing out everywhere as parents have to balance work and family during the pandemic. Despite those problems, the pandemic has given some time to reconnect and spend more time with their families
Some schools have returned to in-person classes, but some daycares remain closed or are operating on a limited capacity. Many after-school programs also remain closed. Both of these factors have limited child care options for parents.
School officials say one of the reasons they can't hold after-school programs right now is because they use the afternoons to disinfect and sanitize their classrooms and buildings to prepare for the next day. Those safety procedures are expected to continue during the pandemic.
"With our current safety precautions in place, we have been able to offer parents a five-day face-to-face option since September, and our parents have been extremely grateful for that," said Cynthia Robinson, spokeswoman for Spartanburg School District 6. "We will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and evaluate the possibility of reopening our after-school program in the future."
For those parents working from home, they are having to supervise their children, attend Zoom meetings and work on projects all at the same time. This sometimes can mean working long hours into the night to make up for time lost during the day.
Here are few stories about families managing work and taking care of their children during this pandemic.
Nick and Elizabeth Perry
Three children, ages 4, and 7-month-old twins
Prior to March 2020, Elizabeth worked two jobs. She is an adjunct psychology professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate as well as a clinical mental health counselor at a private practice. She works around 40 hours a week and became pregnant with twins in December of 2019. Several months later in March, everything shut down.
Elizabeth said teaching online while pregnant with twins wasn't too difficult since her older child was still going to daycare at that point. The plan was to hire a nanny for the twins once they were born. But finding a nanny to come to their home to watch the twins has proven difficult during a pandemic.
"I kept putting it off since I was working at home," Elizabeth said. "I knew I would be teaching exclusively online. But once I started trying to find a nanny, everyone needed one since so many kids are learning online. The pool (of available nannies) was shallower. And people aren't as enthusiastic about coming into someone's home during COVID."
Since having her twins, Elizabeth hasn't gone back to work at her second job as a clinical counselor and is still working as an adjunct professor at USC Upstate. Her 4-year-old is in daycare, and she keeps the twins at home with her while teaching online. Her husband Nick works five, 12-hour shifts a week. Elizabeth's parents live nearby but are immune-compromised. So, while they would love to help, she doesn't want to risk passing COVID-19 to them.
Since her twins are so young and not yet mobile, she can hold one while the other is either in a car seat or swing while answering emails from students or grading papers. But understands they may have to make different arrangements as the twins get older. The couple has priced daycare costs for all three children and it is expensive.
"We pay $145 per week for our 4-year-old. It would be $160 per week for an infant," Elizabeth said. "We have two infants, so that would be $320 for us. That would put us paying $465 per week for our children to be in daycare."
While working from home with twins has certainly been challenging for the Perry family, Elizabeth says she is thankful to have this time at home with her young family.
"Having time with my twins, and being able to enjoy them," Elizabeth said. "It's the obvious answer, but it's the true answer."
Michael and Kristina Robertson
Three children, ages 22, 19, 6
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 275,000 women left the workforce in January, compared with 71,000 men. Overall, nearly 2.4 million women have exited the workforce since last February, compared with less than 1.8 million men.
The pandemic has forced many women to choose between caring for their children at home and working. Women like Kristina Robertson in Pauline.
Last year she was employed with Cross Mark as a merchandiser filling displays at local stores. Since she had children at home, she enjoyed the flexible hours and typically worked between 30-40 hours per week. But when COVID-19 hit last year, their circumstances changed.
The couple's 19-year-old daughter was in her senior year at Dorman High School and finished out the year like all students. Virtually. Kristina left her job to stay home and help her children adjust to the new demands of virtual school.
"We've cut out all excess and tightened our budget to make this happen," Kristina said.
When the Robertsons made the decision to continue with virtual school for their 6-year-old this school year, they knew one parent had to stay at home and help her with school work because she is so young. Older children can often navigate the demands of virtual school more independently, but younger children often require more one-on-one attention from an adult.
"My husband works for the state," Kristina said. "He carries the health insurance for our family, has full benefits, retirement, and is the main financial provider for our family."
Kristina now works about 10-15 hours a week for Cross Mark and works those hours around her husband's and children's schedules.
Aaron and Tonya Corbin
Five children, ages 19, 16, 14, 11, 8
Not only are Tonya and Aaron Corbin parents to five children, with four who are virtually learning through District 7 schools. They are also both health care workers on the front lines of this pandemic as respiratory therapists at Spartanburg Medical Center. Their jobs require them to work with COVID-19 patients daily.
Tonya and Aaron both work between 36-60 hours a week, and say planning ahead is vital to keep their own schedules and their children's schedules running smoothly.
"There's some days that things are down to precise moments," Tonya said. "We roll with the punches either way but try to plan our schedules at least a week in advance."
The couple's 16, 14, 11, and 8-year-old children are all virtually schooled through Spartanburg School District 7.
Pre-pandemic, Tonya worked as a part-time respiratory therapist, working a few 12-hour shifts per week. However, when COVID-19 hit it was all-hands-on-deck in the health care industry. There was a great need for respiratory therapists. The Corbins made the decision for Tonya to begin working full-time at Spartanburg Medical Center and for their children to continue with virtual school for the 2020-21 school year.
"It's like that quote from Mr. Rogers, 'look for the helper.' My children see that we are helping people," Tonya said. "I hope it's given the kids a sense of pride in what my husband and I do."
Tonya and Aaron work opposite schedules in order for one of them to be with their children during the day while they are doing schoolwork. However, they try to allow their children to work as independently as possible.
Keeping the children stimulated is the most difficult part for Tonya especially since she has such an emotionally challenging job.
"Working through this pandemic has been the most humbling experience," Tonya said. "You become their family since they can't have their own with them. And all the emotions that come with that. When you feel that hand go limp and that face relax and the only thing that goes through your head is that you hope that person knows you cared."
Coming home from a workday filled with such emotion to be mom and dad, teacher, cook, housekeeper, etc. are challenging for Tonya and Aaron, especially coupled with needing to stay safe from COVID-19. The Corbins have a strict routine when coming home from work.
"We go in through the garage and spray everything down we have on with disinfectant," Tonya said. "We take off our work clothes in the garage and they go into a bag that goes directly in the washer. Everything is cleaned and sanitized to the best of our ability."
Through all the schedule and work changes of the past year, the Corbins have continued to put their children first in everything they do and feel that choosing virtual school for their children was best for their family during the pandemic.
"Even with the busy schedule, it's given us more family time," Tonya said. "I feel like it's given my children back their anonymity while allowing them to find their own individuality."
Ashley Dill is a native of Spartanburg and has been on staff for the Herald-Journal for 14 years. She covers community news and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ashleydill_shj.
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