“I don’t know how I get back on track, especially with the questions out there — how schools reopen; when; variants; the way everybody else is behaving; having the schools open and close at bizarre random hours,” she said.
She says the safety net she built for herself has been torn away: “I know how difficult it is and how lacking in infrastructure our country is in supporting parents. And it just feels so frustrating that the same brick walls I hit 16 years ago, I hit again in the pandemic.”
Many parents of preschool-aged children face a shortage of child care openings. One-third of child care centers never reopened, research shows; those that are still closed disproportionately served Asian, Latino and Black families. Those that opened are operating at 70 percent capacity, on average. They have struggled to hire qualified teachers; must keep classes small to limit exposure to the virus; and have raised prices to cover new health and cleaning measures.
Daphne Muller, a mother of two in Los Angeles and a consultant to tech companies, said she calls preschools almost every week to find out if there is room for her youngest: “I don’t feel like I can plan anything career-wise for myself. I don’t want to take a job and have to quit.”
Parents must also plan for disruptions, like quarantine periods after exposures or when community case rates rise.
Bee Thorp, a mother of two in Richmond, Va., said her children’s child care center closed three times last year for two weeks each, and also shortened its hours for cleaning. Her husband, a lawyer, had much less flexibility than she did, so the extra care fell to her.
“What that has meant is me not really job searching,” she said. “I can’t ask in an interview: ‘Do you mind if I take off two weeks with no notice?’ It’s frustrating to hear comments about how people aren’t applying for jobs. Maybe people do want those jobs; they just can’t right now.”