It's in our salad dressing, bread and most everything else we eat -- and it's doing tremendous harm to our bodies. How can we kick the salt habit?
In March, like the rest of the country, our region’s schools abruptly went virtual and a massive experiment began. Many parents suddenly found themselves overseeing technology and schooling while working from home or after completing their shifts at their essential jobs.
Throughout all of this, the added burden has often fallen on mothers, who in many families still take on a large share of the childcare and housework. Some women are even leaving jobs to stay home with their kids. In fact, just last month 80% of the one million plus workers who dropped out of the job market were women (that’s 865,000 women, compared to 216,000 men.) Others continue to work but are feeling overwhelmed as local schools remain virtual at least through the fall.
So how are parents coping six months into this forced experiment? What does this mean for women in the workforce? And are men doing their part?
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
- Anya Kamenetz Education Correspondent, NPR, author, “The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life”; @anya1anya
- Heidi Shierholz Senior Economist and Director of Policy, Economic Policy Institute; @hshierholz
- Dr. Pooja Lakshmin Psychiatry Professor, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Contributor, The New York Times; @PoojaLakshmin
- Mercedes Samudio Psychology Professor, Pepperdine University, parent coach and author, “Shame-Proof Parenting: Find Your Unique Parenting Voice, Feel Empowered, and Raise Whole, Healthy Children"; @DIPInc_
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Last week we held our latest Kojo in Your Virtual Community event via Zoom, the topic this time how parents are doing as they try to balance work and kids to go to school virtually. WAMU's Jeremy Bernfeld was at my virtual side assisting me again by moderating and sharing questions from the attendees. And a reminder, today's show is pre-taped so we won't be taking any calls, questions or comments during the broadcast.
KOJO NNAMDIIn March like the rest of the country our region's schools abruptly went virtual and the massive experiment began. Many parents suddenly found themselves overseeing technology and schooling while working from home or after completing their shifts at their essential jobs. Throughout all of this, the added burden has often fallen on mothers, who in many families still take on a large share of the childcare and house work. Some women are even leaving jobs to stay home with their kids. Others continue to work, but are feeling overwhelmed as local schools remain virtual at least through the fall.
KOJO NNAMDISo how are parents coping six months into this forced experiment? What does this mean for women in the workforce? And are men doing their part? Welcome to Burnout, Chaos and Uncertainty: Parenting During The Pandemic. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Let's begin. Joining us now Anya Kamenetz, Education Correspondent at NPR and author of "The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life." Anya, thank you for joining us.
ANYA KAMENETZThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIHeidi Shierholz is a Senior Economist and Director of Policy at the Economic Policy Institute. She served as the Obama administration's Chief Economist at the Department of Labor. Heidi, thank you for joining us.
HEIDI SHIERHOLZThanks for having me. It's a delight to be here.
NNAMDIAnd Dr. Pooja Lakshmin is Professor of Psychiatry at The George Washington University School of Medicine. She's also a women's mental health advocate and a contributor to The New York Times. Pooja, thank you for joining us.
DR. POOJA LAKSHMINThanks so much for having me, really excited to be here.
NNAMDIAnya, as an NPR Education Reporter and a parent yourself, how is the school year going?
KAMENETZWell, it really depends who you are and where you are. And I think that's one of the hardest things for people to understand that there's already been a lot of equity in our school system. This is not new to 2020. But the different experiences of children kind of cheek by jowl based on whether their parents can afford to hire a private tutor or send them to a private school. Public schools are closed or have someone supervise online learning. You know, it's really just a vast range of experiences right now.
NNAMDIWell, many of us began working from home when all of this began, but what about the people who cannot work from home? How have they fared and how are they juggling working outside of the house when their children remain home at school?
KAMENETZWell, that's a really fascinating question. I mean, we saw that in the first round of assistance -- federal assistance there was very little money given to childcare. In fact, less to subsidized childcare than Delta Airlines alone received. So although there's been essential worker childcare is open in most cities and many of those have been done with the help of nonprofit networks like the YMCA, the Salvation Army, you know, there's sort of a patchwork of availability for children. But what we're also very afraid of, many child welfare advocates are that there's just many latchkey children. That there's children home alone perhaps with siblings and really kind of an inadequacy of care and really pointing up the weaknesses of our existing childcare networks.
NNAMDIIn July you wrote a piece for the New York Times titled "I was a Screen Time Expert, Then the Coronavirus Happened." How did your thoughts on screen time and parenting overall change when the pandemic began?
KAMENETZWell, I mean, of course, if we talk about childcare we have to understand everyone's favorite childcare professional who is Elmo. And so, you know, the availability of screens in children's lives -- it really points up the fact that being able to restrict screen time is a mark of privilege. And for many parents when they reverted to being at home with their children full time working from home the screen became kind of an unescapable and essential lifeline. And there's a lot of guilt attached to that because we saw that children's screen time consumption purposes, entertainment purposes, not just learning has skyrocketed across the board. And we as parents are also glued to our devices, because that's how we're working.
NNAMDIDr. Pooja Lakshmin, as Anya has described, parents are struggling with this new reality. As a mental health expert and a women's health advocate what advice would you give to parents right now?
LAKSHMINYeah, I think, you know, we are in unprecedented times in this global pandemic. So I think when I'm working with women, who are struggling right now with burnout and depression and anxiety, the number one thing to keep in mind is that what you're feeling is not your fault. You know, everybody is struggling right now. There is no perfect solution. And so when our outside world is so chaotic, when there is no certainty in our external circumstances, it's so natural to turn inward and want to control everything even harder, kind of grip even harder. So my advice is really -- and this is hard, you know, I'm not -- I'm working on this myself, is kind of cultivating psychological flexibility. How can you be with those difficult thoughts? How can you be with that anxiety and not let it overrun you, not let it control you?
NNAMDIWell, life has always been uncertain and challenging for everyone not just parents, but things have certainly been amplified by the pandemic and the recession. What would you tell someone who's perhaps dealing with depression or anxiety for the first time?
LAKSHMINYeah, absolutely, and we know that right now in particular for mothers rates of anxiety and depression are really skyrocketing. So prior to the pandemic rates of postpartum anxiety or depression or anxiety during pregnancy were around 15 to 20 percent. Now we're seeing rates of depression up at 40 percent, rates of anxiety up at 70 percent.
LAKSHMINSo number one is to recognize the signs. You know, just because you're experiencing it based on the pandemic doesn't mean that it's not depression or it's not anxiety. So one of the silver linings I would say right now is that most therapists, you know, myself included as a psychiatrist, we're all doing virtual care. So in some ways getting help, seeing a counselor, seeing a therapist is actually even easier because you can do it from your home. And, you know, I see my patients and they have their kids running around. They have their infants and, you know, it's fine. That's just part of it right now.
NNAMDIWell, in D.C. mental health programs have been expanded for parents. What services are being provided? How can people access them? And are these services being used extensively?
LAKSHMINYeah. So I know the Department of Behavioral Health has increased their programming specifically for parents. So they have a Wellness Wednesdays. That's a weekly web -- like a support group that's being run by a therapist. They also have a hotline. There's another organization that's national. It's called Postpartum Support International. They have a warm line that you can call where they'll connect you with resources in your specific state, and also they expanded their virtual support groups. So in particular for moms of color as well as for dads as well, so they have supports groups for all different, you know, different sub groups of women who are, you know, at home right now struggling. So I think definitely taking advantage of those could be really helpful.
NNAMDIWell, has the need for mental health services throughout the D.C. region increased? And if so, how much?
LAKSHMINYeah. So I am definitely seeing in my practice that referrals are increased and the acuity when people call in has definitely increased as well. So women who may have had some mild anxiety now are calling in saying, I'm having panic attacks or I'm feeling depressed and I'm having trouble getting out of bed. People who were previously stable on antidepressant medication are now needing higher doses. And this is because we don't have the coping mechanisms that we used to have. You know, you can't just run out and go to the gym like you used to. You can't, you know, you can't get away from your kids. You can't get any alone time. So, you know, we're really in constrained circumstances where we don't have those coping mechanisms that used to really help in times of stress.
NNAMDIHeidi Shierholz, the pandemic has also brought a recession. The D.C. region has often been immune to recessions. Are we immune this time as well?
SHIERHOLZThe unemployment rate in D.C. is now a little bit higher than the national unemployment rate, and it's because the nature of this recession is totally different than other recessions. It really -- it's broadening out now. But it really began in businesses that had a lot of social contact, so restaurants, bars, tourism, hotels, personal services, brick and mortar retail. There's a lot of restaurants in D.C. There's a lot of people who are involved, a lot of events, a lot of people who are involved in things that are related to social contact.
SHIERHOLZAnd so D.C. got hit very, very hard by this. So the parents in D.C. that are in other recessions maybe seeing that it's not hitting them as hard, because there's -- the sheltering from having economic activity of the federal government around, it's not providing as much of a shelter in this recession at all.
NNAMDIPlease, explain. What kinds of pressure does a struggling economy put on families?
SHIERHOLZIt's deep. If you look nationwide, right now about one in five workers is being directly hit by this recession in some way. They're either unemployed or like officially unemployed or they are not being counted as unemployed, but they're still out of work as a result of the virus because they've had to quit their job to say, take care of a child, deal with a parent whose elder care has fallen through or they have seen a cut in their hours and their pay.
SHIERHOLZSo one of the ways a lot of families are getting hit is they've remained employed. But their business has -- the business that they're in, the place where they work, has seen a decline in demand for their goods and services. And so they don't need as many hours as they used to. So people are getting their hours cut seeing their paychecks dwindle. For unemployed workers, the other thing that's piling on top of all of this is in the beginning of this recession Congress actually really stepped up and did a lot to help unemployed workers. The extra $600 per week in unemployment insurance benefits was an absolute lifeline to millions of people who've lost their job through no fault of their own in a global pandemic, but at the end of July Congress allowed that to expire.
SHIERHOLZSo now families are having to survive. Unemployed families are having to get by on the very meager regular benefits that we have. They replace -- it varies place to place, but they replace about 40 percent of your prior earnings. Families can't exist on 40 percent of their prior earnings for very long without seeing a massive decline in living standards. So people are really strapped right now.
NNAMDIAnya Kamenetz, women have typically fared better than men during recessions partly because they're more educated, but that has not been the case this time, why?
KAMENETZWhat we hear from women is that they -- they're having to stay back to cut their hours to stay out of the workforce to watch their children. That even when mom and dad are both at home with the kids, the kids go to mom. And that when it comes to homeschool responsibilities particularly we're seeing this in polling that the mothers are overseeing the homeschooling, and this is really an extension of our role in taking on the cognitive load. Even as we inch toward equality in the household work or even maybe in caregiving there's a cognitive burden of understanding of managing the relationships inside and outside the household, scheduling, you know, understanding what is the kids shoe size and when is the last time they went to the dentist and are we out of butter? And these are things that this disproportionately, historically fall to women.
KAMENETZAnd in this disaster situation there has not been time for a rational and fare minded renegotiation of these roles. So what we see is that women are taking it on. They're taking on the mental responsibility, and the mental responsibility has supernovaed. It's so much higher.
NNAMDIAnya, what are parents doing for childcare especially for the parents who are unable to work from home?
KAMENETZYes, this is a great question. So the childcare picture before this was that there's a huge number of children in kinship care and unpaid neighbor care, family friend care, people who get very, very little money for the work that they do taking in children, because of the generational impacts of COVID and the disproportional impacts of COVID on black and brown communities. Some parents no longer have access to that kind of care, and at the same time childcare centers have had to shut down, many times they had to close down during the pandemic. Then when they opened back up they weren't in the people that could pay for the care. So they're in danger of shutting down as well.
KAMENETZMany places, childcare subsidies don't apply to school age children. So there's a gap there if you let children in virtual care. And the stopgaps are not working. I mean, I covered the establishment of kind of learning hubs. So there are many places around the country where the city is partnering with nonprofits to open up either school buildings or gymnasiums or YMCAs to have a few children during the day where they can do remote learning and have this kind of care, but it's just -- it's so small compared to the demand.
NNAMDIJeremy, you have a question?
JEREMY BERNFELDWe got this question from Lindsey. "I'm a mom of a six year old of a special needs first grader and a 22-month-old. My first grader needs constant support during the school day. I work full time as a general manager. My husband works full time as an attorney. We're thankful for our employers being flexible with the current situation. But balancing work, school and housework sometimes seems impossible.
JEREMY BERNFELDOur son is in virtual school and he has school and therapies. We're splitting the day. I find myself waking up at 5:00 a.m. to work before my kids wake up. Working after they go to sleep or waking up early on a weekend to take care of work matters. I have a lot of staff members, who have small children who are burned out as well. I just continue to try to be flexible and find grace with myself and my staff. It's just so hard."
NNAMDIPooja, what would you recommend to Lindsey?
LAKSHMINYeah, absolutely. So, Lindsey, well, I just want to say thank you for your question. And it sounds like you're doing an amazing job. You know, I think that what you describe really parallels what I'm seeing with so many of my patients that there's no time in the day for you, right, because from the moment you wake up you're constantly caregiving and I love that Anya talked about the mental load as well, because that's what I absolutely see for my patients.
LAKSHMINYou're the CEO of the house, right. So you're the one that's making all these decisions. So I think in this situation, anything that you can do to find a little bit of time for yourself, even if it's just 10 minutes to -- you know, waking up 10 minutes early, having your cup of coffee, having your cup of tea on your own, getting outside also is incredibly helpful. So making sure that you're getting some time outside.
LAKSHMINYou know, I feel like setting a routine and making sure that you're communicating with your partner as well. It sounds like you're doing that already. Your husband is able to help at home, but I think the communication between partners is also something that's really important for splitting the mental load as equitably as possible, because it's not just about the person that's doing the tasks. It's also about the person who's making the decisions about the task.
NNAMDIWe got a question from Beth, "Many men, not all, assume that the housework and taking care of the kids are hers, while focusing on work and mowing the grass on weekends are his. The women take on more and more and the men complain about the mess in the kids' rooms." I'd like to direct this question to you, Heidi, because even before the pandemic a lot of research pointed to the gender gap in the workforce being in reality a motherhood gap. Mothers pay a career penalty in terms of salaries and promotions. Can you respond to that and to Beth's issue also?
SHIERHOLZYeah. Those are really good points. And I love the way Anya put it that these are long standing problems that we couldn't now in the middle of this like rationally renegotiate things on the fly. So the fact that women have disproportionately shouldered the burden for care responsibilities in many different dimensions, elder care, child care, being a CEO of the household when all of a sudden those other things fall away and it just piles onto the household and the woman is the CEO of that household. She takes all of it.
SHIERHOLZAnd, of course, I mean, that's not the case in every household, but what we're seeing is that history of these disproportionate responsibilities falling on women means that right now they're just being absolutely overloaded. So that story that she's telling is what we're seeing more broadly too.
NNAMDIAnd, Anya, Agenda Work, an organization journal study, found that almost half of men said they do most of the educating, but only three percent of women agreed with that statement. Who's right?
KAMENETZI mean, you need to have someone in the home doing a time use study, but I think it's interesting. Obviously, I'm an education reporter. So, you know, a lot of people feel like they understand the process of education, but having it brought into our homes, we have a very different perspective. And education is not just instructing children or lecturing them. I think there is either such a social and emotional component creating the order, the structure, the routine and cheering children on. Helping them discover their own innate curiosity. And I think that there's just kind of a lot to learn amongst parents about what it actually means to guide a child's education. And it's not a job that we all signed up for.
KAMENETZSo it's not surprising. Obviously, the parents have different perceptions of it. And I wanted to speak also to the woman's concern about, you know, my child needs constant support during the school day, because I really feel like that's educational question that can be brought up with the child's teacher, because there's developmentally appropriate expectations of self-directed work.
KAMENETZAnd I understand this person has special needs. But a lot of times we have a model of intensive parenting that's very culturally transmitted among upper class educated people were we really feel there was supposed to be constantly cultivating our children. And in fact they have a developmental need to build their autonomy and their self-direction. And so when they're sitting with us all day we sort of fall into this mode where we are giving them feedback, guiding them and in fact, we may need to talk to our children's teachers about can they work alone. Should they work alone? How do we get them to work alone? Which maybe gives you that 20 minutes to drink a cup of coffee without waking up at four in the morning.
NNAMDIAnd, Jeremy, you have a question?
BERNFELDThis question is from Ann Marie in Richmond. "How can one best support their partner whose home helping with the kids with remote learning?"
LAKSHMINSure. Yeah. And I actually just wanted to add on, too, to Anya's comment to the woman who asked about supporting her child. I think, another piece here to think about, too, is if your own anxiety is playing a role, too, because it can be really, really tough to see your child struggling. And as a mom you really want to step in and take control and, you know, alleviate your child's suffering. So kind of looking at where does your own emotion management come in and could doing some of that work yourself emotionally help bring back a little bit of time in your day.
LAKSHMINI think the other piece to think about too is just this role of what we call maternal gatekeeping, right, that goes along with the mental load were because historically women have just been indoctrinated to take care of everything in the household as women it's easier -- it's just easier to do it yourself than to delegate. So that's just another piece, but I was going to answer the question from somebody who's asking how to support their partner, correct?
LAKSHMINYeah, I think that communication is key here. You know, it's really easy, you know, we have a tendency to want to read our partner's mind and have a sense for what they need. But actually what you should be doing is every day, if you can taking 5 or 10 minutes out at the end of the day and talking about how did the day go for us. Where can we each help each other? What do we need? Do you want me to meal prep? Do you want me to take care of dinner? You know, really kind of dividing out the day and over communicating how things went and troubleshooting in that way.
NNAMDIHeide Shierholz, we're hearing that women leaving their jobs or dialing way back in their work, because of this pressure that we've been talking about. Do we know yet how significant those numbers might be?
SHIERHOLZThey're starting to come in. We're starting to really see this difference. So, for example, if you look at parents with kids age 6 to 12. Those parents have seen a big -- the biggest drop in their employment. So there was, you know, a big drop in employment at the beginning of the recession and then we've seen gains. Men are far more likely to have seen those gains, to see those jobs come. And that could be because women are saying, look, as the school is starting, as this school year is starting there's no way that we can both do this or that I can leave the kids on their own to get the schooling done. So we will see more and more of the impact of this as the school year goes on, but we're really starting to see it unfold very disproportionately.
SHIERHOLZAnd, I mean, if you look at what this is going to do -- this is going to have a long term impact on things as basic as the gender wage gap, because when women take this kind of time out from the labor force that they wouldn't have had to if this recession hadn't happened that can have very lasting effects. It sets you back. You don't get that wage increase. You don't get that promotion. That means that can follow you for the rest of your career. So I do expect that not just in the short run but in the much longer term we are going to see the lasting effects of this. It's going to wipe out a bit of the progress that has been made in things like closing the gender wage gap. It's really unfortunate.
NNAMDISince our conversation last week, we've learned some startling statistics. The Labor Department's latest jobs report shows that of the one million plus workers who dropped out of the job market in September alone 80 percent were women. And a new study finds one in four women is considering downshifting or even leaving a job, because of the pandemic's effect on her home life. Let's return to our discussion. Here's Heidi Shierholz with her thoughts on how work life balance might be affecting men and women differently.
SHIERHOLZThe really rigorous things haven't come out yet, but we are -- what we do know is that this thing we've been talking about that a lot of these responsibilities are now being shouldered by women, that's showing up in the data. How these changes are also affecting men -- as the data keeps rolling in we'll get more of a picture of that. It's looking like right now the key thing is that families are just facing an enormous amount of stress in this crisis.
KAMENETZAnd I just want to put in another word for the dimensions of this, right? We know that this pandemic is affecting black and brown families disproportionately and that is true in employment as well. It's also disproportionately, obviously, affecting single parent families in terms of all of these pressures where they truly don't have the choice to dial back. You know, for a story that I did on teachers, who are parents I spoke to a teacher in Oklahoma who is a single mother of five children, and if you can just imagine -- I mean, the children they're as old as 17. So they have some ability to take care of each other. But, you know, they're really kind of untenable pressures being placed on families and particularly families.
KAMENETZAlso maybe recent immigrants who aren't eligible for lots aid who may have been using the schools as a lifeline, but they can't apply for food stamps for example. So, you know, the pressures on families are really magnified obviously across the economic spectrum, but as well for, you know, various backgrounds of Americans.
NNAMDIJeremy, you have a question?
BERNFELDThis question is from Jennifer in Vienna. With so many students learning online, how can parents be sure schools are protecting students' data, so it's not exploited by commercial interests and student privacy is protected? Also, that screens and Zoom are not being overused to the point of being harmful to kids' mental and physical health?
NNAMDIStart with you, Anya.
KAMENETZI think the notion of student privacy has become incredibly thorny as we think about not only the sharing of student data on commercial platforms, but, in fact, windows being opened into children's homes, literally So, you know, we're just in the beginning of having kind of the hard cases that really help us develop what our policies are going to be around that.
KAMENETZThere was a case of a little boy who had a BB gun that was visible in the frame of his camera. He was in his home, obviously, and was punished by the school for that, as though he brought a weapon to school. So, you know, what's the jurisdiction of the school? How are they going to handle these kinds of incursions? Districts are having fights over whether or not students have to have their cameras on. It's very important for participation, but it's also giving the school and other students an unwarranted view into the households.
KAMENETZThe question of overuse of screens is obviously a huge part of my work and my investigations in the art of screen time. The kind of screen engagement that we're doing for school is not as prone to sort of abuse or problematic effects as, let's say, violent media or very addictive types of video games. It's not, you know, prone to overuse, you know, to a kid who's really abusing their math homework for nine hours a day. (laugh)
KAMENETZBut, certainly, issues with ADHD, just fidgeting, physical issues of looking at the screen, bending towards the screen, sleep issues with the light coming from the screen, posture, not having any physical activity. Those are all factors if you're talking about sitting in front of the computer for nine hours a day. I don't care if you're six years old or 60 years old, it's going to have an impact.
NNAMDIJeremy, you have a question?
BERNFELDWe got a question from Lisa. Kids don't have the same patience with their parents as they do with teachers. How do you recommend handling middle school meltdowns over math and other school pressures? It definitely adds to the exhaustion.
KAMENETZSo, there's a great book that’s just been rushed out called "The Distance Learning Playbook" that I would recommend. It's full of practical tips. And I think the number one tip is, you're not your kid's teacher. And your role is really as a support person for these social and emotional needs. And so, you know, when it comes to meltdowns, I would refer to what Dr. Lakshmin said about really, you know, it's hard to watch your kids struggle, but that doesn't mean that it's your job to fix it or to step in, even.
KAMENETZTalking to your child's teacher about the expectations and the challenges that you're facing, asking them for strategies, worse come to worse, if it's -- you know, it's not your job to frog march your child through algebra if it's hell for you both. You're not getting your work done and you're fighting all the time. Your relationship's more important than that. So, figuring out, can we triage these assignments? What's the most important? How do we have a daily rhythm that's actually going to work for us? Because this pandemic's not forever, so, you know, making sure that they do every single thing on their assignments is not really the goal, here.
NNAMDIHeidi Shierholz, the difference in pay women get versus men for the same work, the gender wage gap has been stubbornly tough to close. It's currently at 81 cents on the dollar for white women, just 75 cents for women of color. Has it grown during the pandemic?
SHIERHOLZYeah, it probably has. We don't have good data on that yet, but I think it probably has. And I think this is also a good time -- you mentioned that the gender wage gap is large. But if you look at the gap between, say, white men and black or brown women, it's much, much larger. The disparate impacts that we're seeing right now, not just by gender, but also that intersection with race, is just dramatic.
SHIERHOLZThat we know that black and brown women have seen the greatest job loss in this recession and are facing a very slow recovery -- much slower, for example, than white women. White women are getting jobs faster than black and brown women. So those -- not just the gender wage gap expanding, but also the sort of wage penalties that black and brown women face. I think we will see -- once the data all come out, we will see that those dynamics were really exaggerated in this downturn. And my fear -- and I think this will probably happen -- is that they will be fairly lasting in their effects.
NNAMDIAnya, the D.C. area is a place with epic inequality. What kind of pressure has it meant for low-income parents unable to support their kids' learning online, and concerns their kids might slip even farther behind their wealthier peers, given the achievement gap that already exists?
KAMENETZI mean, I think these concerns are very real. We see in survey after survey that there's disproportionate concern among black and Hispanic families. And there was actually a very interesting survey early on saying that black and Hispanic families were spending more time than their white and Asian peers in assisting with in-home learning.
KAMENETZWe know that the slide is very real over the summer, and this is going to be a magnified example of that. I did a little bit of research in my hometown after Katrina, where there was an interruption in education, of course, for several months. And it took those children about two years to catch up. With a concerted effort with investment over time, these inequities can be redressed, but it's certainly going to take a real paradigm shift.
KAMENETZI mean, the lack of support for public education this far into the pandemic, the fact that there was not a second relief package passed with significant funding for public schools to put in the safety and hire the teachers and invest in the online learning that they would need to reopen is really striking, I think, when you think about the importance of public schools.
KAMENETZJust on an economic level, childcare for working parents, yes, and the economic prospects of this generation. You know, for every year of education added, that's also earning, that's also taxes. So even if you just look at mathematics, you would say that's an investment that's worth making. Why we don't need it?
NNAMDIWell, you mentioned your hometown. Inquiring minds want to know, what is your hometown?
KAMENETZThat would be New Orleans, Louisiana. Yeah.
NNAMDII thought as much. Jeremy, you have a question for us?
BERNFELDThis question is from Christine in Herndon. We're now six months into the pandemic and I'm experiencing a second wave of burnout. What's your advice for capturing more of a marathon versus sprint view? When it feels like my mind is being pulled in so many different directions, work, virtual school, meals, self-care. I'm just so tired. And although I plow through each day, it doesn't feel sustainable.
LAKSHMINThe first piece I would say is to practice what's called cognitive diffusion. So, when you feel that sense of urgency, like all of the things on your to-do list -- you wake up in the morning and you see everything piling up, getting some distance from your thoughts. Getting some distance from that anxiety. You know, imagining that you're looking at your thoughts and being curious about your thoughts and your anxiety, as opposed to being fused with it.
LAKSHMINThe other thing that I'll say is finding a balance between priorities versus demands. So, when you're facing a huge long list of to-dos, those are usually demands. But priorities are things that actually fill up your cup. So, whether that's doing, like, you know, a Zoom yoga class or whether that's having your cup of chamomile tea or having a quality phone call with an old friend from college. Making sure that when you look throughout your week, you're actually getting in a couple priorities.
LAKSHMINIf your whole day is just demands, then there's no way. You need to have some stuff that's actually filling up your cup, because as a mom, your mental health is really the backbone. It's the foundation upon which the whole house is built. So, if you're not filling yourself up, there's nothing left for anyone else.
NNAMDIAnya Kamenetz, how about single parents in general, especially the single parent who cannot work from home? What are their options?
KAMENETZIn my conversations with single mothers, they're kind of, like, “Welcome to my world,” because the unsustainable and imbalance and then sleeplessness and distress is something that's been a feature for single working parents for a long time. They're also very creative and resourceful in coming up with ways to support each other. I think we're seeing a lot of multigenerational households form right now.
KAMENETZMy parents have come up to stay near me. I'm not a single parent, but just as an example. So, you know, forming multigenerational households, forming partnerships, trading care, forming networks with other single parents. There's one that's formed in my neighborhood as kind of a pod, but with specific care swap, you know, single parents, in particular.
KAMENETZSo, I think there's kind of strategy that we can look towards certain communities that have dealt with these kinds of circumstances for a long time. And it's not always a sign of weakness, but of resourcefulness. And I certainly have a lot of admiration for the single parents right now.
NNAMDIHeidi Shierholz, what can Congress and what should Congress be doing right now to address the issues we've been talking about for working parents?
SHIERHOLZThere's so much that could be done. When Anya was talking about the lack of state and local government fiscal aid, which means there's just not enough teachers in the classroom, that is one huge one. State and local governments have seen a massive drop in their tax revenues because people aren't paying income taxes, sales taxes, that kind of thing. They have balance budget requirements, so if the federal government does not step in and fill in those budget gaps, they have no choice but to make massive cuts.
SHIERHOLZWe've already seen it. State and local jobs are down over a million workers since the start of the recession. More than half of them in education. So, we can really see how if the federal government really would step in with substantial fiscal aid, it could make a huge difference. So, that's a big one.
SHIERHOLZAnother thing we really need is for Congress to extend the really good relief provisions for unemployed working that were in the March bill that they passed, the Cares Act. There were some great things for unemployment workers that are now just expiring one after the next. We're still in the middle of this. Things are really dire in the labor market. We need to make sure that those things are there so families have at least the kind of income that can help keep at least that dimension of chaos out of their lives during this extremely chaotic time.
NNAMDIJeremy, you have a question?
BERNFELDThis question's from Martha in Bethesda: I'm worried about my kids, what they're missing out on, what they're not experiencing. How can I try to give my kids the experiences they would be having at school?
LAKSHMINYeah, I think that that's a common fear. The one thing that I would say is kids are incredibly resilient. And this is a small snapshot of time for them over the course of their life. So, if it's any consolation, try not to worry too much from that standpoint.
LAKSHMINBut the place where I think you can really get creative is thinking about your values as a family, and even kind of framing this as a little family meeting. Like, what do we want to get out of this time for ourselves as a family? How can we design activities, projects, little creative -- you know, one of my patients, her and her family went on an RV trip across the country. And it was just the most magical experience for all of them. They had so much fun. They had never done anything like that before.
LAKSHMINYou know, so kind of looking at ten years from now, five years from now, how do we want to look back on this time? What type of experiences do I want my family to have had, and what do I want them to have learned from this difficult period?
NNAMDIAnya, same question.
KAMENETZYeah, you know, we work with Sesame Workshop on a parenting podcast, and we had a conversation about this. And it was really about creating rituals and milestone markers and things that we can look forward to. So, in a world where we can't control so much, making our family calendar and saying, you know, come what may, like, we're going to have a backyard campout on this day. We're going to do -- and as things started to open up in our region of the country, it was really -- it's been really amazing to kind of be deliberate about, okay well, you know, we can't have a sleepover with 10 friends, but we can go to a ropes course.
KAMENETZSo, you know, whether it's modest or whether it's big and, of course, using imagination. And sometimes we don't have the bandwidth to be that totally-creative-over-the-top parent, but savoring the time with our kids, you know, just knowing that, even in the middle of work calls, that I can go in and snuggle or make popcorn together or try out a new recipe. That taking advantage of the fact that we are together so much more, I think, has been good for both me and my kids and making me grateful to have kids during this time.
KAMENETZI think, you know, there's a lot to be said about what parents are going through. At the same time, we are lucky to have this love in our lives and have these people who need us to be joyful and need us to take notice of the moment and not be glued to the news 24/7. So, there's -- I find a lot of emotional, actually, refuge in the everyday caring for my children.
NNAMDIAnd we're almost at the end of this portion of the panel. Jeremy, you have a comment?
BERNFELDThis one's from Tala, on Twitter: I'm late to my first Kojo event as an attendee. It's about childcare and burnout and the pandemic and I'm 40 minutes late because of, wait for it, childcare.
NNAMDI(laugh) Well, I think that's an appropriate way to end this portion of the discussion, because that's what we've been discussing for the past more than 40 minutes. Anya Kamenetz, thank you so much for joining us.
KAMENETZThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIHeidi Shierholz, thank you for joining us.
SHIERHOLZThank you. It was great.
NNAMDIAnd Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, thank you for joining us.
LAKSHMINThank you so much. It was a pleasure.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Mercedes Samudio, an adjunct psychology professor at Chapman and Pepperdine University, is a parent coach, the founder of the Diversity and Parenting Conference and author of two books, her most recent being "Shame-Proof Parenting: Find Your Unique Parenting Voice, Feel Empowered and Raise Whole, Healthy Children." Professor Samudio joins us from her home in La Habra, California. Thank you very much for joining us.
MERCEDES SAMUDIOThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIHow has the pandemic shifted the way people parent?
SAMUDIOI think it's done a number of things, and I think most of what it has done is brought us to the realization that number one, parenting is hard. We've known this but I think we're really having to really sit with this. Not just as a commiserate kind of comment, but as something for us to really think about. How do we change the landscape and the infrastructure around supporting parents?
SAMUDIOI think the second thing is what I said at the last part of that comment. We learned that we don't really have an infrastructure for supporting both working parents and the care of their children at the exact same time. And so, I think it's really bringing out what things need to really be addressed and adjusted and reassessed for how we're supporting parents, in both being able to provide for their families financially, as well as being able to provide for their families emotionally and mentally.
NNAMDISo, without a break and with the constant togetherness, what advice do you give families who are struggling?
SAMUDIOI actually think it's important for us to reassess what a break really looks like. In your last panel, many of the experts talked about this idea of because of the global pandemic, we can't do many of our old coping strategies: go to the gym, go the park, go hand out with friends.
SAMUDIOAnd so, what we have to do is really kind of reassess how can we decide, as a family, to have break time, even if that's deciding at a certain time of the day, we're all going to go take a rest. Whether it be a nap, a rest or just something where we're all deciding not to be together. One person go to another part of the house, another part of the room, another part of kind of their area where they live and decide, let's say, 30 minutes, an hour, however long, where you get to just do whatever you need to do to replenish yourself.
NNAMDICommunication is important in virtually all aspects of life. How important is it within a family during a recession in a global pandemic? The question for many families is how to make communication better. What can we do to better communicate, to better understand what others need and to express what we need?
SAMUDIOWith all of the people that I've been seeing throughout the pandemic, whether it be parents or not, I always start them off by saying, write a list of things you actually need, tangible needs like food, water or shelter, but also intangible needs like the need to belong or the need to feel seen or the need to feel love. What do you need, and how do you know you're receiving it? Start there.
SAMUDIOThen, as a family, decide to come together and everyone kind of share the things that they need and even the ways that they can help others meet their needs. I think those types of communication loops really help families to constantly and consistently be mindful of not just their own needs, but also other people in the family have needs. It also helps us build a layer of empathy to realize everybody in the family has a paper with a list of things they need. We must really understand that about each other.
NNAMDIThroughout your career, you've worked with adoptive families, foster families, teen parents and children living with mental illness. How are members of these groups faring during the pandemic?
SAMUDIOI think what the pandemic is really showing us is where we lack infrastructure and support for families who don't look like the typical nuclear family. And so, parents, like foster parents, who are typically getting in-home services and have a lot of people coming and going to support them, might have limited access to those services.
SAMUDIOFor adoptive families where a lot of the emotional hardships of being adopted can come to a head when we spend a lot of time together, they're not getting as much support, either. And I think just all the different types of families where they were able to access in-home services or to go into other agencies to get services, they've gotten limited access to those services. And so, I think what we really need to understand is how can we support these families while still abiding by the global pandemic guidelines, but at the same time making sure they have the services that they need.
NNAMDIYou have at least partially answered this already, but some of it bears repeating. Most of us are living in very close quarters, working and learning from home. While many families are enjoying aspects of spending time together, it can be hard. What are some things you advise a parent to do when things are not going so smoothly?
SAMUDIOHold your horses, this is controversial. But I would say turn some of that stuff off. I have coached so many parents on screen time, and Anya actually talked a lot about this, where now we are tasked with having to be in front of the screens almost 24/7 because we're working and doing school from home.
SAMUDIOI actually have been coaching parents that it's okay to email your kids' teachers, email even your job and just say, we are going to take one day off, or some type of variation of that. We're going to take a few hours off. We're not going to do things from this time to this time. It's really up to each family to look at their schedule and say, we have too much going on. And because 90 percent of it is probably virtual, let's take a day or set a time in a day to just turn things off.
NNAMDIYou created the Diversity in Parents Conference. What is it and what are its goals?
SAMUDIOWell, the Diversity and Parenting Conference, as well as a nonprofit that supports it, it came from this need to really diversify the voices that are talking in the parenting and mental health world. We tend to always see kind of this homogenous understanding of a family, and it tends to be white, affluent heterosexual and cisgender.
SAMUDIOAnd so, there are so many different types of families out there that are not represented in our trainings and our professions. And as a way to really understand the unique needs of each of these families, I created a conference where not only are the speakers diverse, but also the topics. At our first conference, we had topics such as how to support single parents, how to understand LGBTQIA family, as well as how to even understand how racism and feminism weave themselves into our parenting ideals. And so, this conference is really about bringing voices to identities and families that don't often get the limelight when we're talking about families.
NNAMDIWhat is the hashtag #endparentshamingmovement you created? And how big a problem is parent shaming?
SAMUDIOI think this year if we were not aware of parent shaming, we're so much more aware of it now. The concept of parent shaming is shaming a parent for the parenting decisions they make because you don't agree with it or because it doesn't align with the way you see fit for a parent or a family to behave. And I think it's a chief problem, because all of us have opinions about how families should behave and how parents should go about raising their children.
SAMUDIOAnd so, when I created the hashtag #endparentshaming, it was really about this call to action to stop judging parents sight unseen, and to really take a step back and say, what's really happening for this family? What's really happening for this parent?
SAMUDIOHoping that this abolition, if you will, of ending parent shaming or getting rid of parent shaming will help us to actually open up a dialogue on how can we actually support parents who might struggle with things like corporal punishment, yelling, having a hard time setting limits. All of these things can actually be addressed and managed. However, if we continue to shame people, they don't want to talk about it, they want to hide. And we can't help people if they're hiding.
NNAMDIAs a parent-coach during these pandemic times, I'm imagining, assuming, presuming that you're in no short supply of clients in need of your help.
SAMUDIOCorrect. Correct. (laugh) You are very correct on that.
NNAMDIThe Diversity in Parenting started out as a conference, and is now a fully functional nonprofit. Talk about the evolution of this organization that you founded.
SAMUDIOIt evolved from, actually, the minute I said I wanted to do a Diversity and Parenting Conference, getting this overwhelming response from people saying, we need more representation in this space. Thank you for doing it. And while I thought this would be a singular event just to kind of begin the ball rolling and really help people to understand, I realized that this is a huge niche that we need to be talking about.
SAMUDIOAnd so, I decided to create a nonprofit out of it, because the idea is to start a movement. Not just to make money with it, but to really start a movement where we really start talking about how representation in the professional world, in the mental health world, in the way we talk about helping and supporting families and parents, that that representation be something that we are constantly, consistently addressing and trying to provide solutions for.
NNAMDII'd like to go back to the parent shaming issue for a second. In your book "Shame-Proof Parenting," how do you attempt to address parenting shaming and to try to bring an end to it?
SAMUDIOYeah, and so the reason why I called it "Shame-Proof Parenting," as opposed to shame-free parenting, is because I have learned, in all of my work in the mental health field and the parent coaching space, that when you try to get rid of things that other humans do, it's really difficult. We shame people because we judge and we're always judging people. And it's just an innate part of our human experience.
SAMUDIOWhat I want to do with "Shame-Proof Parenting" is help parents to understand how that judgment and that shame infiltrates into their parenting space, and how it influences the way they make decisions and the way they develop a relationship with themselves and their child.
SAMUDIOThroughout the book, I shared lots of tenants about how can we be more of a shame-proof family as opposed to a family who allows shame to constantly break us down and create conflict. Empathy, knowing needs, understanding how confident you are as a parent, finding the support that you need. All of these encompass the tenant of shame-proof parenting. Helping you to realize that once you have some of these things in place, it makes it easier for you as a family to bounce back from that judgment that unfortunately and inevitably will happen during the course of your parenting.
NNAMDIMercedes Samudio is an adjunction psychology professor at Chapman and Pepperdine University, is a parent coach, the founder of the Diversity and Parenting Conference and the author of two books. Thank you so much for joining us, Mercedes Samudio.
SAMUDIOThank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
NNAMDIWell, we've heard a lot tonight about the continued struggles of parenting through this pandemic. Thank you all for showing up and participating. We hope you'll continue to engage with us on this topic via our social media channels. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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