How Five Working Parents Are Getting Through Each Day

From a public school teacher in New York to a congressional candidate still running her campaign from home — five parents show us what a day in their life is like right now.

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Michelle, 36, small city in the middle of a whole lot of corn in the Midwest

I’m an ER resident doctor and mom to a 9-month-old baby, currently under quarantine because a patient I admitted was later found to be positive for COVID-19. I am in my final few months of training, and I’m on the front lines in the worst pandemic of the century.

6:16 a.m.: My first pump of the day. This is usually my “best” or most productive pump. My schedule is usually crazy, but I realized my little one likes an early breakfast. I put on my gloves, mask, and wash my hands thoroughly. I follow that up with some hand sanitizer for good measure. I get my phone out and look at pictures of my daughter to get the milk flowing. I’m self-isolated in a different bedroom; my husband and daughter are sleeping in the office next door. While it’s possible they have been exposed already, I’m terrified that I will be the one bringing this virus home to them. I put the milk away and Clorox wipe anything I’ve touched. I go back to sleep for a couple hours.

2:40 p.m.: I have been down the Reddit rabbit hole for too long reading about the coronavirus — reading studies from China, firsthand accounts from Italy — and I need a break. I read an article about rationing ventilators in Italy, and I can’t imagine being in that position, but I know it’s a possibility in my near future. Baby is napping in the other room. I’m on my laptop and watching her baby cam on my phone all day. I can at least see her sweet smile sometimes. I get out the yoga mat and try to do 20 minutes.

6:35 p.m.: My husband brings me dinner. Disposable plate, silverware that I can shove in the dishwasher when I wash the pump parts later. I can hear him trying to feed our baby dinner. Baby loves food and is babbling while eating. My heart hurts when I hear her. It’s so cliché, but they really do grow up fast.

9:17 p.m.: I’m washing the pump parts for the day and setting them in the drying rack. It’s the only time I’m allowed out of the bedroom except the bathroom. Baby has been asleep for an hour or so now. I do one final pump and sleep for the night. My quarantine will be over next week. I’m scared. I want to take care of people, but we are already rationing PPE (personal protective equipment). I want to take care of people. It’s what I am trained to do. It’s what I went into medicine for. But being a mom changes things. I want to take care of people, but my ultimate responsibility is to my daughter and husband. They didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t sign up to practice in a resource poor environment. I want to help.

Kat, 28, New York City

My name is Kat, otherwise known as Ms. Li to my students. I am an English teacher at a public school in central Brooklyn, where I also live. I am a single mom to a preschooler, also in the public school system in our neighborhood. These past couple weeks have been a whirlwind as we transition our students from gearing up for the state exams (which would have been administered this week) to making sure every family has a computer and internet access so they can continue learning from home. I'm also a graduate student in a master's in teaching program.

9:15 a.m.: Right after teaching my 8:10 a.m. online class to over 60 students, I scarf down some "dinner for breakfast" (lentil soup with yogurt) while putting up assignments and calling families to guide them through the online assignments. This is my time to squeeze as much work in as possible before [my] kid wakes up.

10 a.m.: We threw some banana muffins in the oven. While they bake, my son writes his name and draws. My version of homeschooling isn't that advanced yet — give me a couple weeks of this and I'll get more creative.

11 a.m.: Finished decorating the banana muffins with strawberry cream cheese frosting.

3 p.m.: In an all-staff Zoom conference with schoolteachers and administration. Of course my kid has to be making all kinds of noise onscreen the entire time. Hit mute.

Jay, 39, suburbs of a major Midwestern city

I work for a large company at a large office complex, and my wife works for a small firm with fewer than 50 employees. Both of our employers had flexible remote work policies prior to the pandemic — but since the declaration, my company required remote work and my wife’s firm allows any employee to work remotely (after much convincing), but has not closed its offices. We have two children, a son (2) and a daughter (4 months) who attend an in-home daycare that chose to close soon after schools were ordered closed by the governor. My wife’s been back from maternity leave for three weeks. Our daughter was hospitalized for a week in January with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and has been on a lactose-sensitive baby formula since she was a few weeks old. We still use a humidifier nightly and a nebulizer infrequently to battle lingering respiratory effects of the RSV. We live in the first house we bought together, which is large enough for a family of four but does not allow for a dedicated office space with a lockable door, nor does it provide enough space for any of our retired parents to move in with us and stay for an extended period of time to watch the children. Neither of our retired parents nor siblings live in our state.

6:15 a.m.: I was up feeding the baby at 2 a.m. He's been sleeping through the night for the past two weeks. I'm really glad I got trapped in a Facebook black hole for an hour last night :( Alarm went off at regular 5:15 a.m. time. Got up and showered. Coffee is brewing and I'm logged into my work VPN. Received notice in my work email that someone who works in the same building as me tested positive for COVID-19. I'm glad my state's governor shut everything down last week and my employer forced everyone to start working remotely beginning this week. Looks like good, proactive decision-making in hindsight.

7:24 a.m.: Baby is up and has woken up my wife. I managed to get a decent amount of work done while everyone else is asleep. While we warm up a bottle, we discuss today's plans: My calendar is free of meetings; she has a 2 p.m. and needs to put together the agenda. Toddler will be stirring soon. I will handle morning duties so she can put together her agenda.

10 a.m.: Put the toddler in front of the TV with his snack so I can feed the baby and get a few emails done. Both my wife and I ended up spending the last half hour looking for baby formula online. We have a delivery subscription through the manufacturer for the allergy formula the baby needs, but our subscription has an error, and the call center has been closed both times I've called in the last two days. Most places are out of stock or only have one left. All online deliveries from Target, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS are on hold.

4 p.m.: Spent two hours at lunchtime driving around to local CVS stores to find formula. Managed to score 11 bottles after visiting five stores and our pediatrician's office while still leaving one or two on the shelf at each store for other parents like us. Managed to scarf down some lunch before changing a poopy diaper. Our toddler woke up from his nap while my wife took a 2 p.m. conference call. Somehow made a grilled cheese for my toddler after his nap, but had to let him eat it in the living room while watching TV (usually we try to make sure he eats at the dinner table and no TV) just to keep him quiet during the conference call. Finally getting back to work while my wife and kids go for a walk. I'm frustrated with not having gotten any work done since 8 a.m., but we have to share time. Also frustrated with emails I'm reading from team members asking for status updates from meetings held last Wednesday or Thursday. Were I in the office yesterday and today, I would have probably made progress on those things. Is no one else struggling to balance? WTF? No, they're not. Only one other person on my team has children under 19.

11:04 p.m.: I got in about two more hours of work from 4–6 p.m. before everyone got back from their walk and I had to start dinner. I had planned to make shrimp fried rice for dinner this morning. Ended up warming veggie burgers and fries in the oven. *shrug emoji* I did get the toddler to eat a lot before getting up and running around every five minutes, and then I got him to bed on time tonight. Cleaned the kitchen and then tried to get primary results off Twitter before giving up on getting any more work done. I scheduled four follow-up meetings for this week during regular business hours. I'm a bit concerned I won’t be able to hold myself to all of them. Fingers crossed that I don't get woken up in three hours like last night. The most exhausting thing is that I truly haven't realized until today that 2-year-olds only have a 15-minute interest in anything besides TV and electronic devices. In order to entertain him for an hour, you have to have four things planned or put him in front of the TV, which we're not yet comfortable doing, even during this pandemic.

Kiani, 34, Spanish Fort, Alabama

I’m a mother to two young sons (Ethan is 6, Nolan is 3). I am a scientist by training (PhD in cell biology from Duke University) and was a college professor for six years. Last year, I quit my job and announced my candidacy for the US House of Representatives in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.

On March 16, I suspended face-to-face campaign events out of an abundance of caution. On March 18, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced the runoff election would be postponed until July 14. However, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill decided that absentee ballots would be mailed immediately, creating a four-month voting window that is currently open. Since people are voting, I am not able to fully suspend my campaign. As such, I am a congressional candidate, attempting to run a fully digital campaign that respects the guidelines of social distancing while managing my team and caring for my two young children from home.

9:15 a.m.: We had a busy weekend, so we are starting the day later than usual. Breakfast is my time to wrap my head around the day. I start a to-do for the day — it’s a fluid document, but in this time of uncertainty I am thankful for any semblance of order. Today, my goal is to start to tackle what I’ve started calling “The Document Problem.” With people shut in and public libraries closed, and with much of my district having limited access to technology, I’m worried about my constituents’ abilities to produce vital documents during this time: printing and mailing in absentee ballot applications, producing and notarizing advanced medical directives, completing the US census, etc. So I’m planning to spend the day calling various offices to brainstorm. The boys are enjoying the fruits of my stress baking: bread pudding made with Wednesday’s homemade bread.

11:30 a.m.: The pandemic has forced us to close down the campaign office, so I’ve cobbled it back together in my upstairs office. To keep the campaign alive, we’ve gone almost fully digital, with frequent emails and social media posts. Since I have a PhD in cell biology, we’ve started a series of videos called #QuarantineWithKiani so I can help explain the current situation to my worried constituents. I put a movie on for the kids so I can sneak upstairs and record a short video about getting tested for COVID-19. It requires five takes because the sound of the kids yelling at each other is audible on the video. A six-minute video took one hour to record.

1:30 p.m.: After lunch, the boys are having imaginative playtime while I’m on the phone with my campaign manager. We plan the week’s communications schedule. It seems like having unlimited access to me these past few days has made the boys clingier than usual. They insist on being within 3 feet of me at all times. They have a pirate/knight sword fight right next to me and spill a glass of water all over my computer and notebook. I lose my cool for a minute, and then we clean it up. Realistically, the countdown of productive minutes has begun. Within 30 minutes, they will demand my full attention for the rest of the day. It’s frustrating that I only got a few of my goals done today.

8 p.m.: Bedtime. The boys have always been calmed by physical affection, so my husband and I take turns lying with each boy at night, talking about the day, and tucking them in. Since social distancing started, we have noticed that the boys are increasingly needy for me — they’ve probably become used to spending the entire day with me. Tonight, Ethan cries because it’s daddy’s turn to put him to bed. I lay Nolan down, and we won’t settle until I lie with him and hold his hand. He won’t sleep unless I hold his hand. My husband is feeling rejected; I’m feeling claustrophobic.

Courtney, 41, Durham, North Carolina

I work from home in freelance communications, and my husband is a clinical psychiatric pharmacist in a local hospital. I've been trying to work from home while caring full time for Jane, 4, because we want to keep her preschool, which is still open, safe for those who need it most. My husband's patient population is really vulnerable to disease, so we do wonder each day if he's been exposed and just doesn't know it. His stress level is really taking its toll, and I'm more stressed each day about not getting enough work done for my clients who also have pressing communications issues and need me to be dependable, not screaming at my child during a Zoom call.

10 a.m.: We get up early, watch some Sesame Street, and then I work with clients for as long as Elmo and coloring books will hold Jane. I'm in higher education communications, so there are a lot of pressing COVID-19 needs. Jane’s school is still open, but it's important to save their capacity for the children of first responders and health care workers, grocery store workers, those folks providing necessities. Because my husband works in a hospital, we worry about bringing germs there. At 10 a.m., I usually schedule an outside activity and work break with Jane. We were collecting rocks, and she asked a neighbor in his yard if he knew the guy who got a cold and closed her movie theater. Labyrinth (her favorite movie) was supposed to show and got canceled. #priorities

12:30 p.m.: I’m used to working from home, but I’m not used to working from home with a kid. I feel guilty in every way. I feel guilty for ignoring Jane, for rushing her through activities, for not savoring the marvelous and unique way she explores the world like everyone says to — I’m trying to cram in work. Then I feel guilty because I have dependable, steady work when there are those who suddenly do not. I’ve never felt stress like this in my whole life — I’m simply failing in every direction. This is week two, and it’s just not sustainable.

2 p.m.: I’m working on a proposal for an important new client. I work as much as I can during the day while somehow managing some form of routine — real routines with crafts or books, and emergency routines like chaotic mischief that I tune out because I know whatever she’s doing both exhausts and delights her. I have to finish what I’m working on because she’ll need my laptop for a Zoom lesson with her preschool ballet class. Ms. Caroline is a lovely, bendy saint who brings my child a lot of joy, and Jane deserves that time with her and her other baby ballerinas — she hasn’t had it in weeks.

4 p.m.: The dishes. I cannot. My exhausted, hardworking, bighearted husband will be coming home to these dishes to his silent chagrin, I’m sure. He'll take off his shoes outside, strip off his scrubs in the kitchen, and wash off as much as he can in this awful sink, and then I will throw our sticky child at him so I can either finish all my work, spend real brainpower on a feature due soon, or, to be honest, drink a bunch of wine, ignore texts from all my well-meaning friends and family, and crash doing crosswords. I feel like he deserves better. At least I prepared a very simple dinner in the fridge — tempeh and broccoli.

8 p.m.: Speaking of crashing, I’ve felt tired all day, with a tickle in my throat, but now I’m fully coughing and running a low-grade fever. I’m breathing fine, but coughing hurts. I can’t work tonight — I’m too tired, too worn-out, and worried. Now my husband is worried too and wants me to get in bed — which means he inherits the mess, the overtired, wound-up kid, the unwalked dogs, the lingering mess of it all, until he crashes and it begins again. Tomorrow we'll see if I need a COVID-19 test. What if I have it and he carries it to his hospital, or he's walking around with it, asymptomatic?

Update from Courtney: After a long struggle involving multiple online and phone screenings and an initial rejection at the hospital, Courtney was able to get tested for COVID-19 — and the results came back negative. “Most poorly timed bronchitis EVER,” she told me over email.

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