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Full-time family and full-time work during the coronavirus has led to stress and unexpected joy

Rita Giordano, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Parenting News

PHILADELPHIA -- Samantha Brown is pretty tired these days. OK, make that very tired. She's not alone.

"This is the hardest thing I've ever done, trying to do a full-time job and having a toddler home all day," said Brown, a professional fund-raiser and now full-time mom to almost-2-year-old Ethan.

Pre-COVID-19, Brown got to spend three, maybe four hours a day during the workweek with her cherubic little boy. The rest of the time, Ethan was in preschool, and the Center City mom worked.

"Now I'm working in the wee hours, the weekend hours, whenever I can. Ethan is struggling with sleep at night, so I don't sleep much. It's bad. It's not good," she said.

Ethan's dad, Adam Brown, a lawyer with his own demanding work schedule, comes by in the mornings and evenings for precious time with his son and to give Samantha more time to work, but she doubts she is doing either job as well as she should.

"I feel like everything is suffering," she said.

So is she is looking forward to the end of this? Is she anxious for day care to reopen?

Brown answers without missing a beat: "I wouldn't give up this time with him for the world."

In many families, the coronavirus has blurred the lines between work and home. For some others, the lines have all but vanished, with grown-ups trying to juggle childcare and work at the same time, often under one roof.

It's bound to be stressful. For many of these moms and dads, holding on to their health and their income was the best they hoped for.

What they didn't count on were the blessings.

In a society probably oversold on quality time, some parents are finding that there is something to be said for quantity time -- that is to say, time to just to be together, to discover each other. As trying as this making-it-up-as you-go multitasking may be, some people say they're learning things about their family members that they didn't know -- or just didn't get to notice before. In some cases, new bonds are forming.

And, sure, there is a lot about what used to be normal that they'll be psyched to get back to. But as parents and children have pulled toward each other in these months, the joys they did not foresee have some of them rethinking what family time should look like going forward.

Jessica Kendorski is chair of the department of school psychology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. As the mother of two children (ages 8 and 10) who has also been working from home, the impact of COVID-19 on family life has been more than academic.

"It's been like a hard stop in people's lives, and now they can be reflective of their individual values in a way they were too busy to even think about until now," Kendorski said.

While she misses her son's soccer games and her daughter's gymnastics, a part of her now is now questioning the need for so much time spent in scheduled activities, driven by goals like enhancing college prospects. "'Can't I just be with them?'" she is asking herself.

She suspects she's not the only parent undergoing the self-examination:

"This may be a quote-unquote new morning for people. When we go back to normal, whenever that is, 'What do I want to embrace and what do I want to purge? Am I really spending my days the way I want to spend my days?'"

It's a full house these days at the Burke residence in Oreland.

Meredith Burke, 36, on leave from the Quakertown school district, is full-time with daughters Nora, 1, and Delaney, 3. Padraic Burke, 36, a human resources manager working from home for now, has colonized the basement as a workspace. He's helping with the girls, but he's quick to give Meredith her props; there's a romantic weekend planned in New Hope when all this is over.

"My wife does the majority of the heavy lifting. I always knew they had a lot of energy but ...," Padraic said, chuckling, "I hear them running (upstairs) all day long. Sometimes it sounds like they're coming through. I know it's not easy."

But it's kind of magical, too. Before the virus, Burke said he got to spend about two hours a night with Nora and Delaney during the workweek, maybe 15 minutes in the morning. Now he's there for breakfast, lunch, walks during the day, little visits. When the girls wake, now they call for Mommy and Daddy.

 

"Before," he said, "I was gone before they got up."

And he's getting to witness their personalities evolve.

Nora, as the baby, used to get teased by her older sister. "But all of a sudden, you can see that turning. She's getting a little braver. Her personality is coming in. It's changing."

Delaney is growing, too.

She comes downstairs to visit her dad a few times a day. Sometimes they'll play a little game. Or Delaney will give him a play-by-play of her morning -- yoga! cookies! baking! -- before turning in for her nap and then more of her day.

Burke said these weeks have taught him how much listening to them, playing Candy Land, generally just spending time together means to them. He doesn't intend to forget it.

"They're so young. They take it all in. They appreciate it," he said. "Going forward, as simple as the task may be, I'm going to make sure I take it in because it means a lot to them."

Before the coronavirus, Jade Brown, 34, and her two children went to Inquiry Charter School in West Philadelphia. Brown taught her class of 23 kindergartners, while daughter Logan reported to her second-grade class and son Xavier filed in with his fellow fourth graders.

In the past several weeks, that has changed. Brown is teaching her kindergartners remotely from her family's Northeast residence. Her husband, Donald Brown, 34, employed by a pharmaceutical company, is considered an essential worker, and reports to an office many days.

But that doesn't capture the fullness of life these days. In addition to teaching her class, Brown is also IT troubleshooter for her students and their parents, the explainer of education terms for moms and dads trying to help their kids learn at home. Plus, Brown is pretty much a full-time mom during the school days. That means making sure her kids are on top of their assignments, as well as doing the usual mom stuff. That's multitasking on a whole lot of levels.

"It's too many levels," Brown said, laughing.

But the changes have also yielded treasures. The morning commute has been replaced by together time for the kids and mom in her room before the day gets going. It just kind of happened naturally.

So did other a lot of things as well, just by spending time together.

"I definitely think the relationship between my son and my daughter has made so much progress because they have each other," Brown said.

Meanwhile, she learned new things about her kids -- about their individual learning styles, their senses of humor, their likes, her son's independence and wry wit, her daughter's sense of style and restless spirit -- just by being in each other's company.

Yes, there is something to be said for the separation between work and home life, she said. But when "normalcy" returns, Brown still wants to make time for the newfound joys -- things like baking bread and cooking meals with her kids, and Friday family-movie nights.

She said: "I love that we are together."

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