Seattle's Child

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When every day is Take Your Child to Work Day: How Seattle parents are coping

How Seattle parents are balancing work from home while their kids are having school at home.

Originally published in 2020. Still happening for many in 2021:

Suddenly, every day is Take Your Child to Work Day.

“The first two weeks were incredibly difficult,” said Erin Murphy of Mid-Beacon Hill, who works on communications for Public Health — Seattle and King County, and has a 1-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. “Their routine was completely changed, especially when we took them out of daycare. You know, it was like a ton of screen time. I was working so much more than I usually do.”

As an essential worker, she has been going to work on site at times, informing people about the ongoing fight against COVID-19, and her husband and her nanny share in the child-care responsibilities.

In families with older kids, the children have their own work to do as well. Manuela Slye, an early childhood educator who lives in West Seattle and serves as the president of Seattle Council PTSA, has moments when the whole household needs to be online at once, including when she needs to talk to and reassure her preschool-age students via conference apps. Her four kids range in age from 8 years old through high school.

“Yeah, it’s pretty intense,” she said, noting that the COVID-19 school closure situation can be overwhelming for parents.

“Because I understand this is unprecedented, I am not focusing on academics, so when we have our family meetings, it goes from, ‘What are your plans today to stay active?’ … and ‘What do you have a pending for school? … I also ask ‘What are you doing today to help others?’” said Slye.

She notes that her family has been very carefully following social-distancing guidelines, but that her kids have still had a chance to stay active and to help the community, too, by mowing their neighbors’ lawns.

In the case of children with special needs, things can be doubly complicated. Rachel Nemhauser of Bellevue is finding it tough to manage the logistics of doing her job as a social worker remotely while her 15-year-old son, who has high needs and is autistic, is home too.

“The biggest challenge that I’m facing is that my kid, despite his age, requires a lot more supervision and support than you’d expect because of his autism,” said Nemhauser. “And so, the challenges are first of all, first and foremost, keeping him safe because he’s not always safe when he’s unsupervised.”

Since her son has his needs met during a regular school year by intensive support at school, as well as afternoon caregiving and other therapies, the coronavirus crisis has drastically complicated how he gets services, as it has for many other special-education students in the Seattle area.

“He also, if he’s going to do any school learning, needs one-on-one intensive attention and interaction so there’s not a minute of education or schooling or productive time that’s going to be spent without me stopping my work,” Nemhauser noted, adding that she has been able to have his caregiver come by on occasion during the pandemic.

And for some parents, the pandemic shutdown means the whole family has suddenly shown up at their office.

“It’s a challenge, and I’ve been a work-at-home person for 16 years,” said Susan Huber of Ballard, who works for Google as a program manager, and has two kids: a boy, 17, and a girl, 14. “For me, It’s been an adjustment having everyone here. It’s not an unwelcome adjustment, but it is an adjustment.”

“Also, a little easier because the kids are older,” she added.

While her family, among many others, awaited word in mid-March on whether Seattle Public Schools was going to implement online learning (which ultimately started in early April), she pushed forward with setting up a daily routine.

“We’ve had a schedule, and we’ve asked them to do at least two and a half hours of schoolish work in the morning — you know, take a break, you’ve got to feed yourself, do this, sort of be empowered to take ownership of your schedule, and then, you need a structured activity in the afternoon,” such as a craft, or a project, like learning software.

“So that is not necessarily jumping on your phone and playing video games three hours before bedtime,” she said, adding that, like most other parents, they’re asking them — teens — to be in the house a whole lot as well.

“So, no, it’s not easy!”

Read also: “Home schooling” is working great for some families