Being a working parent has always been something of a high-wire act — the daily struggle to find perfect equilibrium between the demands of a profession and the needs of a family life needed to keep taking positive steps forward.
Throwing a pandemic into the mix of this precarious performance is a bit akin to removing the safety net below. Yet for the parents who find themselves in this sudden spotlight, there are no timeouts or do-overs. The calliope music continues to play, and the show must go on.
“Every week I feel like there is something new that comes up. It’s a balancing act,” said Laingsburg mother Nicole Hankwitz. “Every night my husband and I go through our calendars for the next day. We sort out what our day is going to be like and try to balance it.”
In an article based on data from the U.S Census Bureau and Federal Reserve, Census Bureau researchers Misty L Heggeness and Jason M. Fields referred to parents as being among the “unsung heroes” of the health crisis for adapting their work lives, child care, schooling and other household needs to meet ever-shifting expectations.
For Hankwitz, major gifts officer for the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation, it’s simply a matter doing what needs to be done. Already the mother of a 3-year-old toddler, Hankwitz gave birth to twin girls in April as the first wave of the pandemic was surging. At the same time, her work was taking on a new urgency, helping to fundraise and coordinate donations for needed personal protective equipment to keep McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital running.
“I did take some (maternity leave), but at the same time I was trying to help where I could when I was home. Given what we were up against, I felt like there was some things I could do from home wherever possible to try and help,” Hankwitz said. “It was a strange feeling (to go back to work). I was certainly apprehensive about working in a hospital, but the foundation is so disconnected from the hospital. I don’t come into contact with patients. It was a calculated decision that my husband and I had to make that we would both go back to work.”
Hankwitz credited the compassion and understanding of the foundation for being able to continue to work full time while managing her home life. She said she is grateful for having supervisors who have made the hectic tasks easier. She also said her husband has been extremely supportive during this challenging time, especially after Hankwitz tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-November.
“I have no idea where I got it, which is the scary thing and the reality of this disease,” she said. “Thankfully, the symptoms have been mild, so I haven’t had to change much.”
Having two new children at home, being provided the opportunity to work remotely — especially when her 3-year-old’s preschool closed in-person classes — has been a blessing, Hankwitz said. It has allowed bonding and family time that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. However, the sudden changes that have been required haven’t been met without difficulties.
“I would say the low is that it was isolating at first. I think I can chalk some of that up as being pregnant with the twins,” Hankwitz said. “But being a social person and being a fundraiser, being forced to stay in my house and not see any of my friends or my immediate family was something that was extremely difficult for a while. I handled it by FaceTiming and doing Zoom. It gave me time to check in and talk to my friends and see how they’re doing and vice versa.”
Still, even with three small children, Hankwitz noted that other parents are grappling with much more.
“I, for one, can’t even imagine having my kids do virtual school. I’ve said that from day one. My kids are young enough where I don’t have to deal with that,” she said. “As much as we’ve had to do with kids this young of an age, I don’t understand how my friends who have older kids who are doing virtual learning are able to juggle it. We just have to make sure they stay safe and stay alive versus my friends who have to make sure they’re in their classrooms virtually, learning and doing their homework. I think that’s the biggest struggle parents who I’ve spoken with are having right now.”
These are strange days for anyone who is a parent, she added.
“I think we’re all just scared. We’re scared of our kids getting COVID, and we’re scared that they’re losing this time to be normal kids,” Hankwitz said. “For the most part, this has all become part of our daily routine. … That’s probably the biggest change that we’ve all adapted to.”
Parents are among the “unsung heroes” of the health crisis for adapting their work lives, child care, schooling and other household needs to meet ever-shifting expectations.