Since March, when the coronavirus first upended everyone’s lives, working parents have had to learn how to juggle their jobs and kids more than ever before. From helping children log-in and stay on task in online school, to finding alternative childcare options for essential employees who are still heading into work, parents are needing flexibility, support, and patience in order to balance their own work responsibilities with the health, safety, and well-being of themselves and their families. 

In a PROTEC17 survey that went out just before the start of school to members working for the City of Portland, parents shared just how taxing it is to try to keep everything afloat, even with decent support from their employers. 

“My employer has been accomodating, allowing me to flex my schedule,” said an anoymous survey respondent. “But the reality is that after homeschooling and caring for two young children, I don’t have 8 hours remaining in my day to work without sacrificing sleep and all other moments of my day. This led to burnout this spring, without a moment to myself for months, and I’m dreading it this fall.” 

The data collected from this survey is being used to create a shared proposal between several city unions to bring to City of Portland leadership to help find workable solutions for employees. 

PROTEC17 member Juanita Hess is a Civil Engineer for Portland’s Water Bureau. With the exception of a few visits to the field, she’s been working from home since mid-March with her two children, ages 8 and 10 (photo at right), who are doing distance learning through Portland Public Schools. 

Hess found it a challenge to do her own work in the spring while trying to keep her children on task. This led to a lot of frustration for everyone in her family. 

“We missed a lot of focus time working,” she said. “We got frustrated and our kids probably didn’t feel like they could even be successful.” 

Moving into the fall, Hess is paying for additional support for her children through a new ‘learning center’, which provides supplemental in-person support with teachers for a few hours each day, freeing up some quiet time in the house for her to focus on her own work. 

Unfortunately, many workers don’t have the means to pay for additional help, nor are there adequate facilities available even for those who can. PDXCityMamas, an affinity group for employee-parents at the City of Portland, is encouraging the City to address these issues as we all navigate this stressful time in our world. 

Courtney Duke is a Senior Transportation Planner for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, a PROTEC17 member, and leader of PDXCityMamas. She recently testified at City Council about the group’s proposal for working parents, which includes a voluntary, part-time furlough program that maintains job security and full health benefits, plus provides a small stipend to demonstrate the value that caregiver’s provide to society, and to partially rectify the inequities in caregiving, which most often impact women and people of color.

“Showing parents support would help assure us that we won’t lose our jobs as a result of taking time off, or for being less available or productive,” said Hess. 

“We are raising the future and we will only be successful if our village is intact,” she continued. “Everyone is so alone right now compared to pre-pandemic, which was already a culture with way too much emphasis on individuals being able to go it alone.”

While there has been a lot of stress over the last months, many positive moments have also emerged from spending 24 hours a day with loved ones. For Hess, there have been a lot of bright spots.

“We know our kids better now and we have had to be much more creative,” she said. “They love being home and are also learning some more domestic skills like cooking and gardening. Also, we got two kittens in August and that’s been incredibly fun for all of us. And more learning – kittens are lots of work!”