Lindsay Powers is a Yahoo contributor and the author of You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids: A Judgment-Free Guide to Stress-Free Parenting.
This is not another story about pandemic mom rage — although, after a long day of working from home while keeping my cooped-up 4- and 6-year-old sons from hurting themselves or each other, I often find myself screaming into the abyss.
This is also not a partisan political story per se — yet, I can’t go on without mentioning the failed federal government response to a virus that has killed more than 163,000 Americans and prioritized the reopening of bars and Disney World over schools.
This is a call to action: It’s time to pay parents to teach our kids this fall — whether 100 percent remotely, or to facilitate the “blended learning” models some school districts, such as New York City’s, plan to adopt.
Parents need to be paid for the work — yes, work — that it takes to raise, and teach, children. Raising children is a full-time job. And it’s long been a duty shouldered as “invisible labor” by women, whether those are unpaid mothers, or women, often of color, who are paid poverty wages as nannies and daycare providers.
America has a big problem right now. Nearly 100,000 kids were diagnosed with COVID-19 in late July, around the time schools started opening up again. The majority of parents work outside the home. With little to no safety net, that leaves parents forced to make hard, and possibly deadly, decisions. That reality is why teachers are protesting with coffins and preparing wills.
Let’s say a kid wakes up with sniffles but no fever. Does the parent stay home or send the kid to school so they can go to work? Reading this, it’s easy to say, “Obviously the parent stays home with the kid. What if the kid has the coronavirus?” But what if skipping work increases that parent’s chance of losing their job, thus jeopardizing their family’s ability to buy food and pay a mortgage or rent?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for any family here, but paying parents can provide families with more choices. Parents can then treat caring for kids as the actual job it is. It may reduce the inequality that experts are worried about as well-off parents form education “pods,” which have been called “the new form of school segregation.” And keeping people who might be infected with COVID-19 at home can save more lives.
Are there flaws in this plan? Yes, of course. Paying parents will disproportionately affect moms. I don’t mean to imply that a dad couldn’t teach kids — but given the gender pay gap, and that more women than men have lost paid jobs amid the pandemic, it seems likely that moms will be the ones to take a leave, which could hurt future career prospects unless our culture changes its thinking (more on that later).
I also don’t want to hurt public schools, which depend on enrollment for federal funding. But I don’t see why parents and teachers can’t be partners. Virtual teachers on the computer, parents at home helping to facilitate learning and keeping the coronavirus from spreading. Many kids, especially young ones, struggle with virtual learning and could use the extra support. (The number of times I found my 6-year-old in tears last spring because he couldn’t keep up with virtual first grade was hard to stomach as a parent.)
And I don’t want to assume that every parent wants to stay home with their children or become a homeschool teacher this fall. But, again, every parent should have the choice to, along with some financial support to make it happen.
Related video: How to talk to your kids in times of crisis
The idea of paying parents to teach children has been growing in popularity.
“If we are asking parents to stop working, work less, work differently, and sacrifice their own careers and dreams (hopefully temporarily) so that they can raise and educate the children we all rely on for the future of our country and planet, our nation should pay them,” wrote Shayla R. Griffin, a doctor and social worker, in Medium. In Slate, Rebecca Onion detailed the current government stimulus plans and how those affect families, and argued that parents should be paid to be full-time caregivers: “The government could ease this fall’s child care crisis and fight COVID with one simple trick.”
Surely, some will begin politicizing the idea of parents getting paid to teach and care for children. But both sides of the aisle should be able to come together here. “This idea is one that should appeal to both the progressives among us as well as conservatives who care about ‘family values.’ After all, what is more important in this time of crisis than taking care of our children?” Griffin wrote in Medium.
In the short term, paying parents to care for children can keep families afloat amid the pandemic’s shaky economy. In the long term, it places a value on caregiving in America, which is woefully behind other rich, industrialized nations. Paying parents could lead to a massive cultural shift, in a country where polling shows widespread support for paid family and medical leave. What if parents could simply look at teaching kids as a “sabbatical” during surreal times, and not be stigmatized when searching for “traditional” work again?
Until we pay parents for caregiving, that mind shift will never happen. “In a capitalist society (or perhaps in any modern society where things and people are bought and sold for money), if work is not paid for, not given a monetary value, it is considered valueless,” wrote Howard Zinn in his bestselling book, A People’s History of the United States, which was first published in 1980. “Women doing housework” — which has historically included childcare — “were people outside of the modern economic system, where they were like serfs or peasants,” Margaret Benston wrote in The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation in 1969.
We’ve seen, especially in recent months, the massive power the public wields when we come together to protest, call our politicians and use our money to support (or boycott) products. There’s no reason this energy couldn’t also be harnessed to fight for families.
What’s the alternative? Hopefully it’s not to shrug, accept the status quo and say, “It is what it is.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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