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How parents of young children cope with the work-life imbalance

HOUSTON – Twice last year Margaret Schulte and her husband Jason Abercrombie traveled 11 hours round trip to Louisiana from their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, hoping to immunize their children, ages 2 and 4 years, against the coronavirus.

The only way for them to get their children vaccinated – among the more than 19 million Americans under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible for vaccinations – was to participate in a clinical trial. So they signed up, hoping that a successful vaccine would mean that now, or at least very soon, some semblance of pre-pandemic life would be on the horizon.

It didn’t work that way.

The Pfizer trial in which their children participated did not yield promising results, the company said last month. Vaccines have not emerged elsewhere either. Moderna has yet to release the results of its pediatric trials.

Now Ms Schulte and Mr Abercrombie are among millions of parents trapped in excruciating limbo amid a wave of Omicron cases, forced to fight daycare closures and childcare crises as the rest of the world seems eager to move on.

“I’m actually at home with my daughter right now,” said Ms Schulte, 41, a gardening store owner and eight months pregnant, when reached by phone this week. There had been a positive case in kindergarten of her 2-year-old child. “This is the fourth or fifth time that we have been quarantined,” she said. “There is no work to be done while she is here.”

The near vertical rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks has complicated the calculations of many families with children under 5, a population prone to runny nose and coughs that now cause waves of anxiety.

Tests are hard to come by. Day care providers are strained. According to a study from the University of California at Berkeley, around 110,000 fewer people are working in child care compared to February 2020.

With the increase in childcare interruptions, parents of young children have found themselves once again locked up at home, staring out the window, wondering again if the world cares about the seemingly impossible balances they have to achieve. .

“The stress just comes with seeing the rest of society sort of moved on and then the parents of young children and the young children themselves seem to be forgotten,” said Becky Quinn, a lawyer in New York City. She and her husband got stuck this week with their two children and no babysitting in their one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

“First, we got the notification on Saturday that the baby was closed. We were like, okay, we can make this work, ”Ms. Quinn said. “Then, on Sunday, we learned that the 3-year-old class was closed. I just laughed then.

She and her husband can work remotely, a privilege she recognizes that not everyone has. And her bosses have been understanding, she said. But it was still difficult.

The convergence of repeated daycare and classroom closures with the realization that a vaccine for young children could still be available in several months has forced many parents to make uncomfortable choices, especially women.

Aria Carter, who lives in rural Vermont, has stepped down from her job as a school admissions director due to childcare challenges. Now she reads psychological assessments for admissions, a role she can play at odd hours or while her 1-year-old is napping and her 4-year-old is in school.

“I can’t keep him in daycare, there is no room,” Carter said of her toddler. “I don’t have a family where I live. It’s tough. ”But she added that the spread of the Omicron variant meant that she wouldn’t have felt comfortable putting him in daycare anyway, and that she enjoyed his time at the daycare. house with him.

Shaneka Adewuyi, office administrator of the Tulsa Police Department, said at one point her daycare closed for six weeks due to an increase in the number of cases. The challenge of juggling two young children, ages 1 and 2, with a 9-year-old in a virtual school, plus her job, is enough to make Ms. Adewuyi cry.

“It has an impact on my mental health,” she said. “But babies need to eat, they need to be rocked to sleep, they need a diaper change.”

For some parents, the pandemic abnormality began with pregnancies consumed by worry about the effects of infection or vaccines. Routines have been altered for so long that many of their children have never experienced, or cannot remember, how things were before a life of quarantines and masks.

Mr Abercrombie, 39, said he was baffled when his 4-year-old Andy didn’t want to play with other children in a playground. “He said they might have the disease,” Mr Abercrombie recalled. “How come growing up if you think other children might give them the disease?” “

Vaccines, a key part of the federal response to the pandemic, have proven difficult to obtain for young children. While vaccines are already available for ages 5 and up, parents of children 4 and under may have to wait months longer for a vaccine that works.

Even when available, many parents may choose not to give them to their young children. Immunization rates remain very low – less than 20 percent – among the youngest eligible group, children aged 5 to 11.

Young children are much less likely to get seriously ill after coronavirus infection compared to adults, doctors said. While hospitalizations have increased for children, the overall numbers remain very low.

In Austin, TX, Kyle and Tasha Countryman are among the lucky ones: they both have busier jobs than ever before – in building and selling furniture – and the daycare they send their children, ages 1 and 2 to. years, closed some courts only a few times during the pandemic.

They were very careful while Ms Countryman, 36, was pregnant. “None of us wanted to get sick before I gave birth,” she said. Now, she says, her goal is to give children as normal a life as possible. It means seeing family, friends and cousins ​​and going out to places where masks are not required.

“We are doing this so that our children can see other children’s faces,” Ms. Countryman said. “I don’t want to go to some of these places inside if it’s going to be great, ‘Stay here and everyone’s wearing masks. These are not the places we actively seek to spend our time. We go to more restaurants, brasseries, activities that we can do outside.

She said she and her husband would not feel comfortable receiving a coronavirus vaccine immediately for their children and that they would want to make sure that any risk of side effects did not outweigh the advantages.

For Ms. Schulte, whose two young children participated in the Pfizer vaccine trial, the promise of a new vaccine has given way to more waiting.

“They have already told us that we will have to come back for a third dose because it did not generate enough immune response,” she said.

“We were hoping that now we would find out that one of our children was fully immunized and that we could move on,” she said. “It would have been nice, but a trial is a trial.”

nytimes Gt

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