Yasmine Kalkstein, associate professor of Psychology and Faculty Development Coordinator at Mount Saint Mary College, rewards her son with chocolate chips as he works on handwriting and spelling.
April 23 is National Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day – or as it’s known during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday.
It’s been about five weeks since Mount Saint Mary College transitioned to temporary online learning to keep its community safe. While the college community has managed the transition nicely, many faculty and staff have the added challenge of working from home while also taking care of their children.
Orin Strauchler, assistant dean of Student Support Services and director of Counseling at the college, is working from home with his wife, Danielle. The couple has two children.
“It’s challenging and much more difficult than I originally anticipated,” he explained. “We have a 2-year-old daughter, whose image you would find if you did a web search for ‘terrible twos.’ We love her dearly, but she is very ‘spirited’ and requires a lot of attention. I also have a 12-year-old son… and he needs a fair amount of guidance with his schoolwork.”
Like many parents in this situation, they sometimes get stretched thin, Strauchler explained.
“Danielle and I are both very driven, conscientious people who want to give our all at our jobs, but we also don’t want to feel as if we aren’t being good parents who just plop their children in front of the television,” he said. “Our work responsibilities don’t always allow for one of us to be working while the other one is handling childcare, so we wind up doing a lot of juggling and rejiggering of schedules.”
For Strauchler, the keys to navigating these new challenges are good communication with his spouse and not placing unrealistic expectations on himself.
“We have had to recognize that even the illusion of a 9 to 5 work schedule is definitely not possible right now,” he explained. “We have also had to be more forgiving of ourselves in terms of not holding ourselves to Pinterest standards of parenting. Everywhere you turn on social media, it seems there is someone who has just baked beautiful sugar cookies with their kids or built them a two-story treehouse. Even before the pandemic, people only tended to show their best selves on social media, so it can really skew your view on things. At this point, we are happy if our daughter is happy and has all of her arms, legs, fingers, and toes in place by the end of the day.”
Tabatha Mays, a marketing assistant with the college’s Office of Marketing and Communications, agrees that the last few weeks have been a little difficult. But there are definitely positive aspects of the situation too, such as getting to spend more time with her 5-year-old son.
“Working from home with a child has its challenges, yet it is quite rewarding! I love being able to teach my child creative but effective lesson plans,” she explained. “Working from home has also allowed me more time to reflect on and implement some life goals with my child, such as practicing religion/faith, and life skills, such as learning to wash dishes, cooking, and cleaning.”
Mays makes plenty of time for her son throughout the day – even if it’s in small doses. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but the results have been positive.
“I find that taking 5 to 10 minute breaks just to have a little fun with my child, like participating in a tickling tournament, an arm wrestling match, or even an intense staring standoff lightens the mood despite the challenge of putting my attention in multiple places at once,” Mays noted.
What her son really wants, says Mays, is to know that she cares about him and that his voice is being heard.
“Acknowledging him, if even for a few minutes, shows him that he is equally important as anything else, and as a result he is content with doing his own thing,” she explained. “Ultimately, I think the key is children just wanting to feel that they haven’t been forgotten about. Knowing that mom and or dad cares about what they have to say gives them a sense of confirmation that you love them and you’re genuinely interested in them. Then they are good to go – until the next tantrum, of course.”
Juggling schedules is nothing new for Yasmine Kalkstein, associate professor of Psychology and Faculty Development Coordinator. As Kalkstein continues teaching her Mount classes online, she is also taking care of her two kids, ages 12 and 8.
In some ways, the directive to work from home has alleviated some of the pressure she feels to be a supermom, Kalkstein noted.
“I’m that woman who feels guilty while at work that I’m not with my kids and guilty when I’m with my kids and not working,” she explained. “The funny thing is, society has helped me lower my expectations of myself right now…I always felt I had to do it all. But now, I’m getting a different message: It’s suddenly okay if my kids are on electronics way too much, because well, ‘we are all struggling.’”
Adjusting to temporary online learning has been made easier by her understanding students: “My students get that my kids might pop into Zoom and say hi, and my husband and I try to tag team as he teaches as well.”
About three years ago, Kalkstein and her husband rented out their home, packed up their two children, and moved nearly 6,000 miles away to Rehovot, Israel so she could continue her research into women’s medical decision-making regarding childbirth. The sabbatical lasted about a year.
In some ways, this has been just as great a challenge.
“The hardest component is also trying to school my kids,” she said. “I take their education very seriously. They need to be in certain Zoom rooms – up to eight different Zoom rooms I have to manage for my daughter – at certain times. Once their Zoom classes are over, I’m left with the struggle of trying to make them do the independent work their teacher wants them to do.”
Like the rest of us, sometimes Kalkstein turns her thoughts to when the pandemic will subside and life will begin going back to normal.
“When this is all over, I think there should be a mandatory week of no electronics and everyone goes outside and socializes,” said Kalkstein, “while doing ropes courses, swimming, and watching the kids just play tag all day.”
She added, “I also will have a hard time giving up wearing fleece pajama pants all day.”