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COVID-19’s Impact on Working Parents

Summary

While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all, it isn’t a mystery that it has disproportionately  impacted parents who have faced added stress, work-from-home situations, and unpredictable school / daycare closures. A recent article in Science stressed that the pandemic was particularly disruptive for parents working in a scientific field, and that these effects would be felt for years into the future – as it takes approximately three years for research to go from the concept-stage to publication. Here at InVivo Biosystems our parents are reflecting on the challenges and triumphs they have faced over the last two years. 

The latest Covid surge, fueled by the omicron variant, has put many parents back in the now familiar and rocky terrain of having to do it all: being full time employees while being full-time parents and stand-in teachers and daycare providers [Figure 1]. 

Wenlan Hu, VP of Marketing Wenlan Hu, VP of Marketing “Women working full-time often have to navigate between being a ‘good’ mom and a ‘good’ worker, and deal with the guilt of choosing one over another. The pandemic exacerbates that…” Expand

Women working full-time often have to navigate between being a ‘good’ mom and a ‘good’ worker, and deal with the guilt of choosing one over another. The pandemic exacerbates that as young children naturally seek help more from mothers. I am not saying that men aren’t doing enough. I have a very understanding and supportive husband. But imagine that you have a deadline to deliver a project, and you are on the zoom call with the team to deliver the project. Meanwhile, your child is screaming or crying because he/she cannot log onto the school ipad because he/she doesn’t remember the password. When a mother (or a father) has to be a full-time worker, a caregiver, an IT support person and a scheduler (for your child), it is physically and emotionally stressful. This is when I ask for help – whether to rely on my team, or research community or find reputable external CROs who can step in to take the workload off me”.  

Figure 1. Covid disruptions hit their highest level of the school year -
schools that closed or went virtual for at least part of the week for reasons related to the Covid-19 pandemic (The Washington Post, 2022).

Figure 1. Covid disruptions hit their highest level of the school year schools that closed or went virtual for at least part of the week for reasons related to the Covid-19 pandemic (The Washington Post, 2022).

“Kids get sick all winter, especially in Oregon and there is no asking for outside help (babysitter, friends, family) because then you increase your COVID bubble.” Expand

As an early career professional and mother with two kids under 3 during a pandemic, there are no breaks. There has always been pressure for parents to perform well at work in order to provide for their families. But in order for parents to be able to work, they must have childcare. The cost of which has skyrocketed in the last decade (more than 40% from 1990-2011, Atlantic) and increased exponentially with COVID (40% since last year; Parents Article). The result is a never ending stress cycle of needing to provide, pay for daycare, and perform well at work – all on top of the pressure posed from the pandemic.

When daycare shuts down or the kids have an illness that could POSSIBLY be COVID (cough, fever, whatever), the care falls on the mom. Kids get sick all winter, especially in Oregon and there is no asking for outside help (babysitter, friends, family) because then you increase your COVID bubble.

Kalyn Hubbard Kalyn Hubbard, Project Manager

The never-ending blend of work and home life has led to increasingly drained parents, and a wave of working parents, mostly women, quitting their jobs (The Washington Post, 2022). Throughout the pandemic the U.S. Census Bureau has consistently found that child-care concerns were among the top reasons people reported not having worked in the past week. And when you look at the costs of current child care, it’s no wonder. Pre-pandemic child-care costs were already on the rise, with child-care costs growing twice as fast as overall inflation since the 1990s, and in 2019, the cost of a typical day-care center in California was equivalent to ~50% of the median income of a single mother (Thompson, 2019). Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic only increased this rise in child-care costs – causing center-based child-care costs to spike roughly 41% (Halkidis, 2021). In addition to having to consider the physical care of their children, parents are also aware that the pandemic has not been kind to kids’ mental health. This has meant that, more than ever, parents are having to manage their own mental health while helping their children manage their mental health during this overly stressful time.

Matt Beaudet Matt Beaudet, CEO “the long term stress of the pandemic has made problems with my kids or difficulties at work come on quicker and be more extreme than before (…) I do worry about the long term impact of this stress on our children.” Expand

 For myself I have seen the impact of the pandemic on my own productivity, my children, and my company as unpredictable waves. 

At the beginning of the pandemic my work took me into close contact with people who were potentially infected with COVID and since testing was not yet available I moved out and away from my entire family. And since all social engagements were also being canceled I was left with nothing but work to focus on. Unsurprisingly I experienced a level of work productivity that I had never before seen in my life. When my 5 children returned it was almost the opposite – it seemed it was a never ending cycle of meal prep, zoom class management, meal prep, homework, meal prep, entertainment (all overshadowed by the reality that our entire lives were dependent on the quality and quantity of our internet connection which was never ever ever enough). Over time it slowly has taken on a manageable schedule that allows me to work and care for the children that can, at times, seem almost like a work/life balance that is normal and healthy. However the key difference that separates whatever schedule I have now with the one I had before the pandemic is how tenuous it is. Of course a single COVID scare can easily disrupt everything with frantic  testing, quarantines, and canceling of all work and school plans. But it is equally true that the long term stress of the pandemic has made problems with my kids or difficulties at work come on quicker and be more extreme than before. This insight has guided how I manage the company (and, as best I can, manage my family) – where I urge understanding and patience for those that we work with and I see the need to slow down our timelines as a way to guarantee success. To put it a different way – we will be accomplishing less compared to our older pre-pandemic aspirations but avoiding burnouts and breakdowns is now a huge accomplishment that used to never qualify as a laudable goal. 

From a work perspective we will eventually grow out of it no matter how the pandemic progresses. But I do worry about the long term impact of this stress on our children.

Matt isn’t alone, the vast majority of parents reported having concern over their children’s mental health during the pandemic, which then in turn, exacerbated their own feeling of burnout [figure 2]. 

COVID-19 and burnout are straining the mental health of employed parents (McKinsey & Company, 2021). 
COVID-19 and burnout are straining the mental health of employed parents (McKinsey & Company, 2021).

Figure 2. COVID-19 and burnout are straining the mental health of employed parents (McKinsey & Company, 2021). 

For working parents in the scientific community, the pandemic has meant constant disruptions to their research. Dashun Wang, a professor at Northwestern University, focused his investigation into how COVID-19 specifically impacted the scientific community – surveying over 7,000 scientists. He found that there was a marked decrease in productivity overall, particularly in the output of publications, with women and parents of children under 5 being the most affected (Madhusoondanan, 2021). 

“there was a 36% decrease in the initiation of research projects [in 2020 compared to 2019]” – Gao et al., 2021

This survey emphasized how long-reaching the pandemic’s effect on the scientific community will be: scientists noted that they were not only starting fewer projects, they were also being more conservative about the type of projects they were starting, and were doing so with fewer post-docs. 

“Even though as CSO I was not needed at the bench, I know my full productivity was hampered, and with all the other team members in the same predicament, our overall progress in the lab was challenged.” Expand

COVID-induced homeschooling has been a challenge.  Rewarding, in the fact that our increased involvement with the kids resulted in going from a “meh” in academic performance to repeat quarters of valedictorian performance. But that was at a cost. Gone were my carve outs for personal wellness time – biking, skiing and hiking were greatly interrupted. Only the first 15 minutes of the day remained available for a quick workout.  Work-from-home was next and needed to become highly productive “catch as catch can”.  Nevertheless, even though as CSO I was not needed at the bench, I know my full productivity was hampered, and with all the other team members in the same predicament, our overall progress in the lab was challenged.  Remarkably, our team was able to pull it together and not only get our grant activities done, we were able to find ways to take on new projects for our customers and relieve some of their COVID-induced burden.  S,  the resulting work-from-home for me had its strange benefits – more time with family – and its unfortunate blocking effects – less time for personal or work projecting.  Thankfully, our company took stringent precautions and that resulted in no work-related COVID transmissions, so we have been able to get what we wanted to get done and more.

Chris Hopkins, CSO Chris Hopkins, CSO

At InVivo Biosystems we’ve always been in the business of helping facilitate research – either because we have the capability to perform an experiment that another lab may not have (the expertise and zebrafish / C. elegans facilities), or because we can get results to a lab faster than if they performed the experiment themselves – speeding up a project’s timeline. 

Dr Dan Starr, a professor at UC Davis, a partner of InVivo Biosystems, who has spent the last 20 years studying nuclear migration in C. elegans explained why he has chosen to work with InVivo Biosystems saying, “if you don’t [have the capability within your lab to perform an experiment, nor a collaborator within your organization] there’re companies like [InVivo Biosystems] that can collaborate really well with you.” 

Our research partners have described us as ‘a temporary post-doc,’ with Ellen Gregory, a PhD student in Starr’s lab explaining that working with InVivo Biosystems enabled them, “to speed this project along much faster than we [the Starr Luxton Labs] could have done in the lab ourselves.” And Dr. Valeria Vásquez, Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, saying that InVivo Biosystems was how she, “kept my project going while I was on maternity leave.” 

Now, our company objectives haven’t changed, but we want to let scientists who are parents know that you’re not alone, we  can help mitigate the delays that your research may face thanks to this pandemic. As many of our team voiced – work mixing with life is unavoidable right now, and we all must pull together to achieve our goals. 

Dr. Sarah Cheesman - zebrafish expert Sarah Cheesman, Director of Sales “At first I felt so much stress that a child would appear on screen having a technology meltdown in front of perfect strangers. But it didn’t take me long to realize so many of us were in just the same spot.” Expand

Women in the workforce have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic – many of whom have had no choice but to give up their jobs during this time. The needs of our kids often still fall more on the mom’s side of the parenting ledger, for better or worse. When my family was all quarantined together and my husband and I were trying to figure out how to make sure the kids were learning something (anything!) while we attended to work deadlines and demands, the strain was enormous. I remember days when online school wasn’t going smoothly and my elementary aged son was ready to throw his iPad on the ground in frustration, all during the middle of a work call with a client. At first I felt so much stress that a child would appear on screen having a technology meltdown in front of perfect strangers. But it didn’t take me long to realize so many of us were in just the same spot – so suddenly there was a mutual kindness and understanding that we are only human and trying to juggle these totally competing demands is near impossible. It is ok to ask for help and a measure of flexibility in order to get things done. It is ok to look to others in your organization, to others in your professional network to help you in order to remain productive. And being confident in your asking is so important – especially for women who often have a harder time speaking up for what they need in order to be successful.

References

Gao, J., Yin, Y., Myers, K.R. et al. Potentially long-lasting effects of the pandemic on scientists. Nat Commun 12, 6188 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-26428-z

MADHUSOODANAN, JYOTI (2021). The pandemic’s slowing of research productivity may last years-especially for women and parents. Science. https://www.science.org/content/article/pandemic-s-slowing-research-productivity-may-last-years-especially-women-and-parents

Halkidis, Anna (2021). Child Care Costs Have Risen More Than 40 Percent During the Pandemic, Report Finds. Parents. https://www.parents.com/news/child-care-costs-have-risen-more-than-40-percent-during-the-pandemic-report-finds/

Thompson, Derek. (2019). Why Child Care Is So Ridiculously Expensive. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/11/why-child-care-so-expensive/602599/

McKinsey & Company (2021). COVID-19 and burnout are straining the mental health of employed parents. McKinsey & Company Website. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/covid-19-and-burnout-are-straining-the-mental-health-of-employed-parents

The Washington Post (2022). ‘I’m barely clinging onto work’: Exhausted parents face another wave of school shutdowns. The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/01/08/omicron-working-parents-schools/

 

About the Author: Alexandra Narin

Alexandra Narin LinkedIn

Alexandra is a Content Marketing Specialist and Grant Writer for InVivo Biosystems. She graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2020 where she earned a Joint MA Honours Degree in English & Psychology/Neuroscience with BPS [British Psychology Society] Accreditation. She has worked as a research assistant, examining the LEC’s (lateral entorhinal cortex) involvement in spatial memory and integrating long term multimodal item-context associations, and completed her dissertation on how the number and kinds of sensory cues affect memory persistence across timescales. Her hobbies include running, boxing, and reading.

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