How mothers are navigating education at home during Covid-19
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Alexia Mitchell takes mental health seriously.

She’s the executive director of a nonprofit for children’s and adolescent mental health, so call her an expert.

It was only natural that the North Carolina mother of three considered it when contemplating whether her 8-year-old would return to school this year.

Mothers and school districts across the country are tasked with deciding how to proceed with school-aged children amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic: in-person or digital learning.  

Mitchell’s local district is requiring virtual learning for nine weeks, then it will reassess.

But had her daughter’s school been physically open for students this semester, she likely would have sent her back.

“Although her safety and her health are definitely No. 1, I also know what works for her,” Mitchell said about her daughter Khristian, whom she described as an extrovert energized by social settings. “Because I work in a mental health setting, I feel like for her mental health and her overall wellbeing, it’s being in a classroom with her peers.”

Alexia Mitchell and her daughter Kristian. Photo: Instagram

The pandemic forced most schools to close in March, so mothers got an unexpected test drive. And like many struggling to cope with new challenges at home brought on by the novel Coronavirus, Mitchell, 35, is torn when she has to do things like hold a finger up because she’s on the phone and her daughter is trying to talk to her.

“It breaks my heart,” said Mitchell, whose two younger children (2 and 4) remained in daycare throughout. “In her mind, home is home. She loves school. She’s looking forward to going back to school.”

If the school system after nine weeks reopens the campus, Khristian will be returning, Mitchell said.

Mitchell joins mothers across the country forced into a balancing act of work, motherhood and now even teaching due to the Coronavirus crisis. More than 5,700,000 people have been infected in the United States, the country with the world’s highest rate.

The virus, which has claimed the lives of more than 177,000 people in America, has exacerbated the weight of parenting, especially for working mothers.

Although Mitchell is prepared to send her daughter back to physical school and kept her younger children in daycare for the sake of getting work done, some mothers aren’t comfortable just yet.

Many moms are left to make the decision that best serves their children and families.

The weight of the uncharted waters

Things at home these days look completely different for Sabrina Dandridge and her four boys.

Ranging in age from 1 to 12, she’s been tasked with explaining to her younger children why school stopped and deciding what social outings are acceptable for her oldest — who’s getting closer to feeling the sting of a cancelled football season.

But after seeing her Texas school district’s leaders offer updates via Zoom calls and phone conferences, the decision was simple for 33-year-old Dandridge.

Sabrina Dandridge playfully contemplating her decision. Photo: Instagram

“They didn’t even feel comfortable enough to get together and make decisions about my child,” she said, “so it’s no way that I feel comfortable when sending my child to be next to other people when y’all don’t even feel comfortable being next to other people.”

She had two options: in-person schooling or committing to virtual learning for nine weeks. She opted for the latter, which would keep her school-aged boys’ education in house.

The CDC reports children who become infected with Covid-19 are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms. Of course, they can still spread the virus.

Big debates stem from how school settings benefit a child’s wellbeing and emotional health as well as access to resources for low-income students.

Some schools have decided to reopen, and according to a recent study from the American Academy of Pediatric and the Children’s Hospital Association, there has been a 90 percent increase in Covid-19 cases among American children in the last month.

Clusters of cases emerged in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi during the opening days, and Georgia’s Cherokee county school district quarantined 1,193 of its students shortly after starting.

It’s an unimaginably tough spot to be in, as moms shoulder additional roles in makeshift classrooms at home.

Educators and parents are feeling the pressure of the uncharted waters.

Anna Masey-Jackson, an elementary school teacher in Philadelphia, Pa., is currently training for the virtual school year that will start next month.

Her message to parents: proceed with patience.

“Everyone is learning as we go,” said the 27-year-old first-grade teacher, who also runs an online tutoring service.

She said the pandemic has given visibility to the long-established stress on educators but wants parents to rest assured that, “Teachers are still teaching.

“We literally just want to be safe. I want to do my job safely, interact with my students safely. That doesn’t mean that teaching isn’t being done, even if it’s in a non-traditional way.”

Working as a part-time RN offers some perspective for Dandridge, who understands how very little we know about Covid-19. She works two 12-hour shifts each week.

Her profession naturally adds extra stress to the situation.

After a day away from home, her boys are excited to see her. But before she can physically greet them, she has to shower before doing anything else.

Dandridge and a circle of smiles. Photo: Instagram

“I’m exposed to Covid,” she said. “When I come home, my kids want to run and jump and run and play on me. I’m like give me 15 minutes. I gotta take my clothes off, get in the shower.”

Dandridge still nurses her 1-year-old.

“It’s sad, it’s really sad,” she said. “I know it’s small, but I have a baby. He has to wait 15 minutes before he even hugs his mama.

“When he sees me walk through the door, he’s crying.”

One day at a time

Some mothers have put their pride aside and accepted help during these times. Others have found solace in a new hobby.

Some mamas are leaning more on prayer than ever before.

Regardless of how they are coping, moms are putting one foot in front of the other simply because they must.

Sharnique Washington is a stay-at-home-mom with three school-aged children, including a first-time elementary student, set to start virtual learning. She is a gifted mom and autism mom.

“It’s survival mode,” the 34-year-old blogger said about unexpectedly juggling multiple roles at home. Her children, 5, 10 and 12, thrive on a schedule, so she has had to maintain structure. “That didn’t bother me because I felt like that’s what needed to be done. They’re my children, so I have to take care of them.

“I felt like, ‘This is what’s happening, do it.’ ”

Although Washington has children who are old enough to understand when she needs her space, she’s felt the strain of social distancing and lockdown. No longer can she drop her children off with family, but they make the most of their days with car rides and fun pictures.

Sharnique Washington happy about getting through the first bout of online school. Photo: Instagram

Mitchell back in North Carolina has learned how to both accept and ask for help — there are times the mom of three just needs a break.

This summer, for example, her children spent a week with her father in Maryland so that she and her husband could recharge.

“Some days, I don’t know if I’m coming or going,” she said. “When I first had my kids, I thought I was super woman. I thought I could do it all. Over time, I realized I’m not super woman and I cannot do it all. …Sometimes, and I can’t speak for all women, I think that sometimes a lot of us don’t want to ask for help when we need it. I can’t do it all.

“It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to them.”

Fall will look different for most families, whether your children are in virtual school or headed back to a physical campus.

What’s happening is brand new for everyone, and mothers are entitled to make the decision that best suits their families.

“You should never feel bad for doing what you have to do to provide for your kids,” Dandridge said tenderly. “Do what you have to do as a mom, because that’s what we have to do.”