Alycia King has a 10-year-old son entering grade 5 this upcoming school year. She also has worked as a nature educator in a children’s nature program for the past 5 years.
But like many others, King, 28, was laid off in March. This July, the Ottawa mom had to decide whether she’d be returning to work in September. At the time, Ontario’s plan was leaning towards a hybrid model, which meant King felt she would need to quit her job as she assumed children would split their learning time at school, as well as at home.
“It was a very difficult decision, I loved my job,” King says. “At the time, I made the decision based on a false guess that schools would be resuming part-time. But as the plan for full-time school came out I have been feeling more and more confident with my decision.”
The pandemic has forced women to reconsider how to balance their careers and families. Now that elementary-aged children will be going back to school in class full-time with full-size classes, many parents are opting to keep their kids learning remotely from home, or in learning pods. That means, more women are quitting the jobs they love to homeschool their children.
King’s son struggles with reading and writing. She fears that schools, whether online or virtual, will not be able to provide the same level of support to their students this year compared to previous years. She’s also worried about keeping her family healthy.
“Our other major concern was health; my son usually requires a puffer in the winter and will have a cough from fall through spring. My husband has asthma as well and doesn’t do well with the regular flu.”
Tovah Lalla of Windsor decided to quit her job as a massage therapist to take care of her 5-year-old. Her decision came after the Ontario government announced that elementary class sizes would remain the same, and not be reduced to a maximum of 15 students as recommended by the Hospital for Sick Children’s Guidance for School Reopening.
“I have a 5 year old. I know they can’t socially distance because they are small and don’t understand,” says Lalla. “Also, we have several vulnerable family members we would like to visit for the holidays. If we are exposed, we won’t be able to visit with them. So we are limiting our exposure as best as we can.”
Lalla, 39, felt the pressure of balancing her career and family life too much to sustain.
“I’ve found it too difficult to spend my day home-schooling my son, maintaining my home, and then going to work for 4-6 hours, then coming home and caring for my family. My mental state could not handle burning the candle at both ends like that.”
King recognizes that she is in a privileged position to make that decision, but it wasn’t always so. She was a single mother and worked 2-3 jobs while in school and taking care of her son.
“If this pandemic had hit a few years ago, I would be putting my son on that yellow bus. Heck, I would have given my 2 months’ notice and searched for a cheaper place because the average child gets sick 5-6 times a year and with strict protocols surrounding COVID, I would have been taking too many sick days to afford rent. I’m grateful to now be in a position where I have options and can choose the ideal one for me.”
Like many parents, opting to quit their full-time careers to stay home to take care of children, will be a financial challenge.
“With good budgeting, we could cope on one income… but it’s still a big hit compared to a steady income, especially considering the fact that any small virus and my husband will be unable to go to work,” King says.
Lalla and her family feel privileged that they are able to budget and live on one income.
“My husband and I are in a financial situation where we can afford to live on his income (which is mostly what I did when I was in mat leave), so it made the most sense that I would exit the working world to focus on making sure my family is thriving.”
Despite the fact that many fathers are also quitting their jobs to take care of their families, women still bear the brunt of housework and child care responsibilities. Women shouldering the burden of childcare more likely to “fall out” of the labour force, according to an RBC Economics report.
The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse women’s earnings and economic opportunities, widening gender gaps that persist despite 30 years of progress. That statement was recently made by the IMF International Monetary Fund.
But King isn’t worried about re-entering the workforce. “I don’t have a plan for next year when my son returns to school (I hope?), but having a plan in this era seems silly. I’ve had dozens of plans over the last few months and there are so many moving parts that the plan usually changes within the week. I plan on homeschooling and going with the flow until we get to calm waters.”
Lalla isn’t concerned about jumping back into her work once things settle down either.
“Massage therapy is something many people really need, even if they don’t know that they need it. I’ve been a massage therapist for 12 years this year. My clients will always find their way back. And if they don’t, I’ll get new ones.”
“We all have choices we need to make. My family will always come first.”