One can imagine Christina Morris’ home to be filled with energy and laughter. Her four young kids pack the house she and her partner, both union carpenters, bought a few years ago, in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston. Christina loves her Hyde Park community; the parks and libraries serve (before COVID) as fun gathering places for families while the easily-available transportation allows for an easy commute to work.

Christina’s commute, however, is anything but simple. Her day typically starts between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m., when she starts getting her kids ready to leave the house. She or her partner then drives to his mother’s house to drop them off. Her two elementary schoolers get on the bus at a nearby stop in a couple of hours while her toddlers stay with their grandmother for the day. A quick ride on the Silver Line and Christina is starting her day of construction, usually around 6:30 a.m.

Relying on her kids’ grandmother as the primary source of childcare is not ideal for Christina’s family. Their grandmother also cares for her own mother during the day, limiting the kids’ opportunities to spend time outside or to gather with other kids their age; Christina candidly recognizes this setup as the “only option [they] have.” As with so many working families, she and her partner are desperate for childcare, particularly in the early morning. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded this problem.

When the virus emerged in March, Christina was laid off, and soon after her kids were home from school too. “The whole time I was thinking ‘Thank God… I don’t know what would’ve happened if I had the kind of job that had me working from home, doing remote learning, and taking care of two toddlers,’” Christina remarks, laughing at the utter impossibility of such a situation. Still, she describes the balance of remote learning and toddler trouble as a “circus show.” Even now that the school year has come to an end, taking care of her four young children is an everyday challenge, especially with so many summer activities cancelled and closed. “Basically,” Christina admits, “I’m trying to keep them busy, mentally and physically, so they don’t get destructive. But that can’t happen all the time.”

Christina expects to take a voluntary layoff from her construction job this fall, given the city’s likelihood of taking a hybrid or fully-remote learning approach to the start of this school year. Working mothers like Christina, all around the country, are struggling to manage their own work lives in a world where they may need to stay home with their kids. Christina articulated that “a working parent and childcare go hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other.”

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Photo of Orlena McqueenChild care support woman watching three kids making bubbles