By Jennifer Vorih, Esq., Ty Hyderally, Esq.
The last several months have laid bare some of the racism and sexism ingrained in our society. For decades, we have been aware that much more of the burden of raising children falls on women than it does on men. Right now, many mothers in Montclair and throughout the state are facing the reality of this unequal burden.
Last week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared that school districts in New Jersey could decide to open on an all-remote basis, with no in-person instruction. Immediately thereafter, Montclair’s Superintendent of Schools announced that the District would not be starting off the school year with a hybrid model of both in-person and remote learning, but instead would only be offering instruction remotely for the beginning of the year. In addition, many daycare centers have not yet reopened. Of course, parents have to wonder about the safety of bringing their young children to daycare centers. Requiring children to wear masks, practice social distancing, and keep their hands to themselves – and away from their faces – seems difficult at the least, and antithetical to the play-based learning so many daycare centers utilize.
Since more and more workplaces are reopening, more and more New Jersey parents are being called back to work. Many mothers in New Jersey are still able to work from home, especially as the New Jersey Road Back provides that employees should continue to work from home where feasible. However, this leaves many New Jersey employees with young children with an impossible choice: give up your job and your income, or leave your children alone or in an unsafe situation while you are at work. This is not a tenable situation.
Even those parents who are able to work from home will find it very difficult to work from home while taking care of their children and helping them participate in online school. For many such mothers, a long day at work – without preparing morning snacks, lunches, and multiple afternoon snacks, plus supervising schoolwork — may now seem like a luxury.
Even before Montclair (and other districts) announced that it would be starting off the school year in a fully remote manner, the choices facing parents were grim. Two days of in-school instruction for four hours per day was Montclair’s design. A total of eight hours per week of children being in school in no way allowed full-time working mothers to tend to both their jobs and their children.
Quality childcare is essential to our society, but it has not been viewed as such. There is no plan to take care of and teach all of our children. Rather, it has been viewed as the responsibility of each individual family, with most of the burden falling on mothers, to arrange, provide, and pay for childcare and fill in as necessary when children are sick or daycare centers or schools are closed.
The last few months have put a spotlight on institutionalized racism and police brutality, and many creative minds are now working on addressing these issues. Maybe it is time to also pull out all the stops to reevaluate the necessity of quality childcare and education, and redistribute the burden, not just between women and men within families, but also across society. Society as a whole would benefit from having all its children well cared for and educated, and all of its employees able to focus on work for more than eight hours per week.
We are facing incredible challenges, and it is imperative that we think creatively to address them. What can federal, state, county, and local governments do to ensure that our children receive the care and education they need, and that parents receive the assistance required? In what ways can employers help, or be prohibited from hindering, this process? Should employers be prohibited from terminating employees due to childcare needs? Should employers be required or encouraged to make allowances to better enable working parents to work from home successfully? It’s time to put on our thinking caps and find some solutions!
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