Pandemic parenting realities: Two C-U girls share their experiences : Tradition : Smile Politely

Lonliness. Isolation. Cheeks that hurt from laughing out loud. Emphasize. Uncertainty. Newfound appreciation for inner strength. Connection with a higher power and with each other. Gratitude.

These are just a few of the words that describe what Champaign-Urbana parents and guardians have experienced since the arrival of COVID-19 to our community in March 2020. What so many of us have been expecting as an extended spring break continues to be a painful and powerful marathon of caring not only for ourselves but also for the little people who expect love, comfort and the assurance that everything will be all right from us.

This month I spoke to two women whose parenting experiences may be different but whose sources of strength are the same.

Tracy Williams, who describes herself as the follower of Christ, wife and mother of two spirited people, lives with her family in Champaign. She is also the newly appointed Assistant Director of Unit 4’s Kids Plus program: Taking care of children is an important part of their daily life. “My oldest child is Austin. He is a six year old entertainer who will steal your heart with his bright eyes, his wild smile and his outstanding personality … He is a leader and he knows exactly what he wants, ”describes Williams. “Skylar is my two year old. She is almost a copy of her brother. She just wants to be called a princess … She is the full definition of ‘small but mighty’.”

Meghan Gentry is both a community social worker and foster parent. She took care of school age girls and teenage girls. Gentry is currently looking after two sisters: Michelle, an elementary school student, and Ana, a middle school student. (The girls’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.) “They are absolutely amazing and have such funny personalities. Michelle has some learning difficulties but works very, very hard in school. She’s very social and enjoys learning how to make slime and being with her family, ”explains Gentry. “Ana is a typical teenager; She is good at school and likes using her cell phone, talking to friends and watching TikTok. “

Parents and guardians of younger children have a hard time finding childcare at the best of times in Champaign-Urbana. When the pandemic first landed in our community, many childcare options were suddenly no longer available. Emergency reports forced many providers to temporarily close their doors. College students completed their spring 2020 semester from home, which limits the pool of babysitters that so many parents rely on for childcare. Even when there was childcare, many parents were reluctant to bring caregivers into their homes or send their children to a social room when there were no quick and reliable ways to track COVID infections. This forced many families to be creative with childcare when the old, normal options were no longer possible.

The Williams family has managed to find care for their two children despite having difficulties getting everything up and running. “We had to navigate where Austin was going during the online study hour. I was fortunate to have previous employers who were so gracious in bringing me to work. My parents helped a lot too. ”In the meantime, relying on the care of their one-year-old child was even more difficult. “Skylar was looked after as consistently as possible. There have been a couple of times that she has had to leave school because of something that resembled symptoms of COVID. That meant my husband and I had to decide who was the least busy these days to look after them. All in all, we made it. ”

Fulfilling the care needs of older children is associated with its own challenges. “[Michelle and Ana] moved in with me in spring 2021 and they were just starting to study in person four days a week. We had to adjust to each other and be back at school and work together, which actually went well. We all missed being with people and doing a typical routine. ”

Although personal schooling was a welcome change in late winter 2021, the pressure put on an underfunded public school system was passed on to parents, who had to seek alternative arrangements if their child had cold or flu-like symptoms, or when possible COVID exposures required that children be quarantined at home. The massive shifts in employment across the country have not spared our local school districts and daycare centers either. “My heart beats for the employees who take on the extra burden and do whatever they can to fill the staffing void.” Williams admits that childcare has become easier over time and better information has become available on how to prevent COVID in children: “Over time, we have a greater understanding that alternative childcare is a must.”

Gentry and her girls faced other COVID concerns when they returned to full personal school. “This fall was difficult because some of my children’s relatives tested positive for COVID and the girls were exposed. Since Ana is vaccinated, she didn’t have to be quarantined, but Michelle had to be quarantined. That was worrying as she needed direct tuition in school … She has been in quarantine for almost a month now because of multiple COVID infections so she really misses direct tuition and supports that she normally receives. ”Gentry worries about Michelle’s progress, but she also has faith in Michelle’s teacher. “I have hope that you will help her feel encouraged and find some success in her day, even if she feels lost with the content.”

Williams says exactly what so many parents think. “On a human level, there have been some ups and downs for me. Sometimes I felt like I lost myself and honestly had times when I had to scream to let my frustrations out! While I have had these moments, I have also had many times when I took so much pleasure in looking after my children that my cheeks ached from smiling and laughing.

Gentry’s parental responsibilities changed during the pandemic. “I think my experience is pretty unique in looking after a fifteen year old when the pandemic started. The pandemic actually ruined the path it was on, throwing me with it into a truly unexpected series of events. When I think of the pandemic, I think of that time when really just you and I navigated through all of this strange time; then I think of the next few months when I lived alone and really had problems working remotely; and finally I think of the last few months the sisters lived with me, which went pretty smoothly. A roller coaster ride for my mental health. I’m an introvert so I feel like my whole life has been preparing me for the house rules and work from home, but I really started struggling with isolation. I missed my students and was very worried about their safety and whether or not they were really seen by the people in their lives. “

While many people experienced intense loneliness during the pandemic, Gentry points out the extra loneliness that comes with caring for a foster parent. “The pandemic was a nightmare for parenting loneliness because the support we had – visits from clerks to my house, family therapy to my house, individual therapy in an agency, equine therapy on the farm, visits to mom – all went away. The virtual backups were really delayed in the DCFS world. For about 3 months we only had phone calls with all of these supporters. They were determined to help us, but phone calls aren’t the same as face-to-face or even video support. That was super difficult and a big part of the reasons my kid fought so immensely. “

Looking back on the past year with gratitude, Williams warns parents not to neglect all the ways they have grown and gotten stronger. “People often misunderstand how much we have developed this year. I learned to love myself and my family during this time of uncertainty. I think the focus has been placed far too much on the separation and shifting of our ‘norm’ rather than the time for growth that we have been given. ”


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