The following is a personal essay by a contributor mom and opinions expressed are not necessarily reflective of the Truly Mama brand.
“I can’t wait until school starts,” I mumbled for the millionth time during quarantine, after my six-year-old had interrupted my work to show me her latest dragon drawing or ask a pressing question like (and I’m not making this up): “What do sea urchins do all day?”
Across the room my husband gave me the side eye. “I’m not so sure about that…” he said.
I looked at him, surprised. In the day-to-day of pandemic parenting, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about whether school will reopen for my rising first grader. I’ve worried about whether she’ll understand teachers in masks, if she’ll be able to embrace friends she hasn’t seen since March, or whether recess will be cut back. But I hadn’t considered that my husband and I would disagree about whether or not to send her to school.
In our relationship, my husband tends to be the more risk-averse when it comes to the kids. He cringes when I walk with them on our busy road, while I prioritize the experience of going on an adventure from home. He grudgingly lets them leave to overnight visits with relatives, while I relish the quiet when they’re gone. I often catch him saying, “Isn’t she too young for that?” about both our six-year-old and two-year-old.
So maybe I should have known that the idea of sending our daughter to school would give him pause, but because of we live in a rural area in New Hampshire, where COVID-19 cases have been relatively low, I had thought the benefits of school outweighed the risks. To me, the social aspect and routine are worth what I view as a small risk of contracting COVID or contributing to the spread of the virus.
But my husband’s calculations look different. He’s not particularly social, so quarantine—when he hasn’t had to see anyone but his immediate family—is pretty close to ideal for him. He has a hard time justifying any COVID risk for the sake of getting our child more socialization, because hanging out with lots of people just isn’t something that’s important to him.
Our district still hasn’t announced any plans for the fall, although they did indicate that they’re working toward at least some in-person learning. In a poll from early July, most parents said that’s what they wanted. During this limbo, my husband and I have discussed our worries, concerns, and priorities, but we still haven’t the real tough discussions about the upcoming school year because we simply don’t know what our options will be.
Now, as the nation is realizing, whether and when to return to school is a loaded topic. It cuts to everything that’s most important to us as parents: our kids’ education, development, community, and physical safety. Everyone wants what’s best for our kids in those areas, but identifying what is best is complicated—even within couples—let alone in a district or the country as a whole.
In tough conversations, my husband and I usually defer to the person who has stronger opinion and the one who will be most affected by the decision. Unfortunately for me, that’s my husband in both instances: he has strong feelings about COVID risk, and as a stay-at-home dad, he’s also the one who will be responsible for remote learning or homeschooling if we go that route. I’ll voice my opinions and thoughts—and I would strongly prefer my daughter be in the classroom again—but ultimately, this isn’t a make-or-break parenting decision for me.
Letting go of the decision and stress over schooling options no doubt comes from a place of privilege. We’re both home, in an area where cases are low. Our children don’t have any special needs or underlying health conditions that can complicate the choice in both directions.
In part because of our privilege and the flexibility it affords us, I’m trying to switch my thinking from looking at the 2020-2021 as one with “no good options” to looking at it as “no bad options.” My kids will be fine no matter what. Although I still remember and adore my first-grade teacher (hi Mrs. Vinci), I know my daughter will be OK if her first grade teacher is dad.
The conversation about school is more complicated on a national or even state level, or course. Kids without the support and resources my kids have—students with special needs, families without internet, Black students—will be at a disadvantage during remote learning, but are also at increased risk for COVID complications if they return to the classroom. That’s a scary place to be for parents.
I understand why many people feel like they have no good options for this school year. Still, I hope that more people on both sides of the issue can extend each other the grace and compassion that my husband and I are giving each other.
This is the perfect time to say “good for them, but not for me,” when friends, family, or neighbors make a different decision about school. Just remember—we all want our kids learning and safe. OK, fine, and maybe a few minutes of silence now and again.