Burned Out Parents Can Only Dream Of Being 'Done With COVID,' but COVID's Not Done With Us

Pandemic parenting is unsustainable—but who’s going to tell our kids that? Parents, especially of those 5-and-under or facing preexisting conditions, are tasked with impossible decisions daily, but COVID-19 isn’t something we can simply walk away from.

Jax Mills
Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Mills

My 9-month-old tested positive for COVID-19 within the first two weeks of my new job here at Parents in late November, four days before I also tested positive—and I've had at least one of my two kids home from daycare or preschool just about every week since then.

Burned out doesn't even begin to describe what COVID-19 has done to my husband and I, trying to continue working while simultaneously figuring out child care. I'm holding on for my kids, 3 and 9 months, but I'm close to waving the white flag—and one more quarantine or sick day is going to break me. Still, there's no such thing as being #DoneWithCovid when you're a parent.

It may not be March 2020 anymore, but with new COVID-19 variants, near-constant school closures, and an entire group of littles unable to be vaccinated yet, parents are not o-f*cking-kay. And I know that I'm among the lucky ones, able to work from home and rely on a partner—along with family nearby—to help get through the tough times. But that doesn't make any of this easier.

No matter how many times I use the words "unsustainable," "never-ending," or "exhausted" when texting with my mom group, it's not going to help the pandemic end any sooner.

Don't get me wrong: I am over it. I see people venting about wearing masks and continuing to take precautions two years into the pandemic with the hashtag #DoneWithCovid and I feel all of those things too, but simply saying you're done comes from a privileged place. People are still at risk and dying, lingering and unknown symptoms from long COVID are affecting kids, and until my children can get vaccinated and have normal childhoods, I don't want to hear about how done anyone is. We can't just snap our fingers and make this all go away. It's not time to be done, it's time to do what we need to as a society—namely, get vaccinated, stay home when you're sick, and wear the damn masks—to help turn the pandemic into an endemic so things can be slightly more manageable. Hopefully.

My younger son isn't even 1 yet and he's been tested for COVID-19 more times than some adults. A lot of that has to do with the rules at his daycare, where he has to test to return to school when symptoms—namely a cough and runny nose—call for it. Now though, with cases surging because of Omicron and every single toddler and baby I know where we live sick with a cold, flu, RSV, or, yes, COVID-19, daycare is cracking down even more. A negative coronavirus test will no longer suffice to send your child back if their nose is running or they have a lingering cough; they've also got to be symptom-free before returning to the classroom.

It's bad enough to have to put your kids through this—the baby's nose started bleeding during his last test because his nostrils are so small and my toddler is traumatized from testing and fears going to the pediatrician—without also feeling guilty about the immense dread that comes along with the realization that your child won't be going to school for one reason or another. Because, yes, I'm beyond lucky that I've been able to work from home during the pandemic, but combining work and child care, especially when you're talking about small children, is sort of an impossible task.

But one that's still so damn common.

Take the digital team at Parents. One day this month I learned that at least three other editors were also attempting to work with their kids at home. One colleague's husband had tested positive for COVID-19, forcing their 3-year-old to quarantine at home with her for the week. Another editor's fifth-grader was home due to teacher shortages. A class exposure meant another editor's preschool-age son was home with her—and having to test regularly to return.

The pandemic isn't done for so many parents. Not even close.

Emotionally? Yeah, I am done. I'm tired.

Tired of feeling guilty for sending my little kids out to daycare and preschool, wondering if I'm putting them at risk or helping them to socialize and at least get out of the house a little.

Tired of washing multiple masks daily because my toddler just likes to change them out during the day. But I'd wash even more if it meant my baby could at least be somewhat protected, too.

Tired of having to weigh the risks of allowing my children to attend birthday parties, music and swim classes, and playdates. What even is "safe" anymore?

Tired of having to reassure my older son that not every doctor appointment will include a "test." Tired of the regular nebulizer treatments my baby has needed since having bronchiolitis and COVID-19 within two months.

Tired of wondering if we'll all get sick again. If it'll be mild. If it'll affect the kids down the road—mentally and physically. My baby already needed his blood sugar tested since the coronavirus can trigger diabetes in kids. What else don't we know?

Parents dream of being #DoneWithCovid—I'd give nothing more for my children—but COVID's not done with us.

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