Mira Reddy has a busy day. She has to wake up at 7 am, get dressed, eat breakfast and follow her school day schedule, virtually. There’s an English lesson, math, some science and some reading. There’s also a daily Zoom session with her teacher. It’s for half an hour, but it sends the Reddy household into a tizzy.
Mom, Manasa Reddy, a dentist based in Belle Meade, New Jersey, has to sit with Mira, a first grader, to help her maneuver the video-sharing app. While she’s helping her elder daughter, Reddy, who had to shut her independent practice due to the lockdown orders, has to make sure her 4-year-old daughter Siya is engaged. If she’s napping or is being watched by her father, Prashanth Dendi, a SAP Basis Manager at COTY, Inc., peace prevails. If not “it’s a circus.”
Reddy is not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges and it’s becoming harder for Indian American parents to hide the often challenging and messy realities of work and family life juggle. Parents across the country, especially those with young children, are struggling with balancing their work-from-home schedules, helping kids navigate remote schooling, as well as making sure there’s food on the table.
Take for example, Amruta Kulkarni of Foster City, California. The finance professional who works in Transformation at Walmart eCommerce is finding it challenging to tend to children, Aneesh, 6, and Avanee, 3, while working from home. Although Amruta could have sent Avanee to the preschool, she chose to keep her home to let the families with parents that need to go to work take the limited spots available. “Aneesh is busy with his school work, but we still need to help him with video conferencing, etc.,” she says.
All the way on the East Coast, Deepti Kulkarni Bakshi of South Plainfield, New Jersey, is in a similar situation. A stay-at-home mom, Deepti’s biggest challenge is to keep her 4-year-old son, Aaryav, entertained, while she helps her 9-year-old daughter, Arusha, with school assignments.
A big task for her is to make sure that Aaryav doesn’t bother his father, Sanket Bakshi, a software engineer, who’s constantly on office calls. Sanket works as a Senior Application Development Manager at Microsoft in New York City.
On the other hand, Anu Barucha, a special education teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, seems to have it all sorted out. Not only has she made a schedule for both her daughters — Diya, a kindergartner and Miraya, a fourth grader — she has put herself on a time table as well. She sets time aside to engage with her students online when her little one naps.
Being in the same profession, Anu says she can relate to how well teachers all over have managed to transition to remote teaching. However, she does realize that it’s not easy for parents, especially those who have full-time jobs.
“Replacing your teacher is hard,” Anu says. “Now the onus has shifted to parents as there’s no face-time, no immediate contact with the teacher.” Since all communication between the students and the teacher has moved to emails, she notes that the time a teacher takes to respond to individual students takes time and depends on the urgency of the issue. As a result, parents are now getting involved in their children’s education a lot more and are learning how to deal with them from an academic perspective.
Each family seems to have come up with their own plan to tide through these trying times.
Amruta and her husband Aditya Malvankar, take turns to manage their work — when Aditya, a senior software engineer at Netflix, has a meeting, Amruta puts a block on her calendar, and vice versa. “Outside of meetings we told our colleagues (who are in the same boat) to expect a reduced response rate and to just call us for any urgent matters,” Amruta says. She and Aditya have tried to maintain a similar schedule and sleeping hours for the kids, although she adds that they are not stressing out if they can’t stick to it. “We are just going with the flow for now,” Amruta says.
On the other side of the spectrum are parents with older kids, who do not need the monitoring for their school work, but still need the guidance and pep talk. Getting them to stay away from their gadgets and get them to do some physical activity is also a challenge, many say.
“The kids are for most part in their rooms, doing their school work and assignments, but evenings are hard on them, as they cannot go hang out with their friends,” Atlanta-based Shikha Awasthi, says. The stay-at-home mom notes that kids do comprehend the reasoning behind this social distancing, however, like everyone else, they are anxious with the uncertainty and the danger the coronavirus poses. In times like this, Shikha feels that a family game night, or a movie, help.“But like one does with younger kids, we cannot put the older ones on schedule and expect them to follow it,” the mother of two teenagers, 19 and 15, notes.
A schedule or a timetable seems to be a common theme in most Indian American homes during the lockdown. Parents observe that when kids follow their weekday schedule and the pattern of classes, extra curricular activities, dinner and some downtime, and stick to their regular bedtime, it’s easier for them to maintain discipline and sanity. According toNupur Bhatnagar, an entrepreneur from South Brunswick, New Jersey, “it also keeps the work ethic strong in the kids so they don’t feel they are on a long holiday and continue with school work with the sincerity it demands.”
Along with maintaining schedules, the Dallas, Texas-based Raos take out time for family workouts, as well as some fun. “We are doing pretty much everything as a family these days,” Swaty Rao, an advertising and marketing executive, says. Swaty says her daughters, Samira, an eighth grader, and Mahika, a fourth grader, help her with daily chores as well, once they are done with their school work. They help with the weekly cleanup and also help in sorting and cleaning the produce after the weekly grocery run.
Despite its challenges, some are trying to look at the positives. Nupur says she is enjoying the slow pace of everyday routine — “the nowhere to rush and be day.” And she enjoys that as a family they are doing things together that they usually don’t get the time for.
However, the lockdown days are of course busier for Nupur, with a longer time spent in the kitchen. “Kids, always looking for something to eat,” she says of her kids, Anant, a fifth grader, and daughter, Aradhana, who’s in grade one.
For Manasa, keeping her kids occupied and entertained is a chore in itself. Another struggle is incorporating a physical activity, whether at home or in the backyard. Once Mira finishes with her remote school, she and her sister Siya, spend time painting or playing. Manasa includes a physical activity as well – there’s so stretching exercises, maybe some yoga or a Bollywood workout to change the pace.
What about the parents themselves? They too need an outlet.
For Deepti, it’s dance.
A fitness enthusiast and a dancer, Deepti reached out to women and kids in her circle, to offer live classes via Zoom. That way, she gets her daily workout and also gets face-time with people.
Through all this chaos, and juggling of different roles, Nupur observes that it’s important to give kids the credit they deserve. “Staying at home all day is hardest for the children,” she says. She is impressed at the maturity her children have shown so far in understanding why they must not be out.
There’s also a sense of gratitude. Although it is a little daunting managing work, home and kids, Amruta notes it’s important to not forget those working on the frontlines – healthcare professionals, store employees, food delivery boys or sanitation workers – who are going to work for us. “I feel like I am definitely in a better situation than them,”
As they say, it’s important to count one’s blessings, and what better time than now.