Women have made enormous advances in the workplace over the past decade. We’re leaning in. We can have it all. We’re climbing the corporate ladder.

And now, with COVID-19, it is coming to a deafening halt.

Moms have dropped everything to take care of their children in the absence of child care and school.

The closure of schools across Virginia on March 16, and across the nation around the same time, was no doubt an unprecedented and dramatic step to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Closing schools and child care centers forced working parents, and in turn, our country’s workforce as a whole, to stay home. These closures also placed an enormous burden on moms.

On day 67 of school closures, Washington Post columnist Caroline Kitchener wrote, “With kids at home, and families forced to take on significantly more domestic labor, women are opting out of the workforce.”

Almost 40% of child care centers in Virginia closed during this time, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services, and only a fraction have indicated a reopening date.

We undoubtedly are in a child care crisis as day care closures continue and school districts like Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield opt for 100% virtual learning this fall.

As a full-time working mom with two young children, I know I have it easier than many. I also never have experienced so much stress about work, life, child care, raising children, school, the future and the list goes on — and I am not alone.

Early on, the text messages shared among my girlfriends were funny.

A photo of a playground slide that starts out pretty flat then drops at a 90 degree angle with the caption: If 2020 was a slide...

A cartoon of a disheveled mom on a video conference call saying, “Sorry I’m late for work. My commute was hell this morning,” with children hanging on her leg, a full laundry basket and dad loitering in the background.

Funny, but true.

Day by day, more parents are returning to their brick-and-mortar workplaces. Many essential workers have been going to work every day for months now.

But how do you do that if your children are too young to be at home by themselves? And even if they could, do you want them sitting at home all day by themselves with little to do because of closures?

For families that can’t afford supplemental care, parents are forced to stay home or alter their schedules, leading to lost income.

One by one, Virginia’s schools are choosing virtual learning or two days a week in the classroom. Thus the responsibility falls on parents to continue to take on the additional role as the educator. This is forcing parents to stay home from work, find alternative assistance, try to afford child care or private school, or risk their children falling behind in school.

There is no easy answer to the problem. Just like COVID-19, it’s complex. And if life ever took a village — a creative, flexible, nimble village — now is the time.

Policymakers keep calling on employers to be flexible. But how long can they do that? And how is that possible for people who work in a direct service industry where their income directly is tied to clients and projects? Continued calls for flexibility come from a place of privilege, and a complete misunderstanding of the impact on small businesses and families alike.

Leadership at the local, state and federal levels must invest in child care solutions to help parents afford to keep working. Proposals like legislation from U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., to increase the child care tax credit are needed now more than ever.

Schools must reopen. One thing is clear from this spring — virtual learning does not work for most children. Families are left scrambling to do what our public education system is failing to do — provide a quality education for our children.

Some moms are putting together home-school programs with other families to cover the days schools are closed. Others are searching for child care and tutors for five days a week — if they can afford it. Preschools and other programs are exploring offering support for K-12 students on the days there isn’t school. All of this begs the question: Why can’t schools just be open?

Children have been the most impacted by the closures when they are the age group least impacted by the virus. In turn, moms are being forced to make a choice between providing for their family and ensuring their children are safe, cared for and learning.

As a mom, this gives me anxiety — not just for my family and my children, but for every mom in this country who regularly lives out the juggling act as caregiver and provider.

Taylor Keeney is director of strategic communications and advocacy for Hunton Andrews Kurth’s Global Economic Development, Commerce & Government Relations group. In 2019, she founded Little Hands Virginia, a nonprofit that provides essentials to children and families in need in the Greater Richmond region. Contact her at: tkeeney@huntonak.com

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