Why some parents are putting their careers on hold for kids amid COVID-19
TORONTO -- Most Canadians have experienced a profound shift in their day-to-day lives since the COVID-19 pandemic began, from adapting to the realities of social bubbles and physical distancing, to embracing remote work.
But as the country enters the second wave, a growing number of parents have made the difficult decision to pause or leave their careers in order to support their children as they navigate the new realities of the education system and the uncertainty of the new normal.
For entrepreneurs like Karen Sibal, who embarked on a second career as a magazine publisher at the age of 50, the decision meant putting the success of her business on the back burner in order to ensure her children didn’t lose sight of their own futures.
“Even though my children are older and technically self-sufficient in many ways, their mental health has suffered tremendously during the pandemic,” Sibal told CTVNews.ca.
“Both kids feel discouraged about their future in terms of education and job prospects, even though they are intellectually bright and inquisitive kids.”
With one daughter heading into her final year of high school via virtual learning and another starting her master's degree online at York University, Sibal feels both need stability at home to help navigate the challenges of virtual learning -- particularly staying engaged during a time of uncertainty.
“I think their future is more important than what I’m doing at this stage of my life because their lives are just starting. When I look back at that age, I was so excited about school and my future. And I don’t see that same fire with my kids,” she explained by phone.
“They need to feel supported, especially when there is little support coming through the education system.”
Despite her decision to send her six-year-old daughter to in-person French immersion this fall, Kitchener, Ont. resident Andrea Milne also decided to leave her job as a research assistant at a community college in anticipation of the second wave.
“At the moment, I am working on personal projects such as self-publishing a series of novels, but I am not looking for a new day-job,” Milne said.
“I am not confident that schools will not re-close this fall or winter. If that happens, I'm not sure how I'm going to manage as the primary carer of our child once again.”
Milne notes that she’s lucky her husband, a professor, is able to support them while she uses this time to pursue her passion of writing and care for their daughter. However, she says she’s been discouraged to look for further employment out of concerns that school will close once again.
“I feel like until the pandemic is managed, until there’s a vaccine, until cases are next to zero, I don’t feel like it makes sense to take a chance on any further employment. Because who knows -- if we get sent back to a lockdown then I’m going to have to be the caregiver,” she said.
CTVNews.ca asked parents who had made the decision to put their careers on pause to share their stories for this article.
The majority of those who responded emphasized the need to invest in their children’s education amid the crisis.
While we did hear from several stay-at-home fathers, the majority of responses came from mothers, echoing concerns that women have been disproportionately affected economically by the pandemic.
According to a recent survey, Canadian women are far more likely than men to have thought about quitting their jobs so their children can attend school virtually. Women also reported being more likely to have turned down job offers or promotions because of the amount of family time they would take up.
In March, during the early stages of the lockdown, women aged 25 to 54 years lost more than twice the jobs (298,500) than men in the same age group (127,600), according to Statistics Canada.
What’s more, women of all ages accounted for two-thirds (63 per cent) of total job losses in the country that month, despite making up less than half of the workforce.
While many of the women we spoke to emphasized their desire to support their children despite the economic impact, experts worry this trend may have a negative impact on the female workforce.
“I have fears that a lot of the growth that we’ve seen in creating a more balanced workforce will be replaced very quickly by a lot of the biased practices that we’ve seen in the past,” Andrea Bartlett, HR Director at Humi, Canada's leading digital HR, benefits, and payroll provider, told CTVNews.ca by phone.
“I also worry whether or not we will see lower support for programs that encourage women’s work. Supporting women in technology, women in stem; these types of programs are essential for not only showing women different career opportunities, but they are a strategic tool for businesses in Canada to leverage when they’re sourcing candidates.”
Before quitting, Bartlett recommends that parents do their research to understand what rules exist in their workplace surrounding job protection and leave of absence.
“Speak to your manager about what kind of flexible working arrangements there might be, whether that’s changing hours or number of days per week,” she said.
“I would also recommend asking your employer whether a reduction in hours is an option.”
Meanwhile, mothers like Milne are reinforcing the importance of balancing parenting and work with their children.
"Recently my daughter asked me: ‘Why don't mothers work?’ I had a hard time figuring out what to say, and honestly, I don't recall exactly what I said,” she explained.
“I did acknowledge to her that yes, most of the moms we know have decided to stay at home with their children, but that doesn't mean moms can't work. I always try to stress that just because I'm a mom doesn't mean it's the only job I do."