Since the beginning of the pandemic, parents and caregivers of small children have struggled. We have reached out to each other to share GIFs and Buzzfeed articles for levity and comfort, swapped names of recommended nannies and daycares, and turned to each other when the inevitable has happened: “another quarantine shutdown.”

The phrase “the new normal” is like nails on a chalkboard, as we know firsthand the true nature of pandemic parenting: nothing is truly normal. Every day is a labyrinth of change, balancing parenthood and work while identifying and calibrating the relative amount of risk we can take to protect our health and our families.

Our goal is to raise strong, independent, forward-thinking children, but how can we when at moments we can’t help but grieve the past?

After two years of 18-hour days of work and parenting, I find myself going to bed, feeling recharged and hopeful, while on others completely exhausted: how much more of this can we take?

“Pandemic parenting” is apt at showing poetic alliteration but at its core telling of a problematic tale: we are on our own.

Ranked as the fourth most expensive in the country for childcare, Connecticut has left less-privileged families behind. Private franchises that cost upwards to $40,000 for two toddler children pay their lead teachers $15 an hour. That’s only if you can get a coveted opening. At times, the interview and matriculation process can last months.

Sana Shaikh

The pandemic has compounded the issue of being priced out of childcare.  What’s even more disconcerting: it’s the types of policies – or lack thereof – to support parents and caregivers that have made navigating this pandemic worse.  Waiting three hours for a COVID PCR test to attend school, managing the confusing and often conflicting advice of how to manage asymptomatic symptoms, and the consequences of an inadequate infrastructure for early education options stands at the core of why parents are struggling.

Our family is privileged in many ways. My husband and I both work for companies that provide us childcare support and the option to work from home. My husband’s family lives nearby. We also haven’t had to endure sleepless nights to afford the abysmally high cost of childcare in this state.

Prior to having our twins go to school, we had created a list of private, parochial, and magnet schools in the area, which had allowed my husband to do a cost-benefit analysis for the best fit. We did this process a year and half before they even attended. How is it possible for an average family in CT, with a median salary of $78,444 to even have that conversation when the pricing is not even in their budget?

Perhaps the most disconcerting truth is that even with the lofty price tags, it is hard to gauge the quality of childcare being provided. One of the primary ways to determine childcare quality is to do classroom evaluations and to be physically present in the space for observation. That choice has been markedly limited due to COVID. We must build relationships virtually and push ourselves to build trust quickly, often using a touchpoint or two to determine whether our children will thrive in that space. Childcare centers have also struggled amidst COVID and with additional health protocols and smaller classes, they have made it clear: daycare spots are limited and if we take longer to decide, we will be forgoing our positions.

As for parents who have small children, immunocompromised children, children with special needs and an inability to pay for staggering daycare costs, what are they expected to do? How can they manage the responsibilities of parenthood while also being expected to be present for positions that are in-person? What can they do if they are seeking a PCR test but there isn’t one available in a 50-mile radius? What about parents who can’t speak English? Or are afraid of losing their job if their child was exposed and they have to say home for 10 days? Or was that 14? What about parents who have mental health issues, are depressed or anxious, and need additional support? How are they being provided the services that they need to be their best selves?

The data is clear: the emotional and mental impacts of this pandemic are going to reverberate for years, as we continue to grapple with the shifting expectations and realities of raising children in a state that does not have adequate social security nets for those that need that support the most.

What’s tragic in all of this is that the policymakers who had multiple moments to ideate, innovate, and make change, have not seized that opportunity. While less-privileged families have had to face the brunt of the inaction, all families have been impacted by the complacency.

There’s no doubt in my mind: our children are our life’s biggest gift. How did we cultivate our gifts, support Connecticut families, and innovate during a period of such inexpressible loss? The jury’s still out.

What is clear: when we talk about the “new normal” it means more of the same: parents, caretakers, and families are on our own.

Sana Shaikh of Avon is a member of The Connecticut Mirror’s Community Editorial Board.