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'I hope people realize how hard it is': Moms, dads talk parenting during COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic has led to unforeseen challenges and stresses for parents worldwide.

ATLANTA — There are tens of millions of parents across the United States.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have all faced unforeseen challenges – some universal, some hyper-specific.

“It’s hectic, and it’s frustrating,” said Dylisha Gamble of Cartersville. “At this point, you want to fire yourself a little bit.”

“It feels like everything’s turned up to 11,” said John Stoj of Sandy Springs.

We reached out to parents across metro Atlanta for their stories about parenting during this pandemic. Here is what they shared, in their own words (edited from longer interviews):

Daphne Collier, Riverdale: 4 children (12, 4, 3, and 1)

“It’s been … new. It’s been a different struggle for us because, unfortunately, I had COVID-19 and double-pneumonia. I didn’t see my children for about a month. It’s been a mental and physical struggle."

“COVID has changed our day-to-day lives. Kids don’t understand that we can’t go to the park, and we can’t go to any social attractions right now. You just need to find new ways to keep your kids entertained. We have movie night, and we have picnics in our yard. You have to have a plan. You have to have a routine."

“I am the only parent in my home. It’s always a lot, COVID or no COVID, having four children, ranging from the ages of 12 to 1. Kids are going to be kids. They’re gonna sneeze. They’re gonna wipe their eyes. It’s not a personal thing. Everyone around the nation is trying to get through it.”

Dylisha Gamble, Cartersville: 3 children (14, 6, and 4)

“I had been diagnosed with COVID, and at the same time of me contracting it, my son contracted it, because I had no choice but to have [the kids] quarantine with me."

“It was scary. I panicked. It made me feel helpless at that point. I had to explain to him, ‘Son, you can’t go to school, because Mommy is sick, and now you’re sick. You feel like you failed."

“It’s like, you want to give up sometimes, but you know you can’t. I love every one of my children.”

Jason McCullough, Marietta: 2 children (4 and 2)

“Being a parent during COVID and quarantine is quite chaotic. What makes my situation unique is that they’re toddlers. Helping them understand what’s going on is tough."

“And, of course, there’s the stress and anxiety. You have to sort of brush that off when you’re in front of the children. You want to be strong and brave for them, but there’s that lurking anxiety: what if I were to catch COVID? What if my wife were to catch COVID? Not only am I anxious and scared and nervous for myself, but now there’s children involved.”

“Kids don’t get to be kids at the moment. Sometimes we’ll go up to a drive-through, and my daughter will be like, ‘Daddy, put on your mask! You don’t want to breathe germs!’ Being locked in the house is a small frustration. We’re safe, and that’s all we have to do.”

John Stoj, Sandy Springs: 1 child (7)

“To me, what it’s like to be a parent is that your kid or your children are going to take precedence. I feel super-lucky because we’ve remained healthy."

“The kids know so much more than we like to give them credit for. My son would say to me, ‘You know, I can’t wait for the coronavirus to be over so we can go see Grandma Rose again.’ It was a little bit heartbreaking."

“You get comments from people who think we’re crazy for sending our kid back to school, and then you get comments from people who think we’re crazy for taking it so seriously and wearing our masks in public. People who don’t do the same things as you do are probably doing it with their kids in mind.”

Melisa Nichols, Austell: 4 children

“Initially, it was a train wreck. It has been a lot of troubleshooting. Every day is different. I wake up extra-early to make sure [my kids are] good. Then I have to do my job. Then I step out for lunch. Then I do my work. Then I check on them. I’ve practically cried twice during this whole time trying to figure it all out.

“There’s times where I feel like, ‘I don’t know if I can make it through this.’ There are weeks where I’m like, ‘Good planning will allow us to be successful with this.’ Then there are times where I’m realistic and I’m like, ‘This crap sucks.’”

Michael Kent, Marietta: 3 children

“It has been, um, an interesting ride.

“Our oldest is a freshman at the University of Alabama. We had misgivings [about sending him], and there’s a level of stress that wouldn’t be there but for the pandemic, but both my wife and I believe the risk is manageable. Kids are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. His biggest fear is that, all of a sudden, they’ll send him home.

“We never saw ourselves as home-schoolers, but we’ve actually enrolled them in a hybrid home school program. My wife is now going to be volunteering a few days a week with that. She definitely has her hands full. I looked at her last night, and I could tell that she was just absolutely exhausted.

“With the downturn in the economy, that’s impacted me. We have financial stresses as well. That’s what we try to tell the boys: none of these choices are great.”

Ryan Clark, Decatur: 2 children

“It’s stretched us in ways as a family that we couldn’t have imagined before. I’m playing referee. I’m taking things off the printer for one kid, and setting up the camera for the other, and making sure the wi-fi is connected. It’s hard to get a foothold because from day to day, you don’t know what’s going to come up. You don’t know what’s going to happen.

“We’re used to having a lifestyle where, for the most part, things work. As a parent, my mind starts to spin. I think about the economy and if my work is ever gonna come back. I worry about paying for my kids’ college. It’s really hard to get some of thoughts out of my mind so I can fall asleep at night.

“I really do worry that my kids are absorbing a really negative view of the world. I worry that what they’re learning in this pandemic is: avoid other people, you can’t touch other people, stay in your house and hide. And that really breaks my heart.

“Everyone is doing their best. Every teacher, every school administrator … every parent is pulling out all the stops … and it’s frustrating when everyone is doing their best and it still seems like it’s not good enough.”

Senterrio Alexander, College Park: 2 children

“My schedule is working 3:30 PM to midnight. Then I have to get the kids together and wake up around 6:45 AM. Then I take care of the kids all day.

“It’s like a full-time job pretty much: a full-time job, with another full-time job. It’s 100 hours a week, easily.

“What can you do? I’m just blessed that I have a job at night so I can tend to my kids during the day, so that’s the blessing … and to still have a job. A lot of people had to change their whole lives to be home with their kids. This is our kids’ future and stuff, so you can’t take it lightly.

“As a parent, this is not just something you just clock in and clock out. It’s full-time, 24-7-365 … 366 in a leap year. They are our future doctors, lawyers, newspeople … and I feel like they’re our best gem right now to protect.”

Shaienna Quinn, Acworth: 1 child (4 months)

“He hasn’t met anyone yet, besides my parents, who I live with. That’s the frustrating part for me: When can I leave the house with my baby? When can I take him out into the world and spend time with him outside of my home?

“I am a grad student, so I have to make sure that my times align with when my parents can watch him. When I get a break from class or my internship, just being able to sit at home and be present in these moments, you know, some people don’t have that opportunity.”

Tiffany Roberts, Hampton: 4 children (17, 15, 11, & 6)

“I’m a dialysis nurse. We have other nurses that have caught COVID, brought it home to their family and kids, and they’ve been out for weeks. I’m on high alert all the time. When I come straight home, I go straight to the shower. It’s always in the back of my head when I come home, that I don’t want to give my family anything.

“You’re used to kids going to school and being out of the house. I’m the sole provider of my family. It’s just sad when you see on the news that people have filed unemployment several months ago and haven’t received their checks … it’s scary!

“You just have to keep God first and pray as much as you can. It can be another 12 months to 15-16 more months before we get a handle on this. And I hope we do.

“I hope people realize how hard it is.”