Parents Have Incentive to Lie Right Now—That’s Systemic Failure

modern family parents lying to keep kids in school

Much has already been reported on last month’s childcare situation (or lack thereof). School closures and delays were rampant. Parents were feeling gaslit by lack of government support and clear guidelines. Teachers were struggling. In sum, it was a bleak time for parents (which says quite a lot, considering that we’re nearly two years into this special kind of hell that is parenting during a pandemic).

But something that is less openly discussed is how many of us are stretching the truth right now in order to keep our kids in school.

One mom told us that even though her daughter’s school has a strict “48-hours fever-free” policy in order to return to in-person learning, she chose to ignore it because both her and her partner had busy days at work and her child seemed fine. “She had a fever before bedtime but it was gone the next morning, so yeah, I sent her in.”

Another parent admitted to sending her child into daycare with a runny nose and slight cough, knowing that the school would likely send him back home in the afternoon but at least it bought her a couple of hours of childcare.

Yet another confessed that while she told the school about her daughter’s positive Covid test, she wished she hadn’t, noting that her daughter had zero symptoms and proceeded to test negative for her entire 10-day quarantine. (“I should have just said she had a cold, kept her home for a few days, and sent her back once her test was negative.”)

And pretty much every parent I spoke with admitted to skipping the daily temperature checks required by so many schools.

This isn’t exactly new. Last year, we rounded up some of the lies that parents had told during the pandemic, ranging from minor fibs (“For weeks, I told my kids they weren’t allowed to come with me to the grocery store because of Covid, but really I just wanted to go shopping alone”) to slightly bigger untruths (“We drove to Ohio, but I told the kids it was ‘Pittsburgh’ so they wouldn’t tell school we had gone to a non-contiguous state”).

What’s different now, perhaps, is that because much of the rest of the population has moved on, thanks to increasing vaccine rates and looser restrictions, parents’ lies are becoming increasingly desperate. Because for parents, even though we are two years into this pandemic, it can feel like little has changed (particularly for those with kids under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine).

The mom with the 48-hour fever-free policy told us that while she might have considered keeping her daughter home a couple of months ago, after dealing with so many closures and actual sick days recently, she couldn’t do it again.

Some parents argue that stricter school sick policies due to Covid are robbing them of the judgement they innately have. Others are grateful that schools are doing everything they can to keep students safe. But most moms and dads we spoke with are somewhere in the middle. One mom whose school requests a pediatrician’s clearance for a runny nose told us she felt conflicted. “Is the runny nose policy extreme? Probably—but if a runny nose is the number one symptom of Omicron or Delta, what do you do? I know that they’re trying to mitigate closures—it just all feels like a catch-22, there’s no good solution for any side.”

Of course, not all parents are comfortable stretching the truth. In my own marriage, for example, my husband will insist on a real deal temperature check for our son, whereas I tend to think that a hand on the forehead is all you need.

“I’m a hypochondriac so I have never lied about the school policy,” another mom told us. “I’ve even made my partner retake Covid tests on our kid if I don't feel he got the required Monday morning swab just right. I just really am psycho about it even if it means falling on my own sword; but I think I’m also super conscious of parent shaming,” she adds.

Ah yes, parent shaming—the searing judgement that was never pleasant but has taken on a whole new level in the pandemic, as decisions about in-person learning, masking, playdates, travel and vaccines have been left wide open for criticism.

One mom grappled with a very pandemic specific type of mom shaming when her child tested positive for Covid (and subsequently infected her entire family), leading to a class-wide shutdown.

“The experience was, as you might expect, very unpleasant. The worst part, however, was not the moderate flu-like illness we all endured, nor was it the burden of being under house arrest with two small (and eventually fully recovered) children, nor was it the expense of having everything delivered for a week and a half…The worst part of having my kid get Covid was the unanticipated and intense run-in with shame,” she told us

“See, as soon as it became apparent that no one in my family would become gravely ill from the virus, the social implications started to sink in. For starters, an entire first grade class had just shut down and gone remote after only two days of school—a crushing disappointment for kids and parents alike, plus a massive headache for the teacher and administrators. And it was our fault.” 

As her daughter’s peers wondered who it was that had shut down the classroom, mom considered staying silent. In the end, however, she decided to reveal herself to the other parents—and to her relief, her confession was met with overwhelming support (“it was immediately clear that every adult in the picture understood that the very same thing could just as easily have happened to their own family.”). 

So, as for the rest of us—will the truth set us free? When it comes to your kid’s runny nose, I’m not so sure. 

Parents Feel Gaslit Right Now—They’re Not Wrong

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