“The Unknown is Worse Than the Known”: 6 Moms From Around the Country, On Their Back-to-School Plans

real moms on back to school cat

Whether or not to send kids back into classrooms is one of the hardest decisions politicians, administrators and parents will ever have to make. And with so many factors and so much about COVID-19 still unknown, the truth is that there’s no one right answer here. The common theme? Everyone is stressed.

We asked six moms across the country to let us inside their heads as they navigate the science, the school system and their own parental instincts.

1. The Tennessee Mom Who Doesn’t Have a Plan B

The Kids: A second grader and a pre-kindergartner

The School’s Plan: “K-5 is in-person, but you can apply to be virtual. There will be temperature checks and kids will be masked when at their desks. When socially distanced, they can remove them.”

Her Plan: “Our plan is to have both kids go to school.”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “Not having a Plan B. I’m not sure if we’re making the right decision, but we also don’t have a backup if our kids are virtual. My husband and I both work full-time, but can’t maintain our workload and home school at the same time. I worry that I’m putting our kids at risk, but I also want them to have the social interaction. They are excited to go, too, so I have my fingers crossed it’s a good experience for them. If our school plan changes, we may have to make decisions with our jobs to accommodate.”

On Virtual Learning: “We did it back in March until the school year ended, and it was hard. I don’t have the patience when they don’t listen and was easily distracted with my work. It was hard to manage their conference calls on top of ours.”


2. The Massachusetts Mom Who’s Worried About the Public Schools

The Kids: A first grader and a preschooler

The School’s Plan: “My son is in public school and there are three options, which are set to be laid out this week: 1) Fully in person, no classroom headcount limitations, but desks spaced three feet apart 2) Fully remote 3) A hybrid model. My daughter goes to a private school that has submitted two possible plans: fully in-person or fully remote. Their intention is to be in person to start and move to fully remote if/when necessary.

Her Plan: “We don’t know. At first, I was 100 percent on board with sending both kids to school in person. The smaller private school setting worries me less, but I’m feeling more hesitant about the larger public school. Massachusetts is not requiring kindergarten and first graders to wear masks—though they are encouraged—which feels like a recipe for disaster. There are also logistical issues our district faces with bussing kids to and from school as well as lunch time spacing. It feels like every day, I’m leaning more and more toward ‘full remote’ for our first grader and forming a learning pod with our neighbors for socialization.”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “Everything? I worry about the social emotional development. I worry about them getting sick. I worry about them getting my mother or grandmother sick and someone dying. I worry about them experiencing the anger and depression issues again that they had in the spring. I worry that I’m not ‘there’ enough for my kids with them home. I worry about the impact remote or hybrid learning will have on my job and my husband’s job and the dynamics of our relationship as we move through the pandemic. We’re exhausted!”

On Virtual Learning: “I think it can work for our family, and quite frankly, it’s going to have to.”


3. The Single Mom from L.A. Who’s Stressing About Staying On Top of It All

The Kid: A high school freshman

The School’s Plan: “Fully remote and pretty confusing: There will be online classes on Monday, then Tuesday has 20 to 30-minute individual assignments building on what they learned Monday, then online classes Wednesday and Thursday, and then on Friday, they are to work on ‘extension assignments’ that require them to deepen their independent learning.”

Her Plan: “Um, well, at the suggestion of a friend, I got a small white board so I can write assignments in the kitchen. But with all the different classes meeting different days and ‘deepened independent learning,’ I think I’ll need a bigger one like in sports movies where there’s a montage showing the coach outlining the plan for the dim quarterback in time for the big game. Except I am the dim quarterback."

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “It’s just me and my son here in our home and I have my hands full trying to make sure bills are paid as well as to try to work out something to make up for lower wages thanks to COVID. And my son’s got some emotional issues that have delayed development, plus he’s a teen boy, so I think it would be best for me to really be on top of all of his assignments in a non-stressed ‘learning is fun, you got this!’ manner. But I’m not sure how I can do that, since it seems like just the full-time job and home/auto maintenance takes up all my waking hours.”

On Virtual Learning: “I don’t have a lot of faith in remote learning. The last semester of his last year was a disaster, grade-wise. But with remote learning, he and I have a better chance of staying alive.”


4. The NYC Mom Who Is Feeling Good About a Hybrid Model

The Kid: A high school junior

The School’s Plan: “Right now, they’re telling us that the high school will be one week in class in person and one week virtual. An on and off schedule.”

Her Plan: “My partner and I work full-time. We want our daughter to go back to school in some capacity. She is an only child and she needs to interact with other children. I also think she learns better in person. She finds staring at a screen at home tedious and she doesn’t feel the teachers are challenging the students as much virtually. Last semester, there were no letter grades, just pass/fail and her classmates were pissed off about it. It’s a competitive school—and expensive—so grading is important to them. Of course, we want her to be safe and comfortable, but there are no guarantees now, are there?”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “I can’t imagine her spending her junior year at home stuck in an apartment. I don’t think it’s good for her emotionally, mentally or physically. But at the same time, if she doesn’t feel safe, she will be so nervous, she won’t be able to concentrate. We have invested a lot of money in her education, but does that supersede her health? Of course not. I’m still waffling back and forth.”

On Virtual Learning: “I think it works when it’s a combo. It is very hard to hold the students’ attention through a screen. My daughter is also shy, so speaking in class was already an issue. She is never going to speak in a Zoom call. I think it makes students feel even less engaged. I saw the Zoom class, and students were lying in bed. How is that good for concentration and focus? It’s not!”


5. The Pennsylvania Mom Who Just Wants a Decision

The Kids: A high school junior, a sixth grader and a third grader

The School’s Plan: “Believe it or not, our school board has not yet released a decision. My guess is that they’re leaning toward a virtual option.”

Her Plan: “I am an educator myself—a college professor—and willing to consider a variety of plans at this point. But the biggest thing for me is that they haven't decided and therefore nobody can plan and prepare. My job is very busy and my husband's job is even busier this time of year (he’s a farmer), so I am worried about how to keep up with what the kids need to be doing. I am also completely convinced that many schools will end up all virtual anyway sometime during the fall, so in some ways I think that they should just pull that trigger early.”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “I just want them to have some certainty— the unknown is worse than the known. The biggest thing that bothers me is the lack of boldness—of allowing teachers to embrace virtual and perhaps some creative in-person things while we have the opportunity (classes outside while the weather is still nice, outdoor explorations for the little kids, etc...). I wish that we had a leader willing to be wrong, but willing to try something new.”

On Virtual Learning: “I think kids should be "schooled" in how to make it work for them because it will be a part of their lives forever in some way. There is great opportunity in the spirit of self-directed learning that can be achieved with teachers willing to be humble to the process. But to be humble and open you have to not be scared and under stress. And that is simply not where we are at the moment.”


6. The Ohio Mom Who’s Worried About the Finances

The Kids: A kindergartner and a preschooler

The School’s Plan: “As of now, our private school is committed to in-person instruction, but has delayed the release of a final plan until next week now that the county's public health department is encouraging an online start for schools. Public schools in the area are either starting online-only or hybrid, so it's quite likely our school will move in that direction. We'll see!”

Her Plan: “Our current thinking is to send them in-person if that's offered, depending on how comfortable we feel with the outlined plan. I'm trying not to obsess about alternative plans until I know what we're working with; easier said than done!”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “If the school (or we) go fully virtual, I know that either my spouse or I will need to work fewer hours to help our kids—mostly the kindergartner—with online school. We've already pre-paid the first semester of school for both kids, so it would be difficult to afford a nanny/babysitter to help out on top of that. That stresses me out!”

On Virtual Learning: “It works if there are enough adults around at home to support kids. But how we can do this while both working full time is unknown! I can attest to the fact that we weren't able to do it well in the spring. It's hard enough keeping both kids safe and entertained while both working full time, let alone supporting structured online learning. Even with lots of privilege and employer support/understanding, it feels impossible. My heart goes out to those with fewer options.”

What Will School Look Like in September?

Rachel Bowie Headshot

Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...