Before the pandemic, the biggest parent-related challenge for Charlie Wray, DO, MS, a hospitalist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, was “figuring out what I was going to pack in my kids’ lunches. Like most people, we were very much in our groove – we knew when my wife was going to leave work, and which day I’d pick up the kids,” Dr. Wray said. “I reflect back on that and think how easy it was.”
The old life – the one that seems so comparatively effortless – has been gone for close to a year now. And with the reopening of schools in the fall of 2020, hospitalists with school-age kids felt – and are still feeling – the strain in a variety of ways.
“The largest struggles that we have had involve dealing with the daily logistics of doing at-home learning,” said Dr. Wray, father to a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. Dr. Wray and his wife are both physicians and have been juggling full work schedules with virtual school for their older child, who is not old enough to be autonomous. “For parents who have younger children who require one-on-one attention for the vast majority of their learning, that certainly takes more of a toll on your time, energy, and resources.”
Uncertainty has created anxiety about the future. “We have no idea what’s going to be happening next month. How do we plan for that? How do we allocate our time for that? That has been a real struggle for us, especially for a two-physician household where we are both considered front line and are both needing to be at the hospital or the clinic on a fairly regular basis,” he said.
Then there is the never-ending stress. Dr. Wray observed that physicians are used to operating under stress, especially at work. “What I think is gnawing at me, and probably a lot of other physicians out there, is you go home and that stress is still there. It’s really hard to escape it. And you wake up in the morning and it’s there, whereas in the past, you could have a nice day. There’s little separation between work and domestic life right now.”
Having to work later into the evening has eaten into time for himself and time with his wife too. “That’s another side effect of the pandemic – it not only takes your time during the day, it takes the time you used to have at night to relax.”
To manage these challenges, Dr. Wray said he and his wife regularly double check their schedules. The family has also created a pod – “I think ‘podded up’ is a verb now,” he laughed – with another family and hired a recent college graduate to help the kids with their virtual learning. “Is it as good as being at school and amongst friends and having an actual teacher there? Of course not. But I think it’s the best that we can do.”
Dr. Wray said his employers have been flexible and understanding regarding scheduling conflicts that parents can have. “It’s really difficult for us, so oftentimes I struggle to see how other people are pulling this off. We recognize how fortunate we are, so that’s something I never want to overlook.”