I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m living in a 1980’s sci-fi movie. The majority of my social interactions take place virtually and when I leave my home people are aloof and hidden behind face masks. Times are certainly uncertain. While some are thriving under the new conditions, others are just trying to keep up. I, for one, have found it difficult to give my full attention to course work while also parenting a three-year-old.
Though it is not the norm, my situation is not unique. Many faculty members and students are caring for children while simultaneously tending to course work and professional responsibilities. As maternal and child health professionals, I think it is critical to recognize what is being asked of families right now. Many parents are working 40-hour jobs from home while also caring for their children full time. If children are school age, parents are also expected to facilitate their children’s education. Parents working in essential service jobs outside of the home are tasked with finding safe and reliable childcare, while childcare centers and schools are closed. This is an especially trying time for many populations, especially working families with young children. While continuing on our academic journeys, it is important to keep these scenarios in mind.
Although it has taken time and patience for faculty and students to find their groove while learning, working teaching and maybe even parenting from home, most of us are growing accustomed to the virtual setting. It has been truly inspiring to see the many ways universities are working to ensure we are successful in these uncertain times. Some students report struggling with motivation and productivity, while others find relief from social stressors and more time to focus on studies. Many students are finding solace in focusing their energy on helping those in need, by sewing masks or volunteering to distribute food with various programs across the country. Others have worked quickly to begin research, with hopes of understanding the virus and its impact on the public. University of Tennessee professor, Dr. Sarah Colby, has collected more than 8,000 responses to a survey on nutrition and health behaviors during the pandemic. Further, she has collaborated with others to build a team to reach out to respondents in need.
Similar to coursework, many conferences and seminars have also moved to virtual platforms. Though these changes may have some limitations, it seems that these learning opportunities are more accessible than ever. The University of Tennessee MCH Nutrition trainees, as well as current and former MCH trainees from across the country, recently took part in the Making Lifelong Connections Conference from the comforts of home. The virtual conference focused on improving professional use of social media and virtual platforms. The conference increased participation and interaction by inviting attendees to share pictures illustrating their own social distancing experiences.
Whether you’re thriving or struggling to get through the day, we’re all in this together. If you’re feeling confident, reach out to friends and collogues that might not be. If you’re thriving, take note of the changes that have contributed to your success and advocate for those options to remain when social distancing recommendations ease. If you’re having a hard time, know there are recourses to support you. Please, don’t be afraid to talk about the challenges you’re experiencing. It’s likely that you’re not the only one struggling and the more awareness that can be raised around the hardships, the more can be don’t to reduce them in the future.
By: Emily Wojtowicz, MS, RD, CSP, LD, IBCLC