Over Half Of Chicago Parents Struggle At Home During Pandemic

February 25, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to parenting for Chicago moms and dads as entire families live, work and attend school together at home, according to a survey from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

With many grown-ups now working from home and most children and teens educated online at least some of the time, many families are confined to the same space 24/7. The need for social distancing has cut families off from many friends and loved ones and decreased the support parents usually depend on.

In the Voices of Child Health in Chicago Parent Panel Survey, fifty-five percent of parents said it was difficult to balance work and family responsibilities during the pandemic. A similar proportion (58 percent) of parents also noted that they worry about child and family issues while they are working.

“The health and social stresses of this pandemic are incredibly challenging. For the majority of parents in Chicago, the needs to protect their own and their children’s health, often adapt to new school-at-home situations, and juggle their own working roles are creating a new mix of worries and strain that makes parenting extra-difficult,” says Matthew Davis, MD, MAPP, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Lurie Children’s, Executive Vice-President and Chief Community Health Transformation Officer at the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities at Lurie Children’s, and Chair of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “As pediatricians, it’s important to reassure parents that they are not alone in feeling this stress, and we try to problem-solve together.”

Parents surveyed indicated that they felt most supported by their child’s health care provider and grandparents, as well as their child’s other parent. Parents felt less comfortable asking for support from other relatives, friends, babysitters, daycare provider or teacher.

“As the parent of a child with chronic illness, I know how important partnerships with pediatricians are, especially now in uncertain times,” says parent Margaret Storey, a member of Lurie Children’s Family Advisory Board. “I appreciate this research that recognizes this new reality many parents like me are experiencing during the pandemic.”

Worry and anxiety have escalated during the pandemic for parents and children. Parents can learn strategies to cope with the challenges of parenting during the pandemic from resources such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.

In addition to his work focused on Chicago families, Dr. Davis was part of a team that identified the impact of the pandemic on parents and families at a national level. In their survey, 1 in 10 parents said their mental health and their children’s behavioral health were declining. A significant number of these parents said that they lost regular childcare, their insurance status had changed, and an increasing number said they were not able to buy food for their families. The findings, recognized as a Best of 2020 research article by the American Academy of Pediatrics, are influencing U.S. public policy response to the pandemic.

The Voices of Child Health in Chicago Survey is conducted exclusively by NORC at the University of Chicago for Lurie Children’s and is administered to Chicago parents three times each year via internet and telephone surveys. The sample consists of 1,642 Chicago parents from all 77 community areas in Chicago and is weighted to be representative of households with children across the city.  The survey was taken in May-July 2020, when many parents began working from home and students began learning online. This timing may have influenced responses to the survey.

Population-focused child health research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outcomes, and Evaluation Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S. News & World Report and is the pediatric training affiliate for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 221,000 children from 47 states and 30 countries.