Parents in the US are at a breaking point. Parents around the world explain why they are not.
Parents in the US are at a breaking point, with school closures and lack of reliable child care.
In Italy, parents often have support from family members.
In Latin America, many parents value socialization and are encouraged to meet with friends.
Navigating a worldwide pandemic has been stressful for parents across the globe, but parents in the United States are operating in perpetual crisis mode. With schools closures, a childcare crisis with many daycares closing for good, and a lack of reliable childcare, parents are having to do it all, and they're burned out. In fact, according to a 2021 survey of parents in 42 countries, parental burnout ranked highest among Americans.
We talked to parents in several countries outside the US who say they're coping well to find out what support systems they have in place that are lacking stateside.
Italian parents often have strong support systems
The Italian government requires everyone to mask up both outdoors and indoors, and vaccination is required to attend work or university, said Candice Criscione, an expat who lives with her family just outside of Florence.
In the United States, most universities require in-person students to be vaccinated and require masks indoors. But mask mandates vary depending on location and are often difficult to enforce.
In the US, 63% of the population is fully vaccinated, while Italy is at over 75%.
Many Italians also have an excellent support system when it comes to raising children, Criscione said.
"Here, you see grandparents picking up children after school and families trade-off with child care. If you need help, you won't have trouble finding it," she said.
Even when parents feel depleted from juggling jobs and child-rearing, "there is a general consensus that sacrifices have to be made, and there's trust in what scientists and authorities are communicating," said Katherine Wilson, who lives in Rome.
"That said, parents are having a lot of trouble without the help of the older generation; often kids in Italy are taken care of by grandparents," said Wilson.
For those in the "sandwich" generation, taking care of their parents as well as their kids, the pandemic has been especially hard. The priority has been making sure that the elderly and the children are protected from COVID-19.
For those that do have grandparents around, it can be the only way they get a break from work and parenting.
"My husband and I manage by making sure we each get time to ourselves, whether it's a bike ride or a short walk. With both of us working, we also have given in to more screen time, although we still try to limit the time and make sure what they're watching provides some value. We live on a property with my in-laws and we have live-in, part-time help with our now 1-year-old, which I'm so grateful for," said Criscione.
A mom in Mexico said kids are often playing and socializing in parks
At the beginning of the pandemic, Mexican mother Diana Bueno Bieletto was on full alert like everyone else, but that fear has since fizzled.
"You see kids outside playing at playgrounds, malls, schools, [the] beach, parks. I think we value socialization in Mexico even more than health," Bieletto said.
Mexico is just now starting to vaccinate teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17, and is behind the US with 60% of the population fully vaccinated.
In spite of the lack of vaccination available for children 15 and under, the parents we spoke with said they've adapted to life during COVID.
Luis Enrique Rodriguez, who lives in central Mexico, said there are moments when he feels tired, but not burnt-out. "I think culturally we have more support mechanisms than people in the US, and maybe we're not so centered on fear, " said Rodriguez.
"We rely heavily on family support to have a moment to recharge and rest, to go to a cafe or a movie theater or just to have the time in the morning to work from home while someone else helps us take care of the kids," Rodriguez said.
For Violeta Noetinger, a mom of four in Argentina, the beginning of the pandemic was exhausting. Living in a society that relies heavily on domestic help, which was suddenly unavailable due to limited transportation, she said she felt "completely abandoned." But as time went on, parents pooled their resources.
"We hired private tutors for small groups at home — even going against local guidelines — to ensure that our kids had some kind of safe, limited, and somewhat periodic learning and social contact. If I have to think what saved us, it was the small groups we formed with other parents in order to help each other out," Noetinger said.
Similarly, some US families assembled "learning pods" early in the pandemic to better handle the demands of remote school, outsourcing the supervision of a small group of children's remote learning to hired help.
A dad in Norway said he's seeing people have a stronger faith in institutions
Per Ola Wold-Olsen, a father in Norway, said people in his country tend to have faith in their government and its institutions, something that hasn't changed during the pandemic.
Even with homeschooling and working from home, Wold-Olsen said he's seen families coping well. "Mostly, parents are frustrated over how little we can go to the office, travel, and meet in large groups," Wold-Olsen said.
"Both parents contribute equally with home and the kids. There was equality in the home even before COVID. Remote learning required that parents helped their kids a lot, but employers were aware of the need for shorter and fragmented work days and they adapted accordingly," said Wold-Olsen.
Rachel Meyer, an American expat living in Switzerland, where 69% of the population is fully vaccinated, says she's experienced less of an individualistic approach to the pandemic compared to the US. "The partisan cultural divisions over mask mandates and vaccination resistance makes surviving the pandemic especially tough for American parents," said Meyer.
"Because of government-run weekly mass testing and student mask mandates, children here in Switzerland have largely managed to stay in face-to-face school over the course of the pandemic," said Meyer. She said this has been supportive both for both parents' and students' mental well-being.
Grateful to be riding out the pandemic in Switzerland rather than the United States, Meyer said, "It's hard to stay healthy when 50% of your community thinks COVID is a hoax."
There's a sense of collective responsibility for public health in Switzerland that seems to be missing in the US, she said.
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