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No schools, no playgrounds — How Seattle single parents are coping with COVID-19

Holly Reichmann Young’s children: Joelle, Jaima, Rhorey, and Jessamyn (Image: Mark Van Streefkerk for CHS)

With schools closed and slowly transitioning to online instruction, Seattle parents, many of whom found themselves suddenly underemployed, also have the added role of educator, among a ton of other things. The strain is all the more taxing on single parents, especially the disproportionately higher number of single mothers.

Holly Reichmann Young, single mother of four, said her life has suddenly shifted into sharper focus. “I don’t give a flying shit if my eyelashes don’t grow,” she admitted. “The silver lining is that it’s really causing me to get my life together. I just can’t come home and assume all these things have been taken care of at school. I now need to know that you’ve exercised, that you’ve had your water, that you’ve read for a half an hour. So we’re setting up schedules. I have a hand in what they’re learning. I’m able to give them tasks that allow them to do things on their own and not be so dependent on me.”

Young lives in Maple Leaf, and is one of many single mothers whose routines have been upended due to school closures.

A former long-time Georgetown resident, Sarah Palmer, director of sales and marketing at Synesso, telecommutes part time, and when she has to go to the office, she takes her seven-year-old Bella with her. “Thankfully there’s a lot of staff who have gone home, so I let her in the office, and that’s her work station while I’m there,” she said.

Julia Thomas lives part-time near Garfield High School, and has a toddler, which isn’t exactly an ideal age to bring to work. Thomas works as a housecleaner, and since the COVID-19 crisis, has had her business dwindle to all but one out-of-town client. She brings her almost-two-year-old Sawyer with her to work, “It’s a lot harder with him being there.”

While trying to earn a living, or navigating unemployment, and keeping their kids fed and connected, another serious concern for single parents is what happens if they get sick themselves. Hyla Dobaj, mother to 19-year-old Davonni and 13-year-old Yolana, said, “That’s a very good question. I am just trying not to think about that. I’ll put my head in the sand.”

Living near Magnuson Park, Dobaj, a two-time cancer survivor, works as an aide for a child with special needs whose school is now closed. Her first word of advice to other single parents is to apply for food assistance, even though Dobaj herself makes slightly too much to qualify for EBT food benefits. She said Mercy Housing has been a great resource, “I got help with rent last month from them,” as well as Hopelink.

For Young, getting food and other essentials is all about staying connected, networking, and sharing resources. She says her local school district webpage, and neighborhood parenting facebook groups have made all the difference. “There are teachers, librarians, parents, and when they hear of a resource, they put it on the web page. They’re telling us where to go like, ‘Hey on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 o’clock at Safeway, that’s when they get their toilet paper, and that’s when they get their paper towels. It’s like, underground. I’m not even kidding.”

She also noticed that an online thread of parents created to keep their kids connected to school lessons has turned into “a lifeline for supplies.”

For Palmer, the support she gets from friends or other parents has been invaluable. “I’ll have friends call and say, ‘Hey, can I take 30 minutes and read with Bella?’ That’s been a big game changer for me. It makes me feel less alone in it.”


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