One day over the summer, I was explaining to Hudson that I needed to call my friend Melissa, and he looked at me with his big brown eyes and earnestly asked, “Who are my friends, mama?” My heart nearly burst into a million tiny pieces. Between living with my high risk in-laws and giving birth to Brooks in the early spring, I had been so focused on how to keep my family safe from the physical impact of Covid that I hadn’t really stopped to consider how it was affecting other areas of our lives and health. So it was really refreshing to talk to Julia about considering my family’s mental and social health throughout the pandemic. And she validated that this is hard, but we’re going to figure out ways to get through it together.
Watch + Listen to the whole conversation:
At the start of the pandemic, Julia never could have foreseen her current reality, but after one of her tweets caught some attention, she was asked to write an article for The Atlantic about the risk of Covid from a population health perspective. Six articles later, Julia has become a voice of reason, helping us understand the connection between the AIDS epidemic and the COVID pandemic and the need to balance not only the risks of our physical health, but also our mental and social health. And she lives this every day as she weighs the risks of sending her 6 year old to hybrid school and her 3 year old to daycare while she and her husband both work full-time. Though Julia is all too aware of the challenges that we face, she has great advice as we grapple with the seemingly impossible decisions each day.
Tell us a little bit about how your research has felt so relevant during Covid?
Yeah, it’s funny because I’m actually an HIV prevention researcher and in some ways my research is quite unrelated to Covid-19. But I was watching the pandemic start to unfold as a citizen and an epidemiologist, but also through the lens of what I know about HIV and our response to that epidemic. I started to just naturally tweet to my small following on Twitter, which I had just joined pretty recently. I started sharing some thoughts about what I saw as parallels between HIV and Covid-19 around shaming and blaming of individuals for their supposed risky behavior and just some themes that are really prevalent right now. An Atlantic editor wrote to me about a particular tweet in early May and asked if I would write a piece about it. He gave me about 24 hours to submit a draft. We had no child care at the time- so it was a total scramble. I felt like it was a big opportunity to share my thoughts with a much bigger audience but I had no idea it was going to turn into another six pieces, a lot of new Twitter followers, and media engagements. It’s just been a real shift in my existence in the world.
You also have two children. How do you juggle all of it?
I tend to fail a little bit at everything. That’s how it feels anyway. I think our lowest points as a household during the pandemic have been the times when we’ve had no childcare help at all. My husband and I both work full-time. So for several months, we were just switching off with the kids while trying to maintain full-time jobs and that was incredibly stressful and resulted in feeling like we were bad parents and bad employees. It feels like expectations obviously should be so much lower right now but I think it’s hard to shift those expectations. Now things are a bit easier because we do have some child-care even though it’s a bit of a patchwork. It’s still much better than it was and we’ll see how long that lasts. It’s an enormous challenge and I think schools being closed or at least partly closed right now is a total crisis for so many working parents.
What advice do you have for parents who are grappling with how to have socialization for their children during Covid?
I could talk about this from a population health perspective, but even just as a mom. Our six-year-old really struggled in March and April and our three year old was totally fine. She was perfectly happy and unfazed. But our six-year-old really regressed without having contact with other kids or even other adults or extended family. It’s pretty heartbreaking to see what looked like depression in a six-year-old over a pretty short period of time. He has perked up a lot now that he’s back in school. At least in the childcare setting they’re getting opportunities to play with each other outdoors. I think that’s essential for him. I think it’s about balancing all of these things. There’s no easy answer but it was so clear to me that social isolation was a far greater risk for my kids than Covid-19. I think there are naturally low-risk ways for us to interact with each other and we should prioritize those as much as we can.
Co-founder & COO
Bridget is mom to two little boys, Hudson and Brooks, and a champion of working moms everywhere. NeighborSchools itself was borne out of Bridget’s challenge to find high-quality yet affordable child care, and the realization that so many parents struggle with these same issues every day.