What’s Not Working? Henrico Moms Share Pandemic Struggles With Jill Biden

Dr. Jill Biden took part in a working mothers roundtable Thursday, discussing everything from remote work to education.

By Julia Raimondi
September 25, 2020

Dr. Biden took part in a working mothers roundtable Thursday, discussing everything from remote work to education.

RICHMOND-Neighbors peeked over fences Thursday afternoon. Some stayed in their own yards and listened, while others came over with kids. They wanted to hear the conversation taking place. In the middle of a backyard in western Henrico County, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, took part in a unique roundtable discussion. She met with a small group of working moms to discuss the difficulties of managing work and childcare in the middle of a pandemic. 

And what she mainly did was listen. Biden listened as the women shared challenges they and their families faced. Seated socially distanced from each other on patio furniture, the group could have easily been confused with old friends catching up, if not for the speaker podium and handmade Biden campaign signs posted everywhere. 

A big part of the discussion centered around education. One woman explained how her son is struggling with virtual learning. He accidentally closes out of tabs and then wonders where his class went. But then he needs help while she’s in the middle of her own Zoom meeting, so it can be hard to juggle both. 

Former Virginia delegate Debra Rodman (D-Henrico) asked if everyone was comfortable with sending their children back to school in person. Despite the issues with virtual learning, that idea got a unanimous no. One mom said she would “100%” homeschool before sending her children back in-person right now. Another said she was already worried about the risks of school shootings, and going back to in-person means an added risk of COVID-19 infection. 

A Lack of Guidance

Dr. Biden pointed out a lot of their concerns stemmed from a lack of national guidance. She promised that if her husband wins, that will change.

“That’s the chaos,” Dr. Biden said. “It’s been very divisive. There’s no uniformity and it makes it tough for all of us.”

Biden was referring to the fact there is no nationwide decision on in-person schooling. Instead, each state chose their own path and in Virginia, those decisions fell on each district. So instead of having a simple goal that everyone worked toward, there was confusion. 

She also attacked Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for not being more vocal while school districts across the nation struggled to make COVID policy decisions.

“Where is she?” Dr. Biden said. “Couldn’t she even put out a message? Say, ‘hey, teachers you’re doing a great job’ or ‘hey, parents hang in there’? Could we hear her voice? Can she give us some optimism or hope? It comes down to leadership.”

Registered nurse Lisa Speller agreed, saying that working moms wouldn’t feel safe until they could trust their leadership. Even as a nurse, she no longer even trusts the CDC. 

“The key is knowing there’s good leadership in place,” Speller said. “It starts at the top and it trickles down. Until we have that we won’t feel like our kids are going to be safe. Unless we have equity and access we’ll go back to school and then we’ll see cases and the whole family is quarantined.”

Working From Home Causes Stress

As the conversation shifted, several mothers shared that it’s been hard to separate life from work while doing things remotely. Kim Zaninovitch, an employee for the Martin Agency in Richmond, told Dr. Biden working from home feels more like “living at work”. She can’t find balance between her duties as a mom and as an employee anymore. 

“The days and the nights bleed into each other,” Zaninovitch said. “I feel like I’m failing on all fronts – failing at work, failing with my kids, failing with my husband who is just trying to help like I am trying to help. I feel like there will not be a point anytime soon where I can go to sleep at night feeling like I did a good job. That’s been really hard.”

In response to their anxieties, Dr. Biden encouraged them to share the ways they balanced themselves as they worked their way through the pandemic, be it taking a walk or getting enough sleep. She also tried to provide reassurances for them about the future, saying that in a world of a Joe Biden presidency, the worst of their fears would go away.

After the discussion ended, Christophile Konstas, owner of Perk! Coffee & Lunchbox in Bon Air, said that she felt reassured, that Dr. Biden actually listened to them.

“She was so open and comfortable,” Konstas said. “She was so easy to talk to and gave us hope for the election. Hopefully, good things come for us in the future.”

Julia Raimondi is a freelancer writer for Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected].

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