Jessica Lilly Published

LISTEN: Essential Workers Share Working Mom Struggles During A Pandemic

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When the Coronavirus pandemic was declared in March, state leaders shut down schools, ordered businesses to close and told people to stay home from work unless they were deemed “essential” by the federal government.

This included hygiene production and services such as custodians for essential buildings. It created new challenges for single parents deemed essential, especially when daycares shut down. With virtual learning, more challenges emerged for parents. Jessica Lilly spoke with a few moms coping with this reality to get a sense of what they’re up against.

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Kaitlyn Oxley and her daughter, Mia, pause for quick photo for SnapChat.

Kaitlyn Oxley is a custodian in Mercer County, West Virginia.

“I was deemed essential,” Oxley said. “But the daycare closed down as soon as it started. So I had to be off work and work when I can. It was usually one or two days a week if that.”

After the daycare closed, Oxley says she had no choice but to stay home most days, only working when her mother got a day off and could keep her 3-year old young daughter.

With so little work, Oxley’s bills started to add up – but she made it through with support from her family.

“I had a very gracious aunt that helped me,” Oxley said. “Luckily, I got my settlement. So I got the backup. But if I didn’t have that I would have been, just out of luck.”

The settlement came from insurance after she was in a car wreck in September 2019. The timing of it was a huge help for Oxley.

Kayla Graham is also a custodian in Mercer County.

“When the pandemic hit, I was out of work for a week,” Graham explained.

Graham, a single mom with four children, ages 13 to five, said that it was a layoff that helped her get back to work.

“Luckily, my youngest daughter, her father, ended up getting laid off because of the pandemic also,” Graham said. “So he helped out a lot with watching the kids whenever the daycare shut down. And usually, like a typical day, I go to work, I come home, I work on their schoolwork, and some days, you’re just feeling like you’re pulled in every direction.”

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Kayla Graham cuddles with her four children.

Most of the time, she doesn’t really think about the challenges or how hard things could get. She simply does what she needs to do – for her family.

“I don’t really think right now anything could really help,” she says fighting back tears. “It’s just, you know, kind of doing what you have to do during the pandemic.”

When the local daycare finally opened back up, both Graham, as well as Oxley, qualified for financial assistance with child care through the nonprofit Mountain Heart Community Services Inc. because they were essential workers. The private, community action agency was created back in the 60s in the wake of the federal War on Poverty.

Anyone deemed “essential” qualifies through December. Mountain Heart offers child care assistance and several other services in 30 counties across the state.

You know, you have to make a living,” Graham said. “And without Mountain Heart, I probably couldn’t do that. And it helps a great deal whenever it comes to single parents, with multiple kids.”

Today, with the kids back to school, there are new challenges.

“Pretty much you just kind of have to wait until I get off of work and then do all of the kids’ school work then,” she said. “It’s difficult. They do their Zoom meetings at daycare. And, you know, they’re where they talk to their class and their teachers. I’m lucky that the daycare does that and they help with that.”

Graham notes her challenges in ensuring all of her children’s needs are met.

“My kids, they’re also in special ed, two of my boys are in special ed so whenever I say I’m pulled in every direction, my youngest daughter, she just started preschool. So it’s like this one wants help, this one wants help, and this one wants help. But it’s like where do you start? That’s, it’s stressful.”


Kaitlyn Oxley’s daughter, Mia, dressed as the Stephen King character Penny Wise for the Miss Wicked Pageant in Beckley, WV.

At times, it’s hard for these women to share these stories. But one activity that made both women smile was participating in pageants.

“I think it builds a child’s self esteem for the most part,” Graham said. “They get up there and everybody’s talking about how pretty they are, you know, and it’s putting them up on a pedestal and that’s great. It really is.”


Kayla Graham’s five-year-old daughter, Isabella, was presented with a trophy for Halloween Princess in the 2020 Miss Wicked Pageant in Beckley.

The women don’t find much time for themselves any more. But they find a bit of happiness to see the smile on their kids’ faces. Kayla encouraged other single parents like herself as they work through a difficult era.

“Honestly, you’re not alone,” Graham said. “Everybody’s kind of stuck in my own spot right now, as frustrating as it is.”

Graham and Oxley also said that another stimulus package would mean a chance to get ahead on bills and not have to worry as much about Christmas presents for the kids.