Lost in the debate over whether children should return to school masked or unmasked, in-person or remote, is that for parents, this isn’t a two-sided, win-lose issue.

They’re screwed either way.

As Dan Sinker wrote for The Atlantic this week, the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic lead to a psychological breaking point for parents, many of whom spent the last year wishing for a return to school and are now faced with the nightmare of sending kids back amid the surging Delta variant of the virus. 

“Parents are living a repeat of the worst year of their lives—except this time, no matter what, kids are going back,” Sinker writes. 

What went from two weeks of remote learning turned into a year of chaos, with kids stuck at home and parents struggling to fill in the gaps. The uncertainty of 2020 dissolved into a fatalistic onward march of forced normalcy despite metrics showing increased spread of the virus. In the last few weeks, the even more contagious Delta strain has spread rapidly throughout the country, leaving thousands of the unvaccinated hospitalized and fighting for their lives.

And children under 12 still can’t receive the vaccine.

“It’s a real monkey’s-paw situation, because, as a parent, all I’ve wanted for a year and a half is for my kids to go back to school—for their sake and for mine—but not like this,” Sinker writes. “Now I’m stuck wishing that the thing that barely worked last year was still an option, because what’s looming is way worse.”

There’s no winning draw for parents this time around. Kids risk either contracting the virus themselves and bringing it home from school or facing once more the struggle to keep up with the curriculum from home. 

All parents can do is hold it together. They don’t have a choice. 

“Parents aren’t even at a breaking point anymore. We’re broken,” Sinker writes. “And yet we’ll go on because that’s what we do: We sweep up all our pieces and put them back together as best we can. We carry on chipped and leaking and broken because we have no other choice. And we pray that if we can just keep going, our kids will survive too.”

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Follow Senior Staff Writer Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to ltauss@indyweek.com.