Planning around naps, shelling out for nannies or yelling into the void — parents working from home all have ways of coping with the daily mayhem. For these intimate portraits — of anxiety, frustration and also unbridled joy — we visited the New York homes of working parents and photographed them during real video meetings at their jobs, occasionally donning noise-canceling headphones to preserve their offices’ privacy. All photos capture the natural reactions of both parent and child over the course of the meetings. (No babies were made to cry.)
For Sheena Demby, remote work as a new parent felt utterly paralyzing at the start. “The first time I had Noah Olivia in a meeting, I didn’t know what to do,” says Demby, who works as a creative-operations program manager at Cash App. “Out of desperation, I tried so hard to keep her out of the camera and to keep her quiet so that I could still present myself as, like, competent and doing great work. But the reality was, I could not keep this little baby from crying. I could not keep her from interrupting meetings. As a first-time mom and Black woman in corporate America — where I already felt I had to show above-average results just to be visible — I really struggled.” Noah Olivia is now almost 2, and Demby has brought a bit more of her personal life into the Zoom window. She keeps a rolling cart of diapers, wipes and work materials by her side so she can work alongside her daughter in any room of their Harlem apartment. Remote work is now Demby’s long-term plan: “I have zero intentions of ever going back into an office,” she says.
To keep their adventurous 16-month-old twin girls, Clara and Tessa, from getting into too much trouble during work calls, Eric Sadkin and his husband, Klaus Koenigshausen, have recently become master maze designers. The pair, who work in real estate and private investment, are in the process of moving to a new apartment, so they have a bunch of cardboard boxes lying around — which they pile onto the floors into child-stymieing labyrinths when they anticipate lengthy meetings. “You can’t just run after them, because you’re in the middle of a Zoom call, so everything has to be baby-proofed to the max,” Koenigshausen says. “They are old enough to climb over the sofa and get into all kinds of trouble. So every day our sofa is a land of cushions, and our living room turns into a kids’ playground.” As a result, their entire one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, Sadkin says, “just looks littered, like an Amazon warehouse, with boxes to stop the kids going into random places and keep them in their play area. But we have peace of mind — because they can’t move.”
Born near the start of the pandemic, 18-month-old Aslan is Kat Dinar’s third child — and he’s the one who compelled Dinar to switch from a pressurized front-office role to a calmer one in the back office of her finance company. Her new job, on a team that some refer to as the “mommy track,” affords her much more time at home with her husband and two older children in their Astoria, Queens, apartment. But still, Dinar wishes the choice hadn’t felt so necessary. “I’m a working mom,” Dinar says. “I’m not a stay-at-home mom — I never was, and I’ll never be. I need achievements at work, and I enjoy my kids; I love children. I don’t want to make these choices. I want to have it all.” Dinar yearns to see more support programs for working mothers and thinks terms like “work-life balance” oversimplify the realities of working parents. She adds that “women who have kids are indeed some of the best workers: You are the manager of your household. You delegate, give instructions, prioritize. You do everything. You are a manager and a leader and a woman.”
Jerome Nathaniel was “prepared for chaos” when he and his wife became pandemic parents. “I love my job,” Nathaniel, who works at the nonprofit City Harvest, says. “We fight hunger, and hunger doesn’t just end, so your day never ends. I was just always working — you justify not having a personal life.” Thankfully his son, Mack, currently 3 months old, is “abnormally relaxed and cool and chill,” Nathaniel says. When it’s Nathaniel’s turn to care for him, Mack spends the bulk of his time napping in his father’s cradled arms while he takes video calls for grad school and work. Mack doesn’t care for screens — “and hopefully he never will, because we’re going to be a no-TV household,” says his father — but even with a relatively easygoing baby, Nathaniel has found himself having to reconfigure his attitude toward work. “If I work past 5 p.m. now, I know that’s not fair to my wife and my son and my family,” Nathaniel says. “If I were [working] in person, I couldn’t teach my kid how to smile on my lunch break.”
Rachel Shapiro’s workday is a coil of meeting after meeting. As the senior vice president of marketing strategy at Complex, a digital entertainment company, she regularly shepherds calls across multiple departments — often over the sounds of her 2-year-old daughter, Waverly, or 6-month-old son, Sasha, throwing a spirited tantrum or having a meltdown under her desk. “I don’t know motherhood without the pandemic, and I haven’t quite known a meeting that hasn’t been infringed upon by one of my two children,” says Shapiro, who has become a pro at the text-chat function on Zoom and has also led many a work discussion — with the camera off — while breastfeeding, quelling cries or grappling with “back-to-back blowout diapers.” A saving grace for Shapiro has been her colleagues’ enthusiasm for Sasha or Waverly’s cameos in their meetings — and their patience for when things go awry. Once, “I was trying to lead a meeting on my AirPods while changing two diapers, literally covered in shit, and just thinking, Well, the show must go on!” she says, and sighs.
Even though Anna Li Sian’s daughter, Inez, is no longer a newborn with round-the-clock demands, things have felt harder than ever recently. “There’s sort of a triple isolation that’s happened with the pandemic: We’re socially distancing, and it’s cold, and we’re new parents in New York who have to be especially cautious with this unvaccinated person in our care,” says Sian, who works in podcast marketing and takes Zoom calls all day long from the Cobble Hill apartment she shares with her husband, Robby Abaya, a software engineer also working from home. The couple say that they could not have continued in their full-time jobs without child-care help — they employ a nanny, and luckily Anna’s mother is able to come over “in a pinch” — but that they’re still exhausted by the matrix of choices they have to contend with, outside work. Inez just turned 1; the pair would love to expose her to wider social circles but have deliberated for weeks about whether the thrill of an in-person birthday party outweighs the chance of a Covid scare. “We are always recalibrating our risk tolerance,” Abaya says.
Each morning, Oliver Abel wakes up and strategizes his day around the natural rhythms of his 1-year-old son, Oliver (or Ollie). Abel, a private wealth adviser who works mostly from his home in Bronxville, N.Y., prefers to shuffle his most important meetings around his son’s nap times. But even though he and his wife, who also works from home, map out their joint calendars meticulously in the mornings, the pair have learned to keep a number of go-to distractions on hand for when they are drawn into last-minute meetings. “It’s whatever I can do to keep him entertained while I have the meeting going on,” Abel — who, while working from home, has been able to witness major moments in Ollie’s life, like his first laugh and first attempts at crawling — says. And his son is pretty curious, it turns out. “Chewing on a calculator. Playing with my phone. Ripping up paper! He loves things that are new — so if you show him one of these items, he usually gets pretty distracted for 10 minutes or so.” Three shiny objects per 30-minute meeting usually do the trick.
Irene Kelly has a nanny who comes during work hours to help out with her 9-month-old son, Henry, in her Forest Hills, Queens, apartment. But that doesn’t necessarily reduce any of her emotional load. “There’s never a break, even if the nanny’s here, because I hear him crying literally a room away,” Kelly, who works as an account executive at an insurance company, says. “And if I come downstairs to have a meal or a call, he sees me, and it’s like, ‘I only want my mom!’ There’s just so much pressure to make the right decisions.” While Kelly works from a makeshift setup at her dining-room table, her husband is currently working full time in a physical office. “Being home 24 hours with a baby is a blessing. But I get jealous of my husband sometimes because he has, to me, the freedom to compartmentalize,” Kelly says. “He has co-workers he can see regularly in a way that feels normal, and I’m behind a screen all day with this baby attached to me, who wants just as much attention as my job does. And each day, I’m not able to fully give myself 100 percent to either role.”
Rachel Lee has two sons in different developmental stages — 8-month-old Nathan and 5-year-old Logan — so working at home means designing distractions for various skill levels, grappling with disparate sleep schedules and trying to find quiet while tending to her boisterous family. Lee, an in-house lawyer for a financial technology and data company, says that while the prolonged work-from-home period has allowed her to catch many precious milestones with Nathan that she wasn’t able to with Logan, it has also mired her in productivity guilt: “I don’t know if other moms feel this, but I think there’s an internal pressure that, being physically at home, I should be cooking dinners for my family and ordering out less, or getting more stuff done around the house,” she says. Lee quit her previous job in the pandemic and found a new company with more flexibility; now she and her husband are also thinking of swapping their Upper West Side apartment for a home closer to family members they’ve sorely missed over the last few years.
Daniela Ocana, a founder and the program director of a preschool in Maspeth, Queens, has found herself obsessing over how to keep her 8-month-old daughter, Riley, safe amid a pandemic. “You don’t want to keep your child in a bubble,” Ocana says. “But it is scary to go out there.” Ocana oversees Covid-19 safeguards at the preschool where she works — and thus, must also reassure scores of other anxious parents — so safety is always at the forefront of her mind. In times of immense stress, though, Riley’s presence helps ground her: “There’s been so many times I’ve stopped in the room and been, like, ‘You’re learning, I’m learning, we’ll get through this,’” Ocana says. “She has taught me that although motherhood is hard and working is hard, it’s possible to have patience and love. There’s times I finish video calls, like, sweating, but then I look at her, and she’s smiling or she’s just close to me, and it makes me realize that’s why I continue to do it.”
Like many parents, David O’Brien, a lawyer and father to 5-month-old August, would prefer to be either working from an office or parenting from home — not both at once. “I think extending government-paid parental leave would be helpful for jobs that require focusing, or even just using both hands!” O’Brien says. Often, when August is on his father’s lap during a meeting, “I have to type notes contemporaneously, and I don’t want his head to get too close to the edge of the table, so I can only use one hand. Or there’s drool everywhere.” Intense multitasking was not the only change brought on by pandemic parenthood: When he and his wife, Alexandra, first had August, O’Brien was working in his dream job as a public defender, but the difficulty of raising a baby in a small Harlem apartment nudged him to look for other jobs in the field that could offer as much fulfillment but with higher pay. “I’m making decisions a little less for ideological reasons,” O’Brien says. “But I don’t know if that’s pandemic-related — it might just be being a parent.”
Two years ago, Alison Taffel Rabinowitz was teaching at universities around New York City. But after a “really, really tough pregnancy” and the birth of her daughter, Evelyn Rose, Taffel Rabinowitz was forced to step away. She decided to start her own business and now runs private career coaching for women out of her Lower East Side apartment, with Evelyn Rose, now 6 months old, at her side. Some of her clients are working mothers seeking counsel about how to re-enter the work force. Her best advice to them? Emphasize the tremendous wins that have come out of motherhood rather than trying to gloss over the time away from work. “I’m proud that I figured this out and can still do what I love, while being able to focus with a baby, in some kind of weird way,” says Taffel Rabinowitz, who was able to breastfeed her daughter on camera while helping her clients negotiate for pay raises and new jobs. But Rabinowitz adds: “I could never write a résumé for being a mom. It’s a job that keeps getting more bullet points underneath that never end.”
Amy X. Wang is a Beijing-born, New York-based writer and the assistant managing editor of the magazine. Her writing has appeared in Quartz, Rolling Stone and The Economist, and she is at work on her first novel. Hannah Whitaker is a photographer based in Brooklyn. She recently published a book of photography, “Ursula,” with Image Text Ithaca Press.