Moms, This One's For You
Updated: Feb 20, 2021
We are attempting the impossible.
We are simultaneously trying to keep our children safe, find novel ways to stimulate them, and make sure they are connecting with friends and family to avoid loneliness. We are doing this in the absence of the usual scaffolding of our support system, while facing enormous external stressors, including job loss or insecurity, lack of health insurance, virtual schooling, lack of childcare, and on and on. This pandemic has highlighted such a varied list of things we cannot control in our lives. The truth is, we never really could, but we were busy enough not to notice. We also cannot make ANY decisions without contemplating a complex set of questions. “Is this a safe activity during the pandemic? Is it inside, outside, distanced, crowded, well-ventilated, legal, adhering to our state’s recommendations? And, of course, is fun and stimulating too?”
Think about how much all of us have had to adapt over the past year. Sit down (or keep folding laundry) and contemplate what an unbelievable set of adjustments we have made. So many things we may have taken for granted have been altered. For example: My kids go to school from morning to afternoon every weekday? Nope. I can work in an office that doesn’t also contain children’s (inexplicably wet) socks? Sorry, no. I can ask a babysitter to watch my kids without requiring a minute-by-minute replay of her life for the past 2 weeks? Probably not, unless I’m feeling lucky.
Quick aside: I tend to describe these awkward social interactions associated with planning events like play dates or child care as similar to having the safe sex talk with our friends and potential care-takers. “Wait, when were you last tested? Have you been with anyone new since then? Did you touch or breath on each other? Did they seem healthy?” It’s the worst.
As we adjust to the unending changes in our daily schedules and future plans, we may also be trying to grow our new business, navigate Zoom calls from the closet, do household tasks with constant chatter, or cook the 124th meal in a row. Before March 2020, I had never uttered the phrase “Choice hybrid, black cohort,” or contemplated different types of “learning pods.” I had never seen patients via an online platform, struggling with frequent AV issues and wishing each day for a strong WiFi signal. With all of these changes adding complexity to each interaction, we are understandably fatigued. Our attention is frayed because we simply cannot focus on so many tasks at once. Often, when we check in at the end of the day, all we can see are the ways we fell short.
To add to this onslaught, our brains are still trying to move us forward, urging us to grow, experience, learn, seek new resources. The past, with all of its progress and accomplishments, (see closet Zoom calls, above) is tucked away to help us focus on the “next.” But we NEED to reflect on the progress. We need to validate our daily courage in facing the uncertainty of life right now.
What if we were to give momentary attention to all that we have accomplished? We are getting up each day and trying again. We are sustaining multiple human lives in the setting of a dangerous and novel virus. We have somehow convinced our children to wear masks, when previously even pants were a lengthy negotiation.
And our children are doing amazing things too. They are engaging with teachers, friends and family in a virtual space that would have taken months or years to navigate without this sudden necessity. They are learning how to adapt to a recurrent “new normal,” how to manage their big feelings, and how to cope with our frequent and disappointing answer, “We can’t do that right now, because of the pandemic.”
Now, let’s talk about yelling at our kids. We have likely all done it, probably all felt guilty, even created catastrophic outcomes afterward: “I’m a terrible mom. I’m going to ruin my kids.” Now, I’m not an advocate for yelling at your kids, per se, but I think a little reframing is necessary here. As we attempt to survive these massive upheavals in our lives, we are going to experience feelings about things. And some of these feelings will be anger, frustration, anxiety, and sadness. Do you know who else is experiencing these feelings, in a totally understandable way? Our children. And like us, they may not know what to do with these emotions. Some of the solutions they’ve come up with in my house, for example are: hit their brother, shout “This is the worst day of my life!” and slam the door, kick their brother, refuse to eat something they used to like, throw something hard at the TV until it breaks, or simply lie about completing their schoolwork.
I share this (embarrassing) list to demonstrate that we are ALL trying to figure out how to deal with the overwhelming challenges of a worldwide pandemic. There will be days when we reach our limit, yell, slam doors, make comments we regret. We will all handle our difficult emotions in ways we wish we could take back. However, the most helpful thing we can do when these moments occur is to wait until the intense emotions subside, and then try discuss our feelings and reactions with our kids. We can consider out loud how we might have preferred to handle it or some goals we have for ourselves next time.
Modeling the reality that everyone has these big, painful feelings, and even we as adults sometimes struggle to manage them, normalizes and validates the experience for our kids. I’m sure you understand the value in teaching them that even when they behave badly, they are not “bad kids.” However, it is probably much more difficult to remind ourselves that even when we believe we get it wrong, we are not “bad moms.”
Again, though we feel stuck or even moving backwards right now when it comes to self-care and balance, we have all made incredible strides in adapting to unprecedented circumstances. You may be asking yourself to be the perfect mother, wife, partner, employee, or friend. Please allow yourself to be human. And I encourage you to find a friend to send your “anti-Facebook posts.” These are the embarrassing, ridiculous, or exasperating events that occur on a near daily basis. Humor is one of the most mature coping mechanisms, and can give you helpful emotional space from these painful experiences. To illustrate this point, I will leave you with an ACTUAL text I sent to my sister recently, describing my 7-year-old, “He was playing upstairs when he just decided to pee in an empty box and drag it around the carpet. Now everything is soaked. I am at a loss.”
Keep trying, Moms. You are amazing.
(Photo: J Reid)