It’s almost Mother’s Day, which has me thinking a lot about motherhood and the type of mother I am and want to be. In the past, I’ve written reflections on Mother’s Day (and this was two years ago). But this year, feels… different. Last year, we were at the start of what would become a global pandemic, celebrating in quarantine, but certain this would only last a little longer. Now, a year later, we’re slowly allowing ourselves to resume some things from our past life and leave our homes more, while recovering from the repercussions of parenting during a pandemic for over a year.
Like so many, I was forced to be a mom, caregiver, teacher, and full-time boss all at the same time. I had to keep my kids safe, healthy and entertained while trying to run a business and adjust to the new demands, challenges, and constraints put on said business by the pandemic. It’s been overwhelming. Impossible. And yet, we persevered. We are mothers. What choice did we have? We kept going and kept our families safe and cared for because that’s what we do. We make it work. Parenting is hard enough without adding a pandemic to the equation. I still feel relatively new in my role as a mother, so figuring out how to deal with new stages of toddlerhood and caring for a second baby would have been enough, but I feel like this year was motherhood in overdrive. It pushed me to the limits, but I also learned so much about myself, my children, and our family.
I really haven’t had a second to think about this crazy year or what I’ve learned from parenting during a pandemic, but as hard as it’s been, it has taught me a lot. So as we approach Mother’s Day still living through Covid (albeit with hope thanks to vaccines), I couldn’t separate on my thoughts on another year being a mother without really reflecting on what it’s meant to be a mother during the pandemic. I am sure there is so much more I’m forgetting, but here’s what I’ve learned from a year of parenting during a pandemic.
You are stronger than you think
Like so many working moms, there were/are days when I think I’m going to break. I can’t handle one more minute of the juggling acts, the decisions that feel like life or death and have no right answers, the fear of exposure versus the consequences of isolation… the list goes on. There have been so many moments when I didn’t know how I’d balance it all, how I could stay up late one more night working or get up one more morning at the crack of dawn with the kids. There were moments when I didn’t think I could make another decision with such weighty consequences, and countless times when I just wanted to run away. But I realized this year I could do so much more than I ever thought possible, and that I am so much stronger than I ever realized. I also learned to trust that things would work out, stop trying to control everything, and to just do the best I could in every minute because if I thought too far ahead about how I would handle it all for more than one more day or what the consequence of one choice might be, I don’t think I could have kept going. Moms are superheroes, and during this crazy time when more was asked and expected of us than humanly possible, we just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and taking it one day at a time. And now looking back, it’s incredible to realize how much we did and how it was moms who kept us going through this, who stepped up to become teachers, who stepped up to care for the kids and to continue working and paying the bills. It was moms who figured out how to find toilet paper when there was none and who wiped down the groceries and fed us all Vitamin C in hopes it would help. Of course, many dads and other caregivers helped to, but it’s Mother’s Day, so I’m giving moms the much-needed credit they deserve.
Just because you can somehow do it all, doesn’t mean you should
There was a period during the pandemic, when I thought I had figured out the formula for juggling it all — the kids, their home schooling, a full-time job, a side gig. I was like I am super mom. And then, one thing shifted, and it all came crashing down. But those periods where I have felt like, ok, I’ve got this, I can do this, are actually the most dangerous. They have made me consider and in some cases make decisions where I compromised my own well-being because I was convinced I could do it all myself. And yes, this year, I was forced to do it all in many ways and yes, I did it and we got through it. But I’m starting to realize the cost of trying to do it all myself. I’m burnt out, I’m not the best mother, boss, wife or person I could be. I’m exhausted, uninspired, and irritable. I didn’t take care of myself. I stretched myself to the brink of insanity, and while I made it work, it doesn’t mean I should. Because…
You’re a better mother when you take time for yourself
Although we’ve all heard this a million times, it really took this year for this fact to sink in for me. I spent so much time stretching myself ragged to take care of my family and career and my employees and clients. But in the end, if you’re not taking care of yourself, your whole family (and your work) suffers. If I’m too tired to play with the kids or I’m cranky because I”m overworked, overstressed and haven’t had any me time, I’m not being a great mom or boss or anything. I realized this year, that “me time” is a thing, a necessary thing. I shouldn’t feel guilty letting my husband take the kids for a couple of hours so I can sleep or just catch up on life or lie on the couch and watch HGTV. I shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving the kids to go for a run and prioritizing time for me to workout. I shouldn’t feel bad about taking a five minute break to just go hide in the bathroom or take a shower because sometimes, mom just needs a minute, and we’re all better for it. Like they say, you can’t fill up anyone else’s plates if yours is empty. Or what is the saying?
Mom needs her own hobbies and friends
Last summer I took up tennis and made time to play regularly with friends. It’s time I hadn’t allowed myself to take for something fun in years. Even my workouts had gotten to a point where they needed to be efficient — either short and high intensity, or done while also working or with the kids in tow (thank you jogging stroller). But tennis was something I made time to do with friends — that I couldn’t do while watching the kids or fielding emails or Slacks from work. I found I was so much happier at home, in my work, in my life when I was making that time to play tennis each week. It was a way to exercise, socialize and do something fun I loved. Over the winter, I also took up paddle and Wednesday nights would be mom’s night out to play paddle. Sometimes I’d dread going because I felt so exhausted, but I was always glad I went and made time to socialize and see friends. For the past month or so, we’ve been in between seasons and I haven’t really made time for any hobbies or to just have fun with friends, and I’m feeling the consequences. I am prioritizing making time again for mom to have a little fun, and getting back into tennis and socializing with friends (sans kids) this spring.
Your family is stronger when your marriage is stronger
This year hasn’t been easy on any relationship — the extra stress, being stuck inside all together with nothing to do and nowhere to go, trying to balance work and kids. And for many of us, the only person to take your anxiety out on is your spouse. But in some ways, it’s forced us to be better about communicating, sharing the burden of decisions and childcare and everything else. I don’t know why it took the pandemic to make me realize this (or maybe it’s from all the changes we’ve weathered the last few years), but I really realized that our children want their parents to be happy together and to have a good relationship. Our relationship is such a model for them in their own relationships — it matters how we treat each other, even when stressed, tired and cranky, and short on time and patience. It also made me realize that leaving the kids to go on dates and do things as a couple is actually something we should model and that is good for them to see. I want them to see that we prioritize our relationship and work on them. I want them to be obsessed with our love story, and for it to inspire them to hold out for their own. But in order to get there, we need to make space for date nights and getaways just us, and to invest time working on our own relationship.
You want to be home with your kids and you want a career, and you’re still not sure how to satisfy both
This has always been my dilemma. I know I’m not alone. I want to be home and really present for my kids. I don’t want them raised by someone else, no matter how amazing our nanny might be. At the same time, I want a career and to continue working at the one I’ve spent so much time and effort building. I don’t have an answer here. I thought after being home with the kids for a year, I’d know if I wanted to be a stay at home mum or a full-time professional or something in-between, but I have no answer. I want to do it all. Which of course, per above, I know I can’t. But I think just acknowledging this is a step. It means I may need to figure out how to build a life and career that will somehow accommodate both while understanding that I can’t do either full-time.
You need help
I think in my head I always knew this, but after we survived so long without childcare and help during the pandemic, I started to think maybe I can do it all. It took serious burnout to realize that I need help. No one is meant to work full-time at a demanding job and to watch (and school sometimes!) her kids. It’s not sustainable, and it’s not good for anyone. My kids and my work deserve my full attention. After spending a few months doing all the cleaning myself, I also realized that a regular housekeeper is something worth spending on in our house. I work full time and run a side business. I want to be able to spend my free time with my kids, not cleaning my house.
Sometimes there are no right answers and you just have to do the best you can with the information you have
Every decision during Covid felt like life or death, and it was really hard for me as a mom who already felt insecure in making decisions. I was so scared that if I sent my kid to school or didn’t, if I let my kid have a playdate or didn’t, that it would have lifelong consequences. I often felt paralyzed by decisions. Sometimes I’d look for ways around making a decision by not just sending my son to preschool but also joining a pod in case the school shut down. What I realized is that you can’t always hedge your bets, and sometimes, you shouldn’t (double school was way too much for one four year old). Sometimes you have to make a decision with the information you have and there is no right answer and you have to deal with consequences when they arise. You just have to trust in yourself and know you did the best you could at the time. We can’t predict the future. But letting indecision overwhelm us and stressing over every decision is also no way to live life or to parent. I’m slowly learning that sometimes you have to make a decision, move forward, and if it turns out to be the wrong one, cross that bridge when you come to it and know that you’ll be able to find a way to fix it. A huge part of that for me has been learning to shut out the noise of what other parents are doing and to focus on what I believe in my heart is right for our family, what my intuition is telling me. It’s hard to learn to trust your intuition as a mom, but I truly believe it’s our North Star.
You need to work on your own triggers if you want to help your kids with theirs
This was the year that I realized that a lot of what has caused me to yell or get upset with my kids is caused by own triggers, not my children. Children are meant to tantrum, make messes, not listen, and to test boundaries. Of course we all lose it on our kids sometimes, but when I get really mad, it’s not so much about my kids as it is about me. I am starting to identify and work on my own triggers, whether it’s lack of sleep, stress over something at work, needing extra help, or something from my own childhood that my child’s behavior is bringing up in me. Doing work on yourself is hard, especially when it feels like you can’t possibly add one more thing to your plate, but I’m finding it’s helping so much and making me a better mother and more capable of dealing with everything that this crazy year has thrown at us. I can’t recommend Dr. Becky’s Reparenting workshop enough.
This is not the year to become a chef too
I am realizing that I can’t be perfect at everything and I can’t do everything. I can’t work full time, watch the kids, and become a master chef, which was my goal at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was making banana bread and I was still learning how to boil pasta. There’s a reason why meal services were invented. It’s really important to me that my kids eat healthy, organic foods. I really believe that what we eat has a real impact on our wellbeing and health. But I am not going to be the one making those meals from scratch, not at this point in my life. Maybe down the road. I would like to learn to cook, and I know we’d all benefit from it, but I can’t make time for it right now and stay sane, and that’s fine. The end of the day is when work is craziest, the kids are home and melting down, the dog needs to go out, Andrew is getting home from work, and the last thing I need to be doing during that time is to attempt to make some new dish that everyone will probably complain about and not eat anyway. So we rely too much on takeout, pre-prepared meals and delivery services for now, and that’s okay. Everyone is fed and healthy.
Order extra toilet paper
The lesson we all learned the hard way this year.
You’re a good mom even when it feels like you get nothing right
Your kids need you. You’re the one they want. You’re the one they chose, and no matter how much you feel like you suck at it, you were meant to be their mom. The fact that you care so much and are trying so hard makes you a good mom. You just need to believe it, listen to your intuition more, and worry less about how you’re doing and focus more on just loving those little babies.