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  • Dr. Terri Bacow

Pandemic Parenting: Memoir of Mamas

As we roll into the 1-year anniversary of the lockdown in the United States that changed every facet of our society, we are exhausted from hearing about COVID. We are exhausted from the masks, the computer screen in between us and our loved ones, the lack of hugs, and the hesitation towards planning anything in 2021. We have wept, and we have grown from this.

Different people have experienced the pandemic in their own ways. Whether you are working on the front lines, from the confines of your home, or anything in between, everyone has faced difficult challenges over the last year. Parents, and particularly mothers, have faced an additional layer of responsibility and stress - hence the term “pandemic parenting:” an unprecedented experience in which parenting responsibilities intensify tenfold due to the saturated level of demand on caregivers, while wrangling children (often entirely at home) during a global pandemic. Being a mom (whether you are pregnant or actively parenting) as a baseline is difficult; if you add on an epic health crisis involving intense family togetherness, it is undoubtedly a whole other ballgame.

Coauthors Dr. Terri Bacow and Dr. Sneha Gazi have seen the impacts of the pandemic first hand on the many mothers we encounter in our practices. Dr. Bacow, a licensed clinical psychologist, specializes in maternal mental health and is also a pandemic parent of two. Dr. Gazi, a pelvic floor physical therapist, specializes in prenatal & postpartum health and has treated her patients in their homes throughout the pandemic. We both have worked closely with all types of mothers, hearing their stories and being a shoulder to lean on during the difficult times. Hitting the one-year mark of this pandemic led us to decide to do a much-needed check in with mamas out there and hear their reflections on the past year.

In this post, we present to you the challenges and silver linings of pandemic parenting reported by four of our moms that we interviewed: a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), a work-from-home mom (WFHM), a pregnant mom (PM), and a healthcare-worker mom (HWM). If you are a mom reading this, our hope is that any one of these brief memoirs resonates with you. We want you to know that you are not alone and we are all in this together! We also asked our moms to describe what advice they would give their former selves and their biggest take-aways from the past year, which we summarize at the end of this post. After all of this hardship, it would be a small gift to enrich ourselves with positivity and meaning out of these intensely difficult experiences -- and to identify the growth that comes from surviving a crisis and being badass.

A SAHM’s take on pandemic parenting:

1. What were your biggest challenges parenting during COVID?

The biggest challenge was keeping my cool in difficult situations, when I felt completely over taxed; when my kids misbehaved, sometimes I felt I had no control. It was also hard to manage the guilt and sadness about how much the kids were missing in terms of socialization, school, and really all lack of normalcy. Further, it was difficult trying to simultaneously educate them about the realities of being in a pandemic while also trying to preserve some innocence and the carefree nature of childhood.

2. What were the silver linings of parenting during COVID?

The silver linings were being together as a family and having each other for laughs, support, cries, social connection, and understanding. Though it was hard and not every moment peaceful, I had moments of gratitude each day for having people to hug and to care for.

A WFH mom’s take on pandemic parenting:

1. What were your biggest challenges parenting during COVID?

During the work week, I found it particularly difficult to mentally switch back and forth numerous times a day from "mom" mode to "work" mode. There is the obvious challenge of working and taking care of children at the same time which involves constantly feeling like I am unable to concentrate on a single task, especially when my daughter comes into my workspace. Further, not having any time for self care - I take long showers, just to have some time alone!

2. What were the silver linings of parenting during COVID?

I feel a lot more connected to and aware of what my daughter is learning at virtual school since I get to see a lot of it happening in real time. We have had less scheduled activities and no morning drop off commute which enables us to spend a lot more time together during the work week than we did before. We developed some crazy memories of lockdown, formed closer bonds, and my kids became super independent; while both of us were working, they learned how to do many things for themselves!

A healthcare worker mom’s take on pandemic parenting:

1. What were your biggest challenges parenting during COVID?

One of the biggest challenges parenting during Covid was struggling with creating a structure. It’s said that children behave better at school than at home due to a consistent schedule and more authoritative figures, so it was definitely challenging finding a balance between getting my son to understand this along with being his mother. I also had to play the role of a teacher with remote learning, which didn’t fare well at times only because he wouldn’t take me seriously.

2. What were the silver linings of parenting during COVID?

The silver lining was definitely getting to spend all that extra time with the kiddos, especially my soon since my daughter was too young for school and was home anyway. Although being in school was vital, I missed my son being at home and watching his daily antics, which allowed us to bond with him even more (more playtime and silly conversations). It was also beautiful to watch both siblings interact and grow even fonder of each other.

A pregnant mom’s take on pandemic parenting:

1. What were your biggest challenges parenting during COVID?

Being pregnant during COViD meant that I had to be extra careful not to get sick. The stress of possibly getting infected and being hospitalized was mentally arduous in the beginning. Also, not being able to have my husband join me for the appointments has been tough. It’s a journey for both partners, not just the mother.

2. What were the silver linings of parenting during COVID?

Lots and lots of rest! Having to work from home full-time and not really being able to go out definitely helped me stay put and relax, something I’m not used to. All the extra time at home also gave me a chance to give my house a little makeover before the baby arrives. These were big wins.

Critical Take-aways

It’s obvious that there have been an array of genuine challenges as well as a handful of bright spots for moms during the pandemic this past year - certainly some very different experiences depending on the situation, but also several common threads. We asked our moms one last question, and we summarize their responses below:

If you could give advice to a struggling mom, or if you could give your former self some advice about getting through this past year, what would that be?

The first thing that moms reported wishing they knew to tell themselves a year ago: it is okay to have negative emotions! It is okay to feel sad or discouraged. It is okay to make mistakes or say the wrong thing. Seriously - this is a pandemic; all reactions are acceptable and entirely normal!

One mom we interviewed spoke about the necessity of living in the present moment. “If the sun is out, we play outside, if school suddenly closes, we find an activity at home. Best advice is to live in the moment. I had never done that before COVID.”

Another mom, who is an educator, spoke about the challenge of dealing with imperfection, as she struggled with realizing that her kids were getting less than half the education that they were getting pre-pandemic. She commented, “Don't try to be stronger than you are. It's okay to let some things give. It is okay that things aren’t perfect.”

She also shared her discovery that kids are resilient. We need not worry so much about how they fared during the pandemic. “Kids do not need a lot. They need someone to love them, and someone to listen to them.” Her advice? Find a routine for them and stick to it (i.e. a walk to the park every day using a baby doll stroller.)

The moms we interviewed also spoke about the absolutely critical necessity of self-care. “If it is a hard day, find a safe way to treat yourself (shop on the internet, support a local restaurant by ordering a treat, etc). Take the time you need to take care of your family and don't feel guilty.” This is especially important if you are working from home, but is applicable across the board.

One mom, who is on the frontlines, identified a hack (trick) that resulted in a parenting victory. She got her four year-old to wear a mask by making it fun. “For example, we played arts and crafts with our masks and then took turns wearing them and describing what we drew. It definitely helped with compliance and eases anxiety as a parent who wants to keep her kids safe without hassle.”

At the same time, do not put pressure on yourself to be Mary Poppins - you are doing your best and that is enough! If you are pregnant, one mom recommends that she learned “to take it easy and soak in the little joys of life. Stressing out won’t make it any easier; in fact, it will take away from the magical feeling one gets to experience being pregnant. Enjoy the flutters and kicks of your baby, and smile knowing that you’ll soon get to hold him/her in your arms.”

Finally, it is helpful to take an eagle eye view of the situation, if you can. As one mom put it, “Look at the big picture, the world might never be exactly the same, but this will be over one day. I have learned and grown from this. Think of all of the things we will never take for granted again!”

A heartfelt thank you to the mamas who participated in these interviews. We are grateful to you. As we approach the anniversary of this pandemic, perhaps all we can do at the moment is embrace the curve as we patiently wait for it to flatten - and to take solace in the fact that we aren’t alone. We have survived several chapters of the history books and made it into 2021. If you are a mom reading this, take a gigantic breath, and keep moving forward. You are doing great!


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