The sheer magnitude of being stuck inside for more than two months didn’t hit me until this past Sunday. My work has been crazy and I’ve mostly been holed up in my cave-like bedroom, only occasionally turning the Zoom camera off to help with a school assignment for my five- and seven-year old (thank god my husband does 95 percent of the homeschooling while he works in the living room) or to yell at the kids for being too loud. And when I do emerge from the cave, I mean the bedroom, it’s to frantically cook or prep our next meal (I’m on meal number 171) sometimes while still on Zoom and sweep the floor for the zillionth time.
At the start of the day, Sunday looked like it was going to be what has become a "normal" quarantine day. We all woke up in relatively good moods. I fixed the kids two different breakfasts, escaped for my mid-morning run (another moment of gratitude to my husband, who has encouraged these), came back to a family lunch, cleaned the toilets, swept the floor (yet again!), and started to work at our kitchen bar. The moment I sat down, the kids approached me to ask for a snack, and I just lost it on them. Over an orange. It wasn’t pretty.
For some reason that I can’t quite explain, the snack request broke me, and I spent most of the rest of the day in tears: crying for lost moments, crying for my lack of patience, crying for my inability to do what I love (to be with people), crying for EVERYTHING. And I didn’t hide it. I let all three of my coworkers (aka, my family members) see my emotions out in the open.
Maybe it’s the rinse and repeat of everyday during these strange, lonely times. Maybe it’s the lack of vitamin D. Maybe it’s just that I feel like I’m failing at one or all aspects of my life every day. Maybe it was all of the above combined, but all I know is: I had hit my limit of "keeping it together."
One source of comfort is that I know I’m not alone. Berlin Cameron polled a group of parents about how COVID-19 is affecting their daily lives and their families, and a whopping 66 percent of parents responded that the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. When asked for one word to describe the situation, 59 percent of parents chose "challenged" or "overwhelmed," and 25 percent of respondents said they felt like they were failing.
It turns out that respondents thought mothers are being more affected during the pandemic and beyond: Women are still carrying the majority of responsibility for educating their kids, with 58 percent of working moms say they’re doing more homeschooling than their partner, and working parents think moms will be more affected (25 percent) than dads (5 percent) once they return to work.
And speaking of Sunday spent crying, 15 percent of mothers admitted to crying in the closet or the car, and more moms than dads feel like they’re failing. I wonder how many, like me, were at their breaking point and just didn’t even try to hide the tears. I would assume there have been others. In our research, parents said they actually love showing the true selves, with a full 42 percent saying it’s finally time others see the realities of working parents on virtual meetings or phone calls. (Maybe that includes a crying session or two.)
On a fundamental level, it’s a relief to know that so many other parents are feeling the same way. It takes a tiny bit of the pressure off. But I wonder what we can do about it, because every day feels like a struggle. I’ve always been a proponent of connecting, and I think it’s more important than ever.
That could mean reaching out to your family, to coworkers, or to other parent-friends who are undoubtedly feeling the same way. But it could also mean just checking in with yourself and taking a moment to breathe, laugh, or even cry. With all that’s going on, sometimes sending a check-in text can just feel like another thing to do, so it’s up to you to do whatever feels best in the moment to give yourself some peace of mind.
And at the end of the day, with all of the pandemic’s stress and anxiety, I do love being closer to my family, and others do too. In our research, 52 percent of parents love spending time with their loved ones, and 72 percent are bonding more. With Mother’s Day this past weekend, that’s good news.
The one wish I have for mothers is that we can all release our expectations: our expectations of the holiday (Mother’s Day), our expectations of ourselves, our expectations of others. Expectations have weighed me down my entire life, and it would be great to let them go for 24 hours, at the very least.
It’s a tough time for us all. And if sometimes just being asked for an orange seems overwhelming, that’s okay. It’s okay to show your vulnerabilities, even to those little coworkers who are watching and listening 24/7 these days. They don’t expect perfection: You’re expecting it of yourself. So let’s all try to go a little easier on ourselves as a gift to ourselves and the one’s around us this Mother’s Day.
Jennifer DaSilva is the president of Berlin Cameron.