What Does It Mean To Be A Mother One Year Into The Pandemic?
While Mother’s Day can be one sweet day of the year, motherhood is complex for all 365 of them. This isn’t just for women with children. It’s complicated for women deciding whether or not to have children, women trying to have children, women who have lost children, women with mothers who have passed, and women with contentious relationships with their own children and mothers. Mother’s Day can bring out the best and worst feelings, no matter what the day means for you.
This year we surveyed a small group of mothers to share their experiences on this last year of pandemic parenting and feelings around Mother’s Day this year.
A couple months into the pandemic, I had my first Mother’s Day with my eight month old son. It should have been a big event surrounded by family, the first of many. Instead, we stayed home. I received beautiful flowers, cupcakes, and arranged for a photographer friend to take our first family portraits, diståanced of course. It wasn’t the day I had anticipated but it was sweet, despite being punctuated by a chaotic family zoom, bottles, naps, and spit up through the day.
Even though it wasn’t the Hallmark day I fantasized about, Mother’s Day rarely is. Having worked in the restaurant business for years, I actually used to dread shifts on Mother’s Day. Families always seemed stressed, and no amount of floral chiffon dresses could hide the interpersonal tension building throughout the day when they approached the host stand.
While this one day of the year is sweet, motherhood is complex for all 365 of them. And I don’t just mean for women with children. It’s complicated for women deciding whether or not to have children, women trying to have children, women who have lost children, women with mothers who have passed, and women with contentious relationships with their own children and mothers. Mother’s Day can bring out the best and worst feelings, no matter what the day means for you. I surveyed a small group of mothers to share their experiences on this last year of pandemic parenting and feelings around Mother’s Day this year.
Likewise has been the experience of being a mother during the pandemic for over a year. When asked to sum up the parenting in a pandemic in one word, the moms said:
Whether you gave birth in a lock down, muddled through virtual school with older kids, or attempted to navigate fertility interventions in a precarious medical environment, this year had many ups and downs.
It’s been a challenge …
“I had my first baby right before lockdown. My husband and I were both on parental leave when lockdown hit six weeks later. We both work from home and have no idea what normal parenting would be like. This is the norm to us. To spend every moment with him. It’s a very weird conflicting feeling. We feel lucky to be so close with him, but worry about him missing out on normal things,” one new mom described.
I can personally relate to the sentiment. My son was only six months old when the pandemic hit, and I was just crawling my way out of the newborn phase and back out into the world when I was told to go back inside. I have no idea what parenting looks like without pandemic fear or restrictions. It all feels all difficult.
Another mother agreed, “Motherhood is hard anyway, but being stuck at home and working from home on top of it has been even harder.”
A friend was made to put a pause on starting IVF, a process that had already been an exhaustive and painful experience, until it felt safe. She’d already waited long enough to start her family, and it felt like torture to live in limbo.
Another mother described missing the mundane. “Being able to be out in the world was certainly snatched from us,” she said. “No travel, friends, family, restaurants, browsing in stores. I think that people will remain hesitant to stay in crowded spaces for long.”
It’s also just non-stop. A mom explained the hardest part about pandemic parenting was always having to be “on.” She listed, “childcare, work, house chores, errands, maintaining a healthy marriage, fitting in a friendship or two when possible, and if there’s any time left in the day, a self-care routine which even starts to feel like work for a while. Pleasure I used to receive from small self-care things like painting my nails or applying a face mask is simply gone now.”
Most moms agree the most challenging part about parenting during a pandemic is the isolation from friends and family. Everything being closed has been hard because you can’t even take the kids out anywhere to let off some steam.
Mother’s Day still feels a bit weird …
With caseloads declining and vaccination rates on the rise, this year definitely much better than last. But still, it’s not totally normal, and it’s important to recognize the trauma from last year won’t be going away anytime soon.
When asked about plans this year, one mother said, “I’m so thankful for my kids and so thankful to be a mom. But mother’s day doesn’t feel as special this time. We won’t be celebrating with family and we won’t be able to do anything with just us either because of the state of the world.”
Another mom shared the same feeling but sees a light at the end of the tunnel, “Even though it’s my first, I don’t feel excited. That has happened with all holidays unfortunately. Mother’s Day 2021 brings a sense of hope for what’s to come post pandemic for our kids. Play dates, museums, interacting with adults and other kiddos without half of their faces being covered.”
It’s not the Renaissance painting of an angelic mother with her cherub children joyfully celebrating around her, but this year does feel at least a bit different than last. “Last Mother’s Day, I had a newborn and a 2 year-old who had been home with me when he was meant to be in daycare,” one mom said. “There was nowhere to go to be alone or practice self care. This year, I am vaccinated, my children are back in preschool, and I’m going into my school to teach. Mother’s Day will feel a lot more celebratory. And I definitely plan on taking a nap. By myself.”
There were some silver linings …
For me, it was hard to be with my baby every single day for the first year of his life, but the flip side is, I got to be with him for every single day of his first year of life.
One mother put it best, “All the time my husband and I spent together with our baby during his first year of life was my bright spot. That’s the paradox of parenthood: the biggest challenge––all the time spent together without breaks or support––is also the biggest blessing.”
Another mom noted, “I’ve been able to watch my toddler become an amazing older brother.”
Clearly, though also the ultimate stressor, family time has been one of the pandemic’s greatest gifts to mothers. But, almost more importantly is what this crisis has revealed about ourselves.
One new mom realized that her expectations for motherhood were completely unrealistic, while another marveled, “I can do hard things. I can do hard things while maintaining a sense of peace and abundance of gratitude. Most of the time.”
This Mother’s Day let’s not make it all about gifts or the perfect Instagram post. No matter where you are in your journey with motherhood, take a moment to celebrate YOU. Because, you made it through a year of a pandemic, and you can do hard things.
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