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Dear Fellow Moms: A letter to the struggling parents of the COVID pandemic

If you feel like life is harder than it should be right now, just know you're not alone.
Mom stress burnout
The coronavirus pandemic has left many moms struggling, and this writer has a message: You are not alone.

Dear Fellow Moms of the Pandemic,

I may not know you, but I know you. I've heard you talking. I've chatted to you in the coffeeshop. I've interacted with you on social media. I've seen you in the park and on the street just doing your mom thing. I've seen the yawns you stifle and the tired eyes that still manage to smile as you engage with the small people in your care. I know some of you need to hear this; I need to hear this. So let me be the one to say it:

It's okay to not be okay right now.

You're not a failure if you're struggling. And you're sure as heck not alone.

Two years and six pandemic waves later, you've woken up one morning and realized it's springtime again.

You're watching the cherry blossoms bloom (at least in this part of the world; apologies to my Prairie friends). You're seeing the daffodils and the tulips and the bright fresh green of new growth everywhere.

You're trying to breathe it all in and bask in the beauty, but instead you find yourself remembering that it's been two exhausting years since your kids came home for the longest spring break ever and you were suddenly working from home and you felt like you were drowning and you had no idea how you were going to do it but somehow you kept putting one foot in front of another and holy smokes you did it you kept everything going and you kept everyone safe and you made it through except you didn't really because it isn't over and you're trapped in an unfunny Groundhog Day and you have no idea how this all ends or if there's any such thing as an end and why are you still so exhausted and what is sleep anyway and please make it stop and

Yeah. All of that.

If you're being hard on yourself because you haven't managed to jump on the back-to-normal bandwagon, just stop. If you're not feeling joyful and excited and making plans for the BEST. SUMMER. EVER, then please, please, please quit feeling the need to apologize for your lack of enthusiasm.

You're not flawed. You are, in fact, pretty damn incredible.

Parenting through two years – and counting – of collective trauma

You are now entering the third year of world-changing collective trauma, an exhausting enough experience unto itself. But you? You have done it while ensuring the emotional, physical and mental well-being of other, smaller humans who have spent a staggering amount of their young lives undergoing that same collective trauma – and who are still smiling and talking and running and jumping and learning and growing and playing and exploring and laughing, and you know who got them here?

You, that's who.

You have spent the past two years navigating completely uncharted terrain. You're part of the first generation of mothers in a century to have to parent through a global pandemic, and you did it without a Pandemic Parenting For Dummies guidebook.

You have done your best to keep your children safe in the face of a virus whose long-term effects remain largely unknown. Week after week, month after month, you have had to weigh decisions about school and playdates and birthday parties and sleepovers and sports and clubs and where to go and what to do and how to protect your kids but still keep a sense of normalcy in their lives.

You have had to make decisions about vaccination. Or, if your kids are preschoolers, you still haven't had a chance to make that decision, and it makes you want to scream when other people shrug off the thought of COVID and act like your kids don't matter.

Repeat after me: This. Is. Hard.

This is damned impossible, in fact. And here you are making the impossible happen, you sparkling unicorn of a human in leggings and an old hoodie and a messy ponytail.

Job stress, burnout, unemployment have hit moms hard

On top of all of that – because there's always an "on top of all that" when you're a mom – let's not forget you've spent the last two years navigating uncharted terrain on the work front, too.

You're a front-line worker who's been facing relentlessly long hours and on-the-job burnout in the face of high personal risk. Or you've been safely working from home but doing so in the face of layoffs and downsizing, and two years later you're still working flat out to accomplish more with less and wondering if it ever ends. Or you're a business owner who's coped with constantly evolving health regulations and shifts in customer behaviour that threaten your ability to stay afloat. Or you're one of the countless thousands who were thrown out of work altogether, or who had to make the impossible decision to step away from your work life to fill a gap in child care or to homeschool an immunocompromised child.

Oh, and don't forget all that other, personal stuff. You're balancing the needs of an elderly parent, or caring for a spouse who's going through cancer treatment, or facing a health problem of your own, or mourning the loss of a loved one or family member – a loss you probably haven't been able to grieve in the usual ways, thanks to COVID. You're trying to be a partner and a friend and a generally functioning member of society, but you're not altogether sure you remember how.

And you? "You time" and "self-care" may well have gone the way of structured pants. You'd love to eat better and feel fitter and tackle those extra pandemic pounds, but it all just feels too exhausting to try to figure out how to start, so you just haven't.

Worst of all is that you feel like somehow you're to blame for all of the above. That if you were just a stronger, more focused, more together person, none of this would be as difficult as it is.

Next time you catch yourself harbouring such thoughts, stop. And breathe. And repeat after me: This. Is. Hard.

COVID struggles haven't hit all women equally

You know what? I come to this conversation as an employed, married, middle-class white woman with a support network. In most of the ways that count, I genuinely have it all. If it's this much of a struggle some days for me, I can only imagine how much those struggles are magnified for others: for single moms, for racialized moms, for moms with disabilities or health challenges, for moms facing poverty, for moms trying to be everything for everyone without friends and family to help.

Whoever you are, whatever your struggles, just know you aren't alone.

Right here, right now, let me be the one to tell you that you matter.

Let me be the one to tell you this will eventually pass but mostly just to agree that yeah, it sucks right now.

Let me be the one to give you the advice you probably give to your own friends but that you're really bad at giving to yourself: Whatever you can do to make life a little better for yourself right this second, please try to do it. Have a cup of tea. Read a chapter of a well-loved book. Eat some Cadbury mini eggs. Go for a walk and find a big tree and stop for a moment to lean against its sturdy trunk and remind yourself that this tree has withstood many storms and it's still here being beautiful, and so will you.

Just breathe for awhile and remember that cherry blossoms are here and spring will keep on springing and your kids will keep on laughing and you will find your way to a new normal one day but maybe that day isn't quite here yet.

Right now, just go out and do the okayest job you can at whatever it is you need to get done. Get out there and be an okay mom. Cook your kids the okayest dinner you can manage and give your okayest attention to their homework and do your okayest job with snacks and screen time and bathtime and teeth brushing and storytime and general emotional labour. And when even "okay" feels like too high a bar? Well, remember that tomorrow will bring another chance to do okayer. Or not.

Either way, your kids are okay. And you will be, too.

But it's okay if you're not quite there yet. So if you still feel like crying or screaming into the void, go for it. And remember what I told you:

You're not a failure if you're struggling. And you're sure as heck not alone.

Love and solidarity,

Julie

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, jmaclellan@newwestrecord.ca.