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November 12, 2020

How Working Moms Have Been Charged with Unrealistic, Superhero-level Abilities in a COVID World

There was a time in late March when I stared out my kitchen window at the bean field behind my house in a thousand-yard stare. Motherhood is hard. Being a full-time working mom presents enough challenges when life is “normal”. But new challenges brought on by COVID-19 catapulted my stress – as a full-time working mother of two children under the age of 4 – to a place in which I didn’t know how to navigate. Truth be told, I still don’t know how to navigate.

In that moment, I felt paralyzed, like I was in a dream. I was trying to move, trying to rationalize, trying to gather myself, but it was all in slow motion.

I thought, maybe I can just grab a large, cold beverage, my camping chair, and escape to the bean field where nobody could bother me. Where else was I to go?

This is what the “new normal” looks like for me in a COVID world:

  • 24/7 Parenting WHILE Working – At my kids’ ages, it’s hands-on during every waking moment. I turn my head for two seconds and my two-year-old daughter scales the cabinets in true Spiderman fashion and seeks the gold medal in gymnastics on the top of our kitchen counter. Focusing on an assignment, report, or even responding to an email is virtually impossible to do while my kids are in my presence, which, in late March (without any sort of childcare available), was from the time they woke up at 6:30 a.m. to when they went to bed at 7:30 p.m. I was desperate for their naptime to give me one measly hour of uninterrupted worktime on the days that I didn’t have my husband’s help.
  • Non-traditional Work Hours – I must say I was fortunate to have some relief thanks to my husband’s non-traditional work schedule. Sometimes his days off, or early-morning shifts/evening shifts happened to correspond with the traditional work week. If he got home at 2 p.m., we’d tag each other in relay race fashion to swap duties. I’d begin my workday at that time and work well into the evening.

I am beyond blessed to work for women who also happen to be mothers. I have an employer who has not once judged my professional capabilities, questioned my work, or scrutinized my workhours during this time.  And it has made all the difference. I was hired to do a job, and no matter what hurdles come my way, I still have to get the job done. Through early mornings, naptimes, and late evenings, I have sacrificed family time and “me” time in order to meet my deadlines and finish assignments. I do this happily and proudly, but it is hard, and my employer knows it. It has taken their support and understanding of my situation to make this all possible. If you are a supervisor, I pray you are being as flexible as possible in this unprecedented, unnerving, absolutely hated time in a working mother’s life.

  • Where’s the “Me” Time? – As if we had much of it before, right? Perhaps an hour between tucking the kids into bed and before we collapsed with the day’s exhaustion? Not anymore. This time is meant for tending to unanswered emails you weren’t able to get to earlier or finishing the assignment you typically would’ve had finished days prior.
  • Resentment – Listen to me when I say I feel like the most blessed mother on this planet. My son and daughter are my entire life. I wish I could bottle my daughter’s little baby voice – she speaks so well for her age and sounds like an angel. My son is so excitable and sees pure happiness in the smallest things. Every chance I get (mostly when they’re still, which is not often), I stare into their faces and try my hardest to imprint the image into my brain. They’re growing so fast. It was just yesterday I brought them home from the hospital, right? My son is growing tiny freckles that line his nose. My daughter’s cheeks are soft balls of perfect chubbiness that bounce back with each of my kisses. I could kiss her cheeks every minute of the day if she let me.

And yet some days when I’m most frustrated and exhausted, I resent that they rob me of the time I’m supposed to have to do the things that I need to do. My husband, who has one of the most stressful jobs in the world, is what you might call an “essential worker” during this time and has to leave the house for his job. He gets the escape – the ability to take his dad hat off and put his work hat on. He has the ability to sign off, come home and be Family Man. I began to resent those around me.

  • Maybe I’ll Take This Zoom Call in the Closet – When my husband’s schedule happened to line up with mine, I would be able to take have-to calls with my boss(es) or a client. My typical at-home workspace was perfect – when my kids weren’t within 100 yards of it, of course. I was then forced to look around my house, mouth gaped open, wondering where the hell I could have any sort of privacy. I know moms who have resorted to the closet. I have taken many calls in bed. That’s not embarrassing or anything…
  • A Fear of Professional Incompetence and Decline – I’ll be the first to admit that I am still learning and perfecting my craft. I am still in the stage where I’m constantly looking onward and upward (no corner office for me just yet). There have been instances where without the help I’ve needed in terms of childcare, I simply could not be part of some Zoom meetings. Sure, I could put a giant bowl of chocolate in front of my kids, plop them in front of the TV to watch “Frozen” for the 7,945th time, and HOPE the call didn’t go interrupted, but no employer/client wants to hear my toddler’s umpteenth, unwarranted tantrum of the day. Now, all of a sudden, I’m not as involved on a professional front when I so desperately wish to be. Like many sacrifices mothers make, career advancement may continue to be one of them.
  • Practicality vs. Actuality – It was June when our sitter reopened her doors. Given the chaos, you’d think we would’ve kicked the kids out rejoicing in the fact that we finally had outside help we so desperately needed and most certainly took for granted. But we didn’t rejoice. It was just another stressful point in the process. Do we send them out and potentially risk their health? Or do we continue to try to manage the current life we’re leading? What would my employer think if I opted to keep my children at home when they can go back to the sitter’s?

I was not meant to be a stay-at-home mom; I can admit that. But I surely was not meant to be a superhero, either. God love our sitter. God love teachers. God love our family members for the many nights (outside of the COVID timeframe) they have gladly watched our children.

Now, as August quickly approaches, parents worry how they’re supposed to parent AND home-school AND work as COVID lingers and threatens the fate of schools opening and daycares remaining open. Keep your cape on, moms. I have a feeling you’ll still need it.

I think back to that moment of desperation, confusion and panic in late March and chuckle at the fact that it was just the beginning of all of this madness. It came like a freight train…a massive blow. I try to remind myself it could always be worse. The working-while-parenting struggle is my narrative, but I am so deeply thankful we are healthy and still employed. This virus has touched us all in many, inexplicable ways, and I know my situation could be worse. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard.

My main message to the other full-time working mothers out there who are trying to juggle the impossible: You. Are. Not. Alone. I don’t know you, but I am here for you. I know what you’re experiencing. Love on your children, work when you can, and continue to be the resilient supermom as you always were. One day, this will all be a crazy memory. It is my plan to say I came out on top.