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Why "Doing It All" Feels Especially Hard During COVID

Remember that saying, "It takes a village?" You don't have one right now.

Key points

  • Many moms feel ashamed of their inability to "do it all" alone.
  • Informal support systems for parents used to include extended family, other parents in the community, and special roles for healers and mentors.
  • Parents' support systems had been thinning for decades and are now almost gone due to COVID-19.

My son's daycare closed again for three days last week. Coming off a two-week "vacation" with my kids, not to mention going on two years now of unpredictable child care, I was pissed. How is anyone supposed to get anything done with a 5- and 3-year-old tyranting around and demanding things every five seconds?

They are cute, but, as my dad once commented after a two-hour visit, "They just go all day, don't they?"

As I type out that frustration, it's followed by shame. Deep shame—about my ability to parent, my attitude toward parenting, the completely ridiculous idea of "work-life balance" and my inability to achieve it—you name it. In times like these, I can spiral fairly quickly.

I should be thankful, right? I have two beautiful, generally healthy children, a job, a supportive husband, a house, and not one but two paid-off cars. I should be looking into their eyes at every possible moment, basking in the joy of their existence. Of their...(write it!)...presence. Here with me. All day. Hooray.

My clients talk to me this way a lot: I should be grateful. I should feel "blessed." I should be able to do this. I should be able to do this on my own.

Let's step back, though, and examine those assumptions—most notably the last one.

Should we be able to be everything for our children? Is that a reasonable expectation?

When put that way, sure, you can probably see that it's not. But that doesn't stop employers, schools, or society in general from implicitly perpetuating the myth of the Happy Working Mom ("working" at home or at an outside job—both count!). The Mom Who Has It All and Does It All.

Remember that saying, "It takes a village?" I scoffed when my mom said that after my first child was born. I could do it all. I know it's hard, I thought, but not for me!

After having another child, and then watching COVID-19 creep over every aspect of public and private life until no part of our way of living was the same, I had to admit I couldn't. I can't do it all, and I certainly can't do it alone.

Redefining Ourselves (Again)

Since COVID-19 hit, we (parents, and I'd argue, especially moms) have been asked to redefine everything about ourselves. For moms, we can add "again" to the end of that sentence. We thought we had it figured out in our 20s, before kids. Then having a baby rocked our worlds, but we figured it out again, slowly but surely responding and adjusting as our kids moved through each new developmental stage.

It may have felt like we really were "doing it all" before COVID. Even though I continued to have ups and downs as a mom, I had at least figured out the day-to-day routines, the weekday vs. weekend schedules, the million phone alarms to remind me I had to pick up my kids every day. I had some things figured out.

But now everything is different. From grandparents and our larger family networks to daycares and schools, to extracurricular activities and tutors and coaches and pediatricians, we have completely lost our village during this pandemic. And we are all starting to realize just how important that village is—or was.

art by Lucy Strait
Of course we feel alone without our village!
Source: art by Lucy Strait

The loss of support systems

We don't have reliable child care. We don't have reliable work schedules. Neither do our partners. Every day, we have to renegotiate schedules on both the home and work fronts. We have to do way more than two things at once, all day every day. "Self-care" and "time management" have become funny memes from a lighter time. We are struggling to keep ourselves afloat, and to not take our kids down with us when we falter.

There are no grandparent trips, no neighbors to come over and play for an hour while we make (ok, microwave in my case) dinner, no babysitters to provide a few hours of feeling like a real adult person, no library storytime to mark the weekend mornings. Pools and gyms are closing again, parks and playgrounds remain open but risky (if nothing else, because of other parents' judgments about how close kids play to each other, whether this or that kid is masked). All of those release valves we had before The Virus are closed.

With the closing of The Village, we have lost our support systems. They certainly had their flaws, but now that they're gone (or, best case, unpredictably available), we see their worth. Without those support systems, something inside of us begins to break.

A client last week told me, "I just don't feel like myself anymore." Working from home with a toddler and a baby, things were falling apart. She had expected to feel some loneliness and stress after the baby was born, but with COVID-19's Omicron return these past few weeks, daily life had become completely overwhelming for her.

And I understood completely.

You Are Not Alone

Although it could be seen as selfish for me, a former teacher, to lament the loss of childcare during this pandemic, my intent is not to prescribe a solution, quick fix, or policy that can alleviate this problem. Instead, I'm writing to reach all of you who are experiencing similar feelings. I want to tell you you're not alone, and that you are not the problem.

As humans, living in modern society, we often forget the importance of the networks and systems that wrap around us to provide support. But remember that not that many hundreds of years ago, humans lived in groups. Even in "traditional" societies, we were never asked to raise a child completely alone. There were no offices to go to, no suburbs to hide in, but there were informal support systems that included extended family, other kids and parents in the community, and other special roles for healers and mentors. There was a Village.

We have been losing our Villages for a while now, as we've isolated ourselves into 2,000+ square foot homes on the outskirts of town, with our own personal transportation, our ever-shrinking need to rely on other individuals for basic survival needs. But COVID-19 accelerated that trend exponentially, stealing our ability to outsource and collaborate and connect (outside of Zoom), and narrowing our already-pretty-narrow lives to what can fit in the four walls of our homes.

COVID has meant the loss of our Village. The loss of our Village has resulted in unprecedented stress levels. And so it's no wonder that anxiety and depression symptoms are skyrocketing, that parents and kids are seeking therapy in unheard-of numbers, and that we, as parents, are feeling completely and utterly alone.

Until our systems can recover, and hopefully return better than they were before, I offer you this: It takes a village, and you don't have one right now. Give yourself a little grace, because you were never meant to Do It All...Alone.

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