Pandemic Parenting: What is motherhood right now?

Pandemic Parenting: What is motherhood right now?
Motherhood means something so much different to me than it did a few months ago.

A few months before this whole coronavirus mess, I was in Washington, D.C. taking an early morning yoga class when the instructor explained how he was actively trying to embrace the concept that he “gets” to do certain things, rather than complaining about things he “has” to do. He gets to teach yoga, he gets to meet a friend for coffee, he gets to take the dog for a walk, or make breakfast or whatever – point being, how many times have you said, “I have to take the dog out”? Our lives can get so filled up with “have-tos” that we often forget that much of our list of to-dos come from choices we made, and that our lives really are, at the end of the day, pretty freaking good.

This little yoga class story has stuck with me, clearly, and is especially relevant now that the current global crisis has (hopefully) put into perspective the privileges and luxuries many of us likely took for granted in pre-covid times.

For those of us fortunate enough (this is an important distinction – I know many people are battling much graver issues and living through times of great sadness) to be droning on about our grown-out highlights or the fact that we have to spend every waking moment with our kids/spouses/roommates/no one, this yoga man’s mantra may be just the thing to flip your perspective during quarantine times.

For instance, my perspective on motherhood has changed immensely over the past several weeks. At first, during the onset of the stay-at-home order, my days were full of “have-tos.” Admittedly, I struggled a great deal trying to balance work and parenting. A little over a month ago, I published this article about parenting and working from home during the pandemic. Things have changed since then – I’ve taken some time off to watch my daughter full-time, as a temporary solution to the madness that is working while trying to raise a young child. This means that for now, my husband is working long hours doing work-work, and I’m working long hours doing toddler-work.

It is an amazing opportunity to spend more time with the little love of my life – but it’s certainly no cakewalk, as any stay-at-home parent or childcare worker will attest. And for working parents whose former reality included work and family on separate but parallel paths, it can be a confusing time for parents. Without compartmentalization of these two very dominating buckets of our lives, who are we? Are we parents or employees? Business owners or caregivers? Can we be both in the same moment? TELL ME HOW.

In last week’s parenting e-newsletter from The New York Times, Jessica Grose wrote that “it can be hard to know who we are as people, as the barriers between our public and maternal selves have collapsed in ways we never considered. But if there’s a takeaway from all of these stories, it’s that your identity as a mother isn’t fixed…”

Leave it to NYT to deliver the truth straight to my inbox at 5 am. Really though, doesn’t that just perfectly sum up exactly what we all need to hear as moms (and dads!) right now? Things are different than they used to be, and despite your favorite influencers captioning their pics with, “I just can’t wait to wear this backless sundress when things get back to normal,” the fact is, things are never going to go back to the normal that we once knew. And so here we find ourselves, as mothers, trying to adjust to not only the chaos that is grocery delivery, but also who we are as people and as parents, and determine what that ultimately means for our families.

But, since I get to write my heart out on this lovely Saturday afternoon before Mother’s Day while my husband (heart eyes emoji) has our daughter and dog outside playing, I’d like to take this space and time to list some things I get to do during this weird time in human history. A few of them are related to my adjusted perspective on parenting, because, what better time to wax poetic about mom life than Mother’s Day weekend?

Some things I get to do:

I get to see my daughter grow and learn. This is everything. I could stop writing right here and feel fine about the whole thing. Ugh, I won’t. I know you want more! Being the sole caregiver of a child under two, five days a week, is, plain and simple, work. It’s a lot of diapers, clean-up, books, crafts, and sometimes tears and ouchies. But what beautiful messes she and I are creating together! I can see clearly now that this time is the most important time I may ever have with her, at least while she’s a little kiddo. And the fact that a deadly infectious disease gave me this opportunity is…backwards. But I am grateful for this time every day.

I get to move around all day long. For someone who is passionate about fitness, being stuck in your house can ruin your motivation to move, walk and get your heart rate up. But not when you’re chasing down a toddler all day! I now pay attention to my fitness tracker goals because I actually hit them. Note: Spontaneous dance parties set to “Let it Go” on repeat may be a factor.

I get to be a better dog mom. The dog is just loving life right now. She gets much longer walks now that they are the only reason we ever leave the house.

I get to show my daughter who I am. Normally, when my daughter was at daycare, we only spent time together during key parenting hours – in the mornings to get dressed, at night to whip up some quick dinner and for bath and bedtime. Now, we are together nearly all waking hours of the day. In addition to all the mommy things I’m supposed to do, I also get to teach her my favorite dance moves, show her how to do yoga, play her my favorite songs, and introduce her to the piano. Things we never had time to do before. Seeing her mimicking my dance moves and humming along to old Mariah Carey songs has made my Mother’s Day dreams come true.

I get to solve new problems. Work me spends a lot of time writing emails and trying to solve adult-sized problems. Now I am tackling the problems of the day: What is our family’s meal plan (i.e. how many times a week are we allowed to eat pizza?), where have all the band-aids gone (did a certain toddler dump the box somewhere in her room?), how many baby wipes do you really need to…you get the point. While I’m looking forward to getting back to solving business-related problems, I’m trying to take in the freshness of tackling a new and different set of issues – ones that can still make me feel accomplished at the end of the day.

I get to talk to my own mom (and other family and friends) regularly. I’ve said it before and will say it again. It’s silly that it took us this long to make video calls a regular thing. If you have family that lives far away, you’re probably like my family and me – we’re all asking ourselves why we didn’t start doing regular Zoom calls a loooong time ago.

I get to be grateful for the health of my family and friends. Every single day. (With a knock on wood thrown in here for my husband.)

Motherhood means something so much different to me than it did a few months ago. I know that meaning will continue to evolve, not just because of the uncertain state of the world, but because my family and my views on being a parent will continue to change with age and time.  For all you moms out there, I hope your Mother’s Day, and all the days, are full of get-tos, and not so many have-tos.

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