*This article was originally published on Working Mother, April of 2020.
Though heartbreaking, it’s no surprise: mothers have been among the hardest hit by the many stressors related to this pandemic.
Perhaps more than any other demographic, moms are bridging societal gaps, mitigating cultural dysfunction, and adding even more to their plates in order to meet their families’ basic needs. In addition to the disproportionate loads we were already carrying pre-pandemic, there is now an expectation that we will be our children’s teachers, serve as our children’s primary (and in many cases, singular) playmates, work from home while caring for and teaching children, and absorb and transmute the stressors of this crisis so that our children might be minimally impacted.
We are absorbing the impact of Covid-19 for millions of people, young and old. As a result, we are minimizing the collective trauma being experienced worldwide.
Mothers are the epitome of essential workers, yet because we are unpaid and our work has always gone unseen and been underappreciated, we don’t even make the list.
“Some of these people work behind the scenes without the general public realizing how essential they are to keeping society functioning,” says Sophia Waterfield in Newsweek’s List of Essential Workers That We Should Thank and Support During the Coronavirus Pandemic.
If we’re going to list the people who work behind the scenes to keep society functioning, shouldn’t mothers not only be included, but featured?
I’m not faulting Waterfield. Her list is beautiful and important. I’m calling out the culture-wide narrative her exclusion represents. I’m illuminating just how undervalued and misrepresented mothers still are–despite the truth of how much we do for society–within the minds of those who weave society’s stories, and thus, influence our sense of self as mothers.
If call center workers, workers supporting the operation of firearms, and truckstop employees are considered essential, yet mothers aren’t even mentioned…it’s time we weave a new narrative.
My hope is that this moment in history will serve as a great awakening. My dream is that millions of stressed and over-burdened mothers will recognize the ridiculousness in the way society sees us (or doesn’t see us, as it were), feel the truth of mothers’ importance in their bones, and begin to weave truer, more mother-affirming narratives, like this one:
We are not struggling because we are inadequate. We are struggling because we’re mothering within a society that is misrepresenting, misleading, and inadequately supporting us.
Here are a few other realities Covid-19 is illuminating that I believe merit being woven into our post-pandemic norms and narratives:
- It actually takes a village – Now that the support structures we depended on (which, for many mothers, were suboptimal to begin with) have been stripped away, we are feeling the loss of the village even more acutely. The myth of independence is more obvious than ever. We are interdependent creatures and we need social structures that support our basic need to raise children and live our everyday lives together.
- The pace of our culture is unsupportive for families – Our pre-pandemic pace was unsustainable. Though many of our life circumstances are currently less-than-ideal (for obvious reasons), many moms are feeling massive relief from the slower pace some of us have been afforded. Feeling constantly behind is not “normal.” It’s a manufactured set of feelings based on unrealistic expectations combined with too little support.
- Self-care is essential and inadequate – The current trend toward self-care is wonderful and much needed. Understanding our personal needs and taking those needs seriously is the foundation of a healthy self-relationship and healthy relationships with others. Focusing on self-care, exclusively, however, fails to account for the reality of our interdependence. We need to expand our thinking to include community care. Telling mothers who already feel under-supported and under-resourced to practice self-care is adding insult to injury. Most mothers would love time away, for example, if quality childcare were affordable and easily accessible. We need new narratives around our worthiness of meeting our needs and we need better systems for supporting us in meeting those needs.
- Gender inequality is real, and so are unconscious agreements – In talking with my clients (all of whom are mothers), I’m currently hearing many variations on two stories. The first one goes something like this: “My husband’s boss said he’s allowed to work from home to care for the children only if his wife is unable to.” The second story sounds something like this: “Both my husband and I are now working from home, but I’m still the one doing the majority of the childcare and household management. He seems to have some magical ability to tune the kids out and escapes to his office with no apparent shame or guilt. I, on the other hand, feel guilty asking him to split the kid duties and household chores equally. Even if I were able to find the words to express my frustrations and desires, every time I try to hide away in order to work or relax for a few moments, I feel sucked back into the family’s needs. It’s like there’s some invisible force pulling me back into their orbit as soon as I even think about stepping away.” Sheltering in place is illuminating not only gender disparities, but also the unconscious agreements we’ve made as mothers that keep us feeling stuck and powerless to change our circumstances.
- Connection matters more than convenience – Consumer culture has conditioned us to think that the relief we seek can be found in conveniences and products that make our lives more efficient. Sheltering in place with our many conveniences, however, is showing us that connection and community are what we most deeply desire and need in order to thrive.
More supportive norms and truer narratives are not going to come from the top, down. If we, as mothers, are ready for a new collective story, it’s up to us to create it. I wrote a book to help guide you through this process. It was released last week and you can find it here.
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