What’s HELPING and HURTING Moms Right Now:

Moms are being told that we should abandon perfection right now, that we should only be striving to be “bronze medal parents” as we assume the added pressures of being homeschool teachers, maids, and personal chefs teaching, cooking and cleaning our families’ ways through this global pandemic. I’ve set my own sights much lower; I’m more like a “participation trophy” parent lately.

As moms, we know that mindset is everything: “We are not stuck at home, we are SAFE at home.” We know that we are privileged — if we are healthy, have homes with backyards and food in our cupboards, and we are so grateful for everyone on the frontlines — nurses and doctors and EMTS and custodians, police and firefighters, grocery store workers , delivery people and mail carriers. I can’t be the only one who feels like we are on the front lines too; this COVID-19 experience is grueling, and it’s taking a toll on mothers. After 25 days of quarantine, with no end in sight (I just cried when I typed that), I’ve compiled a short list of things that are not helping, and things that are. Please feel free to add your own in the comments.

Helping: All of the wonderful artists and children’s book writers: Hooray for Mo Willems, @Drawbertson, Mac Burnett, Oliver Jeffers- and anyone else who is leading regular sessions in their studios. Yes, please! Practice drawing and read to my kids for 15 minutes so that I can take my first un-rushed shower in a month, or can clean the bathroom without them screaming for help on something.

Hurting: Spring Break can fuck right off. Without the daily structure of remote learning, the days feel 90 hours long and amorphous. Yes, there are scavenger hunts you can download online, and Legos and gardening (Maybe this time, those squash seeds will grow!). But how does every activity only last about 30 minutes, or an hour if we’re really lucky?

Helping: DJ NICE and dance parties. I tune in to almost every dance party at Club Quarantine that DNice hosts. Usually, the volume is low enough so that I can do other things, but loud enough to hear if my jam, No Diggity, comes on, in which case I pump up the volume and dance like it’s Spring Break 1997. Thank you, DNice, for being the soundtrack of my quarantine. And Ryan Heffington, your dance parties are my favorite, when I find time to join.

Hurting: Friends who complain about being bored. If I hear you complaining (BRAGGING) about how bored you are because you either have no kids or your teens are so self-sufficient, I will unfriend you. “I’m SO BORED! There’s nothing left for me to watch on Netflix.” How dare you. I would kill to be bored, to be able to sit down for an hour and watch this Tiger King thing that everyone’s talking about. Instead, when I finally sit down at the end of the day I fall fast asleep, then dream about Clorox bleach, toilet paper, and the SeeSaw app.

Helping: Zoom. It’s amazing: reuniting families and Hamilton’s original cast and classrooms all over the country.

Hurting: Zoom. How many Zoom meetings have I accidentally walked through while in my underwear? Too many. Usually I’m putting laundry away in my kids’ rooms and — in all my busyness (fretting about the world, my new role as chief educator of my children, for which I’m woefully unqualified) — I’m either in a bra and pants or a shirt and my underpants. On the few occasions when I’ve realized this in the moment, I’ve frozen, then tossed the laundry and crawled out of the room, under the lens.

Helping and Hurting: “Happy” hours with mom friends. These were so fun at first: we met with our “Quarantini’s” in hand and laughed about how early we had considered starting to drink that day. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, ha ha, acting like this is just a blip, like we’re not all becoming alcoholics because there is nothing left to take the edge off of our impossibly long days. But then the severity of the pandemic set in. And the governors and mayors started mentioning things like the quarantine lasting until May, or that students might be out of school until September, stretching this experience from a sprint into a marathon. I can’t bring myself to crawl onto another of these calls to commiserate with other weary moms as full of despair as I am; I think I’m better served spending that time in a dark room so I can rest and emerge somewhat sane enough to make it through the rest of the day.

Hurting: Chain letters. Why are these suddenly making a comeback? I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my life, barely keeping it together, and you want me to copy and paste and send a recipe or poem or ward off some curse by sending it to 20 friends?! Newsflash: I already feel cursed.

Helping: Live-Cams at Zoos and Aquariums. I could watch the baby otters swim at Monterey Bay Aquarium, or the tigers at San Diego Zoo, all day long. They make living in captivity look so cute!

Hurting: Feeling like I’m becoming a nag/bad mom/insert self-critique here. I have such good intentions! But stress hurts my execution sometimes when I’m talking to my kids. Lately, motherhood feels like I’m 90% drill sergeant, 10% loving mother. The drill sergeant yells: “SO HELP ME GOD, STOP FIGHTING! ITS MATH TIME!!! Let’s Go! Let’s Go! Let’s Gooo!” I immediately hate how I sound. Will my children remember this pandemic? Or will they forget that and think this is just how I was?

Helping: Quality time with my spouse: For the first time in our 15 year marriage, my husband and I are both out of work, at the same time. Now, my husband teaches our daughters gym and supervises their reading time, and makes them healthy breakfasts every morning. We divide up our days so the other can have a break to work or rest.

Hurting: So much other time with my spouse. I’ve had so many little discoveries while my husband and I are quarantined together. Like: I can hear him chewing from three rooms away. He pronounces the word Licorice Licoriss and says neanderTAL instead of Neanderthal. He micromanages the way I load the dishwasher, which made me actually hiss at him last night, like a feral cat. If we live through this time, it’s because we exercised great restraint (in not killing each other).

Helping: Outside; anything outside. I would lose the last remnants of my mind without it. I love the flowers! I love the mountains! What’s that song from the Sound of Music? Every time we step outside it feels like that but on a much, much smaller scale (see: backyard only). And it’s good for our kids. I’ve always believed in free play and letting kids be bored means they have to develop their imaginations. I’ve watched my kids go from moping around the house to making up stories and cutting out paper dolls. When they tell me they’re bored, I say, “GO OUTSIDE!” a little too loudly, a little too frantically, then I say it again, faux-calm: “Go into the backyard. Play on the swingset. Heck, MAKE a swingset or a mud kitchen. Paint some rocks. I don’t care, just go play.”

Hurting: Rain. WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

Helping: Glennon Doyle and her Morning Meetings on Instagram, and her new book Untamed. And writer Chanel Miller sometimes reads poetry on Instagram Live to all of us insomniacs in the middle of the night, in her dreamy voice.

Hurting: Instagram Mommy “Influencers.” While I’ve never totally understood exactly what they do under normal circumstances — besides making instagrammable bento boxes or sandwiches in the shapes of animals — I DEFINITELY don’t need an #ad about the best brand of towel or to watch an “accessible” workout in their swanky home gyms. And nope, I don’t have oat milk for this recipe, nor am I going to brave the grocery store to get any. Maybe instead of the hot tips for how to get my kids to like salmon (NOW IS NOT THE TIME) they should consider making cute masks for hospital and nursing home workers (because they don’t have sufficient PPE! How do they not have sufficient PPE?), and stop contributing to the culture of subtle mom-shaming.

Hurting: Self-improvement. Relatedly, now is not the time to curb carbohydrate intake. Now is not the time to look in the mirror (a month now without makeup) and say: “I have the face of a garter snake.” Now is not the time to criticize yourself for brain-fog (I brought a stick of butter into my closet without knowing it, left it there, and didn’t find it for a day and a half.) And now is not the time to lose those extra 10 pounds. I’d love to release some endorphins and think it would help my mood, too, but right now my floor actually crunches when we walk on it and dust bunnies roll by like tumbleweeds. So I appreciate a lot of local gyms offering online seven day free trials, but I get my “cardio” sweeping and dropping to the floor to crawl out of the room when I realize I am half naked in the frame of my kids’ Zoom class meeting (which almost counts as a full Burpee, right?). Earlier in this process — week one, I think? — I had such high hopes that I could do it all: homeschool my kids and cook and clean AND walk the rambunctious puppy three times a day AND work out. So I strapped on some ankle weights and grabbed some four-pound hand weights WHILE walking my dog. My ambition to do it all lasted exactly one day.

Helping: Letting us vent. Listen to us. Let us write rants like this one. Let us scream in our cars or into pillows or in wide open fields. This is so hard for everyone, but it’s especially hard for mothers, helping our children manage their own confusion, moods, and disappointment while also dealing with our own.

We’re in this together. As the widely shared Mr. Rogers quote says, “Look for the helpers.” I’ve found our virtual community to be comforting. This won’t last forever (it won’t). If you know a parent who is struggling (and we are all struggling), send them a text or email telling them they’re crushing it, because they are. We are. (But please, don’t send a chain letter.)

Freelance writer who has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek magazine, and more. www.carriefriedman.com

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