By 11 am, I am on the verge of collapse. On any given day. I didn’t know exhaustion until I was forced to become invincible, one day to the next. “Please, give me a minute. I am not an octopus,” I yell to my eight and five-year old boys when they hurl commands at me. Attempting to catch my breath like a first-time swimmer flapping her arms, struggling to stay afloat, struggling not to drown—this is what parenting during the pandemic feels like.
Some days, I want to cry because I have nothing left of myself to give. Not only am I parenting during a pandemic, but I have been forced to take on the role of “co-teacher” as well, to ensure that the boys are grasping some of the lessons being taught remotely. They both refuse to be in separate rooms, “away from the distraction of siblings,” as the virtual-learning handbook mandates. On the contrary, it is loud, messy, and full of distractions because they prefer to be huddled in the kitchen with me, as I attempt to work from home. I have to work, teach, cook, referee, fix computer issues, wipe behinds, and still manage to keep my invincibility cape intact. Once virtual learning ends, homework and reading logs must also be completed. By the time they are done with class and homework, it is time to get dinner started. No wonder we eat close to 9 pm.
There are days when I attempt to rise earlier. To savor those coveted moments when time stands still. When I am peaceful enough to hear myself breathe. I do my utmost to indulge in fifteen minutes of blissful silence before the madness begins. Dad works fourteen-hour days three consecutive days a week. On the fourth day, I am required to fulfill my one day in the office. Even though I am away from home, I must remain accessible. Dad has no idea how virtual learning works, or what child belongs in which class. On the fifth day, I scramble to get the rest of my work done. Either way, I can never catch up enough to my supervisor’s satisfaction.
Parenting during a pandemic is frustrating, to say the least. A lot of times, I wish I could just quit it all. I usually feel so overwhelmed that I constantly think of slamming to pieces all phones, plates, and laptops, just to release the stress. There are hardly any breaks for me during the day. Life feels like I am autopiloting my way into a frenzy, forcing me to lose my cool regularly. Needless to say, Monday through Friday, I lack the patience and compassion required to be a decent mother—they don’t scream or succumb to mood swings.
As a result of Dad’s work hours and the physically demanding nature of his occupation, we only connect with him during dinner time. After eating, he’s off to bed as he needs to wake at 4:45 am. I am then back on the hamster wheel. I try to ease the boys into bed, but it is no easy feat. I often compare them to an airplane dumping fuel before landing. For some reason, bedtime is when their energy levels are at an all-time high. So, once they are done play fighting or jabbing one another in the crotch, we can then begin the process of descent.
Usually, we read a book for twenty minutes and watch an episode of family-oriented shows. This is also the time when I redeem myself for being a “rude” and “mean” mom who yells. This is when I shower them with affection and apologize for not being my best self during the day. When they have finally drifted off to sleep, it is nearly midnight and I’d like nothing more than to break night to enjoy all of my “guilty” pleasures in silence. This is the time I use to read, binge-watch my comfort shows, write, or devour all the chocolate chip cookies without an ounce of guilt or regret.
Parenting during a pandemic is gut-wrenching work without an escape in sight. Prior to the pandemic, I would take days off from work to enjoy uninterrupted me-time. I’d drop the kids off at school and cater to my soul’s every desire. I would treat myself to in-studio yoga sessions followed by foamy cups of cappuccino and juicy books. Other times, I would send the boys to Grandma’s for a few days in order for Dad and me to dote on one another. Luckily enough, we still like each other after a decade of marriage and the test of quarantine. All of these tiny acts of separation from our role as parents are non-existent. The fear of exposure to COVID-19 lurks in the air like a grey cloud ready to rain, every day.
As a supportive housing case manager and “essential worker”, I am tasked with holding emotional space for a caseload of twenty clients. In a pre-pandemic era, that was already draining work, but now I also have to hold emotional space for my children. I am now in charge of reducing the effects caused by the suppressing of their natural development. The fact that my children are unable to socialize, exercise their bodies and brains in a school setting or participate in extracurricular activities are far too much for any elementary school child to bear. It’s disheartening to see they are unable to socially engage with their friends as they are prohibited from using the chat box to even say “Hi” to one another. They are expected to remain laser-focused on the lessons while sitting still and burning their eye sights during five-hour virtual meetings. COVID-19 has robbed them of their childhood.
Sometimes I feel like I am sinking into quicksand while also attempting to hold the entire world above my head. Although I am not alone in this, it feels lonely. It also feels selfish to complain when Dad says I should just “relax and take it easy.” He doesn’t understand how draining my days are. Often, I wish we can all just take a day off to sleep in and be lazy without worrying about work phones, progress notes, or virtual-learning schedules. This is impossible, however. My work phone must be kept on at all times. I cannot live a life separate from my job. That, in itself, is taxing enough.
For me, parenting during the pandemic is emotional labor. Yes, Dad works on his feet for three consecutive days a week. And yes, it is manual labor, but it does not compare to the emotional labor I manage on a daily basis while holding space for everyone but myself. It is no wonder, I am on edge 99% percent of the time. I hate myself every time I lose my composure. I feel like an awful and inadequate parent when I unintentionally hurt my children’s feelings due to the high stress levels. When I realize what I’ve done, it is too late. The damage has been done, and so, to counter off those moments, I let them play video games for hours. My five-year-old watches far too many ridiculous YouTube videos but I allow it because I don’t know how else I’m supposed to manage. Work-life balance is a thing of the past. The lines have been blurred to the point of erasure. There are no lines. 11 am is always just a few hours away.
Illustration by Cassandra Orion
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