How Mothers Are Juggling it All Through COVID and Beyond

Amanda Harper and Kristen Oakley

 

For the last several months, your social media feed has probably been a little different. ‘Rona disrupted everyone’s lives in ways we’ll probably be reckoning with for years to come. And everyone had something to say about it. Especially parents.

Many women found themselves juggling multiple full-time jobs, serving as educators, cooks, housekeepers, spiritual leaders and nannies at home.

Memes showing mommy bloggers’ perfectly designed lesson and activity plans stacked up against most parents’ real-life go-to’s: an iPad and a hunk of Play-Doh. Wistful descriptions of the family vacations they’d love to be on – or the one they canceled to stay #HealthyAtHome. Ironic memorials to the casualties of CoronaChaos: crayon “art” on the walls, Spaghetti-O’s stains on the ceiling and – wait, why is the dog pink?!

As of press time, child care in Kentucky is set to resume on June 15th – with reduced capacity. That will mean that many parents went through three whole months of 24/7 at-home child care without the usual support of friends, family and schools. And often, without the mental relief of date nights, playdates, educational excursions or even an hour alone for a bath, for Heaven’s sake.

Many women found themselves juggling multiple full-time jobs, serving as educators, cooks, housekeepers, spiritual leaders and nannies at home. Working women were also expected to somehow build a functional #WFHlife in the midst of the chaos. Women entrepreneurs had to worry about their businesses and order hard-to-find supplies to meet COVID guidelines while Daniel Tiger is talking about going potty on TV. Women who were considered essential workers had to venture out into the world and face an anxious public every day then somehow bring a smile home.

Lifestyle brand Motherly conducted a survey that showed 74% of US mothers say they feel mentally worse since the COVID crisis began. The same report showed that for 31% of full-time working moms (a third of whom were considered essential workers), childcare was their leading cause of stress during the pandemic.

For our Leading Ladies of Lexington issue, we felt that it was important to highlight the unique struggles (and joys!) that women faced through the pandemic. We asked one Leading Lady, our own Kristen Oakley, to share her perspective as a mother of two, wife and the President of TOPS in Lexington.


One Mom's Perspective

Being a mother is hard work, especially now during quarantine. But I am oh so grateful for this dedicated time with my two sweet daughters and the husband I sometimes forget I have because life is just so busy and chaotic! 

As a working mom, I rarely get to see my young girls’ brains tinker, their imaginations run free, their emotions get the best of them and their giggles turn to belly laughs. Normally, I see their school art projects or classroom work AFTER it is completed. But seeing them actually work through the math problems and create their artistic designs is a whole new level of enjoyment!  During the hustle and bustle of “normal” life, I am the first to admit that I overlook and miss some of these precious moments. This is a time I will look back on and cherish forever.

For me, and like many other moms, quarantine started out GREAT! It was such a luxury to be home with my family, get some odd jobs done around the house, organize closets, redecorate some rooms, exercise, cook great meals, take family bike rides, go on walk, catch up on Netflix, work puzzles, read a book and wear Athletic wear EVERY day! But when the reality of “HOMEschooling” set in after an extended two weeks of ‘spring break’, my world was knocked upside down.  

I have also struggled with time management because any time spent with my kids feels like cheating on work… and vice versa.

Let me just paint a picture for you. Every morning, my first grader was presented with a list of class videos and assignments around 8am. They weren’t difficult, or long, or boring. In fact, I gotta hand it to the teachers for getting creative and being funny and interactive. But for a 7-year-old to sit attentively in front of a computer with no other classmates next to her as ‘examples of social norms’ or a skilled teacher with the right tone of voice, keeping her on task was impossible. Let’s just say, I am not cut out for elementary education. I just don’t have the patience. 

Also – Moms, do any of your kids listen to OTHER adults better than they do their own parents?  Or is “no” like an auto-fill answer to your questions or requests? Yeah – that’s a real thing!!

So back to the 7-year-old’s attention span (gee, I guess I know where she gets it). It’s tough to keep her on task… especially when her 4-year-old sister is playing in the next room.  

“It’s not fair that she gets to play.”  

“Why can’t I help her with the puzzle?”  

“I’m hungry.”  

“Wait, I need to feed the dog!”  

“I need to go potty…“ for the sixth time.

“Wait, the mailman just brought a package.”

You name it… there were a million distractions and reasons why she couldn’t get started on her work.  So this required me to sit next to her from start to finish – and bribe her with snacks/gifts/ice cream/iPad time – whatever I could JUST to get her to watch a class video. And if I so much as stepped away to attend to my other child, a work phone call or my own self-hygiene, I knew it meant a pause in schoolwork. Needless to say, my patience has been tested. 

I have also struggled with time management because any time spent with my kids feels like cheating on work… and vice versa. Anytime I sit down to my computer for a work Zoom call or to send some emails, I feel guilty for not taking advantage of the precious time with my children.  Oh – and I should probably mention that most of my Zoom calls are “Zoom bombed” by one or both girls.  Most of the time, they just want to say “HI” and show off their cute faces (apparently, only I know the terror that lies behind the cuteness) but sometimes they are fighting/crying/needing something and I have to quickly turn “video off” and run after them yelling, “I’m on a WORK call!!”

And let’s not forget the number of spills, stains, broken pieces of furniture/picture frames/who knows what that have occurred by just BEING in our home 24/7 for eight straight weeks.  

Of course, on the flip side, we’ve managed to get to some of the home projects that needed tending to; the broken kitchen cabinet door, the wall that needed painting, the patio that needed pressure washed, the bathroom grout that needed scrubbed. I guess you gain a little/give a little.

All that aside, our little family of four is tighter-knit now than we EVER were before. My husband and I have bonded and connected on a new level. Somehow, we have gained a new level of respect and admiration for one another. My children and I have a new understanding for the emotions that we each experience. Being together has reminded us that WE are the most important parts of our lives.  

And truly, nothing else matters when you scrape EVERYTHING else away. It’s not about how many extracurricular activities we put our kids in (although I can’t wait to start some of them back up), or how many social commitments we have with friends/co-workers (although I can’t wait to say hello to a babysitter and goodbye to my kids and head out the door for a date night), or how many hours we spend in our office because sometimes work can be done remotely (although I went into the office this week… and MAN if felt good!)

Trust me when I say the biggest takeaway for me is how fortunate I am and how much I admire the true heroes of today.

COVID-19 has affected every single person in this world in one way or another. I’m fortunate and grateful that my family is healthy and safe and that we have a roof over our heads and food at each meal. I’m grateful for an employer who worked hard to keep his employees on payroll and continued producing a product that our community loves. This is not the case for everyone. So, while I jokingly have gripes about how this virus has sent my life into a whirlwind, trust me when I say the biggest takeaway for me is how fortunate I am and how much I admire the true heroes of today; the healthcare providers on the front lines fighting this pandemic, the teachers who have worked so hard to alter education as we know it, the families burdened by illness and death with little ability to heal or grieve their loved ones, the business owners who lie awake at night wondering if/how they will open their doors again, the employees who are without work and the volunteers who have given their love and time wherever they can.

The moms haven’t had it easy… and we all deserve a big glass of wine, a massage, and a beach vacation with a private waiter. But until then, WE WILL SURVIVE! Because that’s what WE do!! •