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December 17, 2020
December 17, 2020
I've never felt more alone as a parent than I did a few weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown. As a single mother, I'd come to depend on communal dinners, a babysitter that allowed me to have additional time to work, and playdates to fill our weekends. But when the social morning strolls to my daughter's school and breezy afternoons spent hanging with our usual crew at playgrounds were put on pause, we both immediately felt the loss of our community.
Turns out, I'm not alone in feeling alone. According to anthropologists, the "it takes a village" belief is hardwired in our brains, as our ancestors needed such a support system to ensure human evolutionary success.
In the midst of a global pandemic, creature comforts, work-life balance, and social connections are looking quite a bit different, and experts say the pandemic is especially taking a toll on mothers. It took some time and ingenuity, but I eventually found a safe way to create the community that I knew that I needed as a parent.
We were never meant to parent alone. Studies show that from the beginning days of motherhood, social support is vital for women and their quality of life. When mothers have a network of support, they experience lower levels of stress and feel more optimistic about parenting.
While I can tolerate a lot of feelings of discomfort, loneliness is one of the hardest to stomach for me. With no family members in New York City, where my 5-year-old and I live, I've always relied heavily on having a sense of community. This became especially true after her father and I separated two years ago.
In quarantine, all of this came to a halt as everyone in my life sought refuge within their homes, and hunkered down with their nuclear family. When I found myself navigating things like homeschooling and temper tantrums on a metaphorical island, I immediately went into a shame spiral about how I just wasn't hacking it in the motherhood department. How in the world was I supposed to adapt to this new normal alone?
The undeniable truth is that I hold a tremendous amount of privilege in the world, especially when it comes to parenting. I have steady employment, an incredibly supportive co-parent, healthcare, and my daughter is now in school full-time.
Many mothers do not have the options that I do, and many have had to quit their jobs in order to care for their children. Fortunately, in order to continue to work through this time, my daughter's father and I hired a pandemic babysitter to help us when we feel as though we're drowning in deadlines.
Even with all of these advantages, parenting isn't easy right now. There is an ever-present grief that my daughter's childhood experience is a little less innocent than it should be. The inability to let her be free to connect, touch, and experience the world hits hard sometimes.
Since I was feeling like a complete mess, I sent out individual texts to the people I missed checking in on their well-being. I asked one friend if she needed help getting groceries, another how Zoom school was going, and I checked in to see how my pregnant mom friend was feeling.
One thing quickly became clear: Everyone in my orbit was losing their minds from time to time. I'm not sure why I found this shocking, or why my assumption was that every parent around me was sailing through this time unscathed. The "OMG! Same here!" sentiments that I received helped me to immediately feel less alone.
Over the last several months, it's become crucial to have open lines of honest communication with other parents. Instead of the highlight reel offered by Instagram, we're dropping the "everything is fine" act, being authentic in just how hard this all is, even if we're fortunate beyond measure.
We're all complex women who have dreams, jobs, responsibilities, desires, anxieties, and multitudes of layers. Knowing how to shepherd our kids through this time is not something that we ever imagined nor had modeled for us, so why not stop trying to do it all alone?
Thanks to technology, I still get together virtually with the friends I used to see in-person each day. We FaceTime with our kids frequently and have an ongoing video message thread on Marco Polo. I've come to deeply appreciate the expletive-filled, wine-fueled rants and good solid, guttural sob sessions with these remarkable women.
We're all closer now than before. Even sharing small details about others' days, such as what everyone is having for dinner, or whose child has had a nightmare, have become the fibers that keep us connected.
Two weeks ago, one of my dear friends and I agreed to join a COVID-19 bubble and reunite our daughters. As we watched our girls play outside in the fall breeze, leaves crunching under their feet, I felt an ease in my chest that I hadn't felt in months.
It's all still a bit uncertain and scary, but it's worth it. That evening, as we made pasta dinner together, I was reminded how full my heart feels when I'm in the presence of loved ones.
At the end of the day, I grabbed my friend's hand for a squeeze and she said, "I've really missed this." The truth is that I've missed it too. I've missed mothering with others, in a community, exactly as it should be.