How Early Motherhood Prepared Us for Parenting During a Pandemic
I was not prepared for this. The isolation. The uncertainty. The anxiety. The guilt. The self-doubt. The stakes are so incredibly high, and I was not prepared. It only took about 48 hours for the world to turn upside down.
“They cancelled the rest of the NBA season,” I whispered to my husband, who was getting our son ready for bed. I watched enough news to know that the COVID-19 situation was getting bad, but cancelling the NBA was a real tipping point. Only a clear and present danger could bring a multi-billion dollar sports league so quickly to its knees.
The following morning, my husband and I decided that it was time to self-quarantine our family. Being Southern California residents, we had an emergency earthquake kit stocked with essentials, and, as a mom, I luckily had enough sanitizer and disinfectant to get us through the first wave of hysteria. We filled our cars with gas, picked up extra medicine and enough milk, eggs and frozen pizza to get us through a couple weeks. I even managed to snag a single bottle of Lysol. Two days later, San Francisco would become the first major US city to “shelter in place,” with the rest of the state to soon follow. It all happened so fast.
From an administrative perspective, I had done my best to prepare for the business of being in quarantine. As the mother of two small humans, there’s an enormous pressure to prepare for every scenario and predict and plan for what their needs might be. (As it turns out, when humanity is facing a catastrophic global pandemic, my instinct is to bulk order yogurt-covered raisins and scented candles.)
But for all my work navigating the nuts and bolts of surviving this quarantine, I somehow managed to grossly underestimate the emotional and mental toll that this will begin to take on all of us in the coming days, weeks and, I assume, months.
To be fair, there isn’t a lot of material out there to prepare us for “parenting during a global pandemic.” The closest thing I could liken to any sort of survival prep are seasons six and seven of the Real Housewives of New York. (That may sound glib, but I maintain that those are two of the most intense seasons of television in history.)
As I write, I’m on quarantine day 20 with my family, including a 5-year-old and a nearly 2-year-old. When I woke up this morning, I cried. I cried because of nothing in particular and because of everything. I cried because it felt like the world had stopped turning, but also because it felt like things were spinning out of control.
But I didn’t have time to properly process my emotions or even dry my eyes before I was thrust into a day of rotating job hats: cook, dishwasher, teacher, referee, writer, wife, daughter, mother, home organizer, laundromat, coach, dog walker, personal assistant, and so on.
When I thought about the fact that this will likely be our new normal for the foreseeable future, I wanted to crawl inside myself. How could I possibly navigate something this intense without any road map? How could life just drop me into the center of a new reality and expect me to be capable of managing it all? It didn’t take someone throwing a prosthetic leg across the room (ah, the RHONY drama) for me to realize that sh*t was hitting the fan.
But then that familiar, foggy swirl of panic and confusion set off alarm bells in my head. I had tasted this particular cocktail before. I knew this sloshy feeling. I was experiencing early motherhood all over again!
All the tell-tale signs were there: the confusion, the fear of the unknown, the loss of self, the endless days that started to blend together, the tears. So many tears. Only this time, I’m not learning how to become a mom in a world I already know—I’m fighting to be the mom I’ve already become, but now in an entirely different world.
But really, pandemic motherhood isn’t too far from new motherhood.
First, there’s the superficial and meme-worthy comparisons: the topknots and yoga pants, the tubs of ice cream, the Netflix marathons, the piles of dishes and laundry and the absolute void of any social calendar. But that’s the punchline for a TikTok video, and something reserved for those women who have the luxury of quarantining. And yes, it is a luxury right now not to work in an industry or field that requires us to put ourselves in harm’s way, whether it is a call of duty or simply because a family’s survival depends on that paycheck.
However, the emotional and mental similarities of mothering through this crisis and mothering a newborn are something all moms can appreciate. It’s waking up one morning and realizing life as you knew it is being flipped upside down. It’s doubting whether you’re up to this challenge, but forcing yourself to try because your family needs you. It’s understanding how much you took for granted in your daily life now that those simple freedoms are no longer an option. It’s putting on a brave face, even though you’re scared, lost and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.
But despite the hazy horizon, this will end. Things will get better.
When I had my daughter in 2014, my closest friend gave me some of the best advice for new motherhood, and, as it turns out, pandemic motherhood:
Just be prepared that the next few months are going to suck, but you will eventually see a return to normalcy. It won’t be the same as before, but you’ll begin to regain parts of your life and routine. You’ll have good days and bad days, but don’t let the bad days define you. There is no guide book and there is no one right way to handle this new life, so turn off the outside noise. Remember that when you’re busy trying to juggle everything that life has just thrown at you, it’s absolutely essential that you continue to nurture yourself. It might seem like there is no time to spare, but force yourself to find it. You can only do your best for your family when you’re doing your best for yourself. And if you go to bed each night with the comfort that your family is safe, fed and healthy, then you’re doing an awesome job.
And one day, when this is all a distant memory, I hope you look back and give yourself the credit for once again rising to this very uncertain occasion and giving everything you have for your family. Not all warriors are moms, but all moms are warriors. Fight on, ladies.
Leslie Bruce is an award-winning journalist, a New York Times bestselling co-author and the founder of Unpacified, an online community for mothers. Her debut parenting book, You Are a FcKing Awesome Mom, was released in September 2019. She lives in Laguna Beach, California, with her husband and two children.*