Written by Ivana Jagodic Meholick
Founder and Executive Director of Postpartum Support Center
Being a parent is very rewarding, but it’s also hard work – especially at first. As new parents learn to care for their baby it can take lots of energy, emotional commitment, and patience. When you add toddlers and school-aged children, things get a lot harder. Adjusting to parenting is a process of trial and error, good days and bad, and it’s common to take a while to feel comfortable and confident in the parenting role.
BUT WHAT DOES PARENTING LOOK LIKE DURING THE PANDEMIC?
Balancing the demands of motherhood has never been easy. With the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are adjusting to being home all day with their children, maneuvering to balance working remotely, childminding, running a household, and, for those with school-aged children, taking on the role of primary educator.
In fact, 74% of U.S. mothers say they feel mentally worse since the pandemic began, according to a “Motherly's 2020 State of Motherhood survey”. The report, which gathered responses from more than 3,000 millennial mothers between March 9 and April 23, found that 97% of mothers between the ages of 24 and 39 say they feel burned out at least some of the time, with the pandemic only making things worse.
According to the survey results, 30% of full-time working mothers say their primary cause of stress is child care, followed by worries around the mental health and well-being of family members.
With its self-isolation, physical distancing, stay-at-home directives – the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our way of life. Family dynamics are changing, under unprecedented stress and anxiety, to adapt to a rapidly evolving “new normal.”
When there is no separation between work, family, home, school – what toll will it take on mothers? What are the implications of being a mother in a stay-at-home family during a pandemic? A mother doesn’t get to switch off. She doesn’t get to just take time out and not be a mother for a few days… it’s daunting and overwhelming and beautiful all at once.
There’s so much more pressure on mothers now that we’re asking them to be educators. With less support and resources, we’re now adding long to-do lists and mounting pressure on how to stimulate learning at home, not to let them fall behind academically, while also using the limited time to introduce new hobbies and talents, etc. The expectations for parents are going up when it should, with the global pandemic, be quite the opposite.
Rightly, frontline workers in the public sphere have been praised – we agree emphatically that this is an important recognition – but it seems that people are forgetting what mothers are facing, and accomplishing, in the home and under unimaginable conditions.
AND WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN’S WELL-BEING?
Often added to the aforementioned stress and high expectations are other circumstances, such as decreased income or job loss, financial or housing instability, single parenting, new immigrant status, and living in abusive situations which amplify the stress. These factors can combine to create an immediate danger to mental health, which can reflect on the entire family, and especially on the children.
Some children will bounce back with no ill effects, but the science of trauma suggests that some children may experience biological changes that pose long-term risks for their physical and mental health. As Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child explains:
Toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.
The best preventative factor and remedy for children facing stress is close, reliable, and loving care by their parents. We tend to think that resilience is inborn, a character trait that people simply have or don’t have. But studies show that resilience in children is strongly linked to parental care:
The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adults. These relationships provide personalized responsiveness, scaffolding, and protection that buffer children from developmental disruption. They also build key capacities—such as the ability to plan, monitor, and regulate behavior—that enable children to respond adaptively to adversity and thrive.
It is surprising that we are not hearing more people saying ‘What can we do for families? How are mothers coping?’ Can you imagine what mothers are going through right now and how it’s impacting the children and their relationships and marriages?
SO HOW CAN WE PROVIDE HELP FOR MOTHERS?
Motherhood is an emotional roller-coaster and although there is no manual to teach you how to make it through, another mother can truly understand and help make for a smoother ride.
One way of helping families is by creating a safe space where mothers can talk about what they are experiencing. Whether it's on the phone, through video chat, or social media, we should be open to hearing mothers' stories. The Postpartum Support Center (PPSC) has done just that. The PPSC is a community-based, peer focused nonprofit organization founded in Marin County, whose purpose is to provide a support system to new parents and families in need. The main goals of this organization are to help new mothers navigate the postpartum period, reduce parental stress, and build effective support systems.
There is a free Support Line that any mother can call or text and get emotional support, information, resources, ask for referrals, etc. The PPSC offers free online weekly drop-in support groups for mothers experiencing maternal mental health challenges. There is also free peer counseling through Mom to Mom evidence-based peer programs.
The Postpartum Support Center is also constantly working on developing new programs and ways to support mothers and their families in Marin and Sonoma counties. To get involved and support our mothers and families, simply contact us and join our team. Together, we make a greater impact.
AND MOTHERS, PLEASE REMEMBER…
It can take time to adjust to becoming a parent in this “new world”. There’s no ‘right’ way of doing it, so don’t be too harsh on yourself if things work out differently from how you’d planned. Value your role as a parent – it’s a very important job.
Lots of people need a bit of extra support during these difficult times. There’s no shame in asking for help, if and when you need it. You are NOT alone! The PPSC is always here for you.
Be kind to yourself, be kind to those you love, and take a deep breath and try to enjoy that beautiful child in front of you. You’ve got this.