Yesterday I broke down for the 20th time in the last month. Tears of stress and frustration overwhelming me. Anxiety gripping my chest. Disappointment in myself that I was again ending the week behind at my job (I’m an essential worker), kids behind on the week’s schoolwork, house a total disaster, children in full YouTube zombie land.
My “Normal” Situation?
I work full time outside the home. My husband does, too. And we have four young children.
I had long since come to terms with the decisions that formed the life I had just 6 long weeks ago. I had accepted certain levels of working mom guilt related to missing some school parties and performances in exchange for meetings and deadlines. I’d learned to blow off comments from well-meaning grandmas about “who was raising” my kids while I was at work.
The life we had left very little margin for error in what felt like a chaotic existence. But we balanced it the best we could and were quite content with our well choreographed dance — pivoting from pick-up and drop-off to wrestling matches and gymnastics. It was a bit crazy compared to some people’s lives, but it was our normal and we loved it.
It had hard seasons like returning to work, sleep deprived from maternity leave or juggling time off with sick kids. But overall, we did pretty well most of the time and operated similarly to many other two-parent, work-outside-the-home households.
Then This Happened: Covid-19
Full disclaimer: I am fully aware that our “problems” right now are best case scenario and that we are privileged to still both be employed and healthy. My heart goes out to everyone who has not been so “lucky.”
But the place where we have landed is beyond what I would have ever thought we could or would have done before.
Recently, I have seen a lot of articles about how “we might all be in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.” For me, this feels like a shipwreck. It is stressful and frustrating and I don’t think I am alone in feeling incapable of handling this. For many “two parent working households, ” this experience has not been “restful” or a needed “reset” from a busy life. There has been no bread baking. No puzzles. No Covid-19 timecapsule coloring books. There has been exhaustion, yelling, prodding, crying and a lot of “in a minute, honey.” We are so. much. busier. than before.
Until recently, my kids had online meetings, assignments and deadlines at the same time as I had online meetings, assignments and deadlines.
My coworkers now all know my kids by name. That’s because they keep popping in on all of my meetings asking for help reconnecting to WiFi. I feel like I haven’t completed a train of thought in weeks.
High-Demand, High-Responsibility Positions
I’m an essential worker. I work in water supply for the state. My husband is also an essential worker. He works in national defense. Those are our full-time jobs and by themselves before Covid, were high-demand, high-responsibility positions.
Watching my toddler and pre-schooler is a high-demand, high-responsibility, full-time position.
Teaching my “spirited” kindergartner and IEP-level-intensity 3rd grader have been high-demand, high-responsibility, full-time positions.
To do all of these jobs at once, while trying to keep this house running, even while two parents are tag teaming is an outright joke. I am getting up between 3-4 am to do actual work before the kids get up. My husband is on a shift, going into the office from 1-10 pm. I can’t even imagine single parent, full-time working households right now…
Triage Mode: How To Cope With The Chaos
We have been in triage mode for weeks, constantly adjusting and going back and forth on “what will work.” The truth is, nothing will work. But we are trying and we are doing our best. Here are some things to help manage it all:
After the first week, I sent my toddler and preschooler back to daycare.
They were able to stay open, having pivoted to be an “essential worker daycare.” Here in Colorado, I qualified as an “essential worker” under the Governor’s Order, so I also qualified for assistance under the Colorado Emergency Childcare Collaborative. This program matches children of essential workers with open daycare facilities and may cover the cost. It expired in May, but there might be other resources available, if you still need help.
Get help if you need it.
This is really difficult no matter who you are. There are lots of resources available to support mental health during this crisis. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, helpless or need someone to talk to, Colorado Crisis Services offers free, confidential and professional 24/7 support. Call 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255.”
Provide yourself space to accomplish what work you must do.
It took me a month to clear some time in my calendar to be able to address “school” during my work day. I can work at odd hours, but my kids cannot. Whether it’s for school or having kids unexpectedly home during the summer, talk with your supervisor about carving out some time in your schedule to meet these needs.
If you can’t adjust your schedule, there might be resources available to you under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This federal program provides for paid sick leave if you are sick with Coronavirus-like symptoms or must care for someone who has these symptoms, as well as paid (2/3 time) family medical leave to care for a child whose school or daycare has been closed due to Coronavirus.
Control what you can control.
For me, this means doing my best to avoid eating my emotions while working from home, six feet from my kitchen. Before all of this started, I was making great strides on a program of healthy eating called “Brightline Eating.” This program provides the structure and foundation for healthy eating habits that have carried me through this time. The author, Dr. Susan Pierce Thompson, has tons of free online resources to help you manage in normal times, and times like these.
Make time for yourself.
During this time, things have felt for me much like they did in the postpartum fog of having a new baby and young toddlers. Once again, a shower is a luxury and dinner is cereal. But if you can, try and make space for other things that give you peace or relieve stress. If you need exercise, check out these free classes from Gaia. Feed your artistic side with a museum tour. Even 15 minutes could make a difference.
Be the helpers.
I find comfort in helping when things feel overwhelming. During this time, we have “adopted” some elderly neighbors to shop for and volunteered to translate Covid-19 related publications into Spanish. There are lots of ways you can help, too — just fill out the questionnaire at helpcoloradonow.org.
Finally, just let it go.
The best advice I have been given during this time, is to let go of the things that don’t serve me. This is not a normal world. If normally you would insist your four-year-old wear a clean shirt, but right now the argument it is just too much, just let it go. No one will care. If normally you would be a friend of the environment, but right now, you just can’t wash one more dish, use the paper plates. You’ll make it up to Mother Nature later when the ground is a little more stable beneath your feet. You got this, we’re going to get through it, together.