Being a mom is challenging, even under the best circumstances—managing everyone's schedules, trying to anticipate needs and helping new souls learn to regulate their emotions while making sure some fun is mixed in too. Mothering in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and fear is even more challenging. And yet, here we are.

Right now, there are endless self-help articles and social media posts framing this time as an opportunity to relax, unplug, read a backlog of books, find new shows to binge and closets to clean out. And this is fantastic advice for anyone who has the time to do those things.


But that's not the reality for many moms, particularly not those with very small children who need near-constant supervision and engagement. So what do we do? How do we manage our time, support our kids, and keep our houses running all while confronted with anxiety that can at times feel crippling?

As a mom of three small kids—currently 6, 4 and 2—and a psychotherapist specializing in maternal mental health, mothering through uncertainty and anxiety is front and center in my personal and professional life right now.

Here's what I've been sharing and suggesting.

1. Throw out ALL the "shoulds"

Screen time. Schoolwork. Dietary habits. As moms, we are inundated with what we "should" be doing in all of these areas (and more). But here's the thing about our current life circumstances: no one has ever done this before and therefore, all of the normal shoulds do not apply.

Each child, parent and family have a unique set of circumstances and needs. What works for one family would be absolutely disastrous for another.

So what if your neighbor's kids seem to spend their whole days playing out in the yard? That may work well for them. It doesn't work when parents are working remotely and need to be inside for conference calls and emails all day.

So what if your child's classmates submit their daily e-learning activity by 10 am each day? That's hard to accomplish when you're on your own until your partner comes home at 5 pm.

So what if you blow through your usual 60 minutes of screen time before breakfast? This isn't a new forever rule. It's what you're doing to make it through right now.

Now is the time to temporarily put the rule books aside. Experiment with mixing things up until you find what works best for you and your family today. And be willing to change it tomorrow if it no longer works.

2. Embrace a mom-first mentality

Our kids need us more than ever right now, so it seems counterintuitive to say you need to put yourself first. But it's absolutely essential.

Whatever it takes to protect your mental health is the top priority. Why? Because if you're frazzled or overwhelmed by anxiety, you cannot co-regulate with your child.

Co-regulation is the psychological process that occurs when we join with someone who is upset and dysregulated and use our calm state to help them return to a calm state. This is what you do when you see your child get a minor boo-boo and sit down next to them on the floor, holding them while breathing deeply and slowly, stroking their head and speaking in a soothing tone.

It's not just mom's hug that cures most childhood ailments, it's mom's ability to co-regulate.

In order to keep my kids calm and feeling safe, I need to be able to stay calm and safe myself. So if that means some extra screen time, or mac and cheese for dinner yet again, in order to lessen your mental load, do it. If that means taking a bath after bedtime instead of tackling the dishes, do it. If that means family TV time in your bed in the morning so you can get an extra 20 minutes of rest, do it.

It's easy to feel like you're being selfish when you start implementing this mindset, but here's the key thing to keep in mind: doing this is a necessary part of meeting your child's emotional needs during an extremely difficult time.

3. Make a list of what you can do

Right now we are acutely aware of the things that have been taken from us. The things we can't do. The things we are being forced into. It's easy to fall into an "I have no control over anything" mentality. And yes, there are certainly plenty of things we have no control over—that's always the case. But there are still plenty of things we can do and plenty of things we can control.

Sit down by yourself or with your family to brainstorm a list of things you can do:

Now that you have a list of what you can do, it's time to start figuring out what you can still control. Find a quiet time, perhaps after bedtime, and get to work. What can I control in the midst of the outside chaos? I can set a daily schedule for my family. I can do some meal planning so I know what we will be eating each day. I can determine how much social media and news I consume each day.

If I focus solely on what I don't have, my emotional state will follow and become more negative. If I can also acknowledge the things I do still have, my emotional state will stay more in balance.

The bottom line: Uncertainty is stressful, but it can become less so when we lean into change for a short stretch of time.

None of these changes are forever—you're not signing up for a lifetime of relaxed rules and unlimited screen time and chaos. Sooner or later (and hopefully sooner), we'll all find out when the kids are going back to school, when we're allowed to commute to work again, when life will return to something closer to normal. Until then, you're just taking it day by day. Take control of what you can, and release the rest.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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