There was a time when we thought this pandemic was going to last for a few weeks.
Then we thought it would be over before the summer. Then we said, "well maybe by midsummer everything will be okay?" But now, as summer fades into fall with no real end in sight, the collective (and exhausted) dread is palpable.
How am I going to keep doing this? How am I going to summon the stamina to do what is required of me under awful circumstances? How am I supposed to find joy when everything feels so sad? How on earth am I going to get through this?
Because now that we know what pandemic survival is really like, finding the silver lining seems close to impossible. We're deep in the doldrums of the pandemic, and looking forward just feels scary and daunting.
I know, mama. I know.
Do you know what else I know? I know that you can do this.
1. You've done hard things before
Reflect for a few moments on other times when you have experienced hardship.
Yes, a pandemic is different; of course, it is. But mama, you have proven your resilience before. You have been utterly defeated, heartbroken and distraught. There have been times when you could not imagine that the sun would shine again.
But you got through it. And look at you now.
What would you say to your younger self going through that incredibly difficult time? You'd tell her that she is strong and what lies on the other side is so much better. Aren't you proud of yourself for getting through a tough challenge?
So, what does future-you want to say to today-you? Spoiler alert: Future-you is immensely proud.
You've done hard things before. You can do them again.
2. You don't need to get it perfect
Mothers are experts at demanding perfection of ourselves. We are our own toughest critics, and are so hard on ourselves, day in and day out.
Mama, it's time to let it go.
The messy house, the days filled with TV shows instead of educational activities, the conference calls disrupted by yells of "Mommmmmmm, come wipe my buuuttt," and all the other perceived "shortcomings"—mama, they aren't shortcomings at all.
You're trying to make it through the day, during a pandemic. It's going to be far from perfect. And that's okay.
3. Trust that you know what's best for your family
One of the (many) difficult aspects of living through a pandemic is decision fatigue. Every decision feels heavy, and it's exhausting.
Part of it is societal. We are so used to people telling us what the 'best thing to do' is (and by people I mean the internet), that we've lost the ability to trust ourselves.
But no one knows what to do right now, at least not completely.
So yes, listen to the experts. Make decisions based on guidelines and science. But it's also okay to trust yourself. Because the truth is that there is no perfect decision. I know that sounds scary—but in some ways, it's freeing. You don't have to make a perfect choice, you just have to make a good-enough choice, based on the information you have, and what you know to be true for your family. And if it turns out not to be the best choice, you can pivot.
You are allowed to trust your gut as you find your way through this.
4. You don't have to make all the decisions right now
So many of us mothers are planners, but planning involves making decisions with information—and we are just lacking so much information right now. It's hard enough to know what we are going to have for dinner tonight, let alone decide what to do about school in October or the holidays.
I got to speak with Emily Oster recently, and her advice about this resonated deeply. She said that anytime you are stressing over a decision, ask yourself if it really needs to be made right now—if it doesn't, let it go. As much as I would like to decide what to do for Thanksgiving this year, I simply do not have all the data I need to make the decision; and the reality is that I don't really need to just yet. So I can let it go for now.
Focus on the problems you need to solve today, and let the rest be.
5. It's okay to not be okay.
I am a midwife, and when I work with people giving birth, we spend a lot of time using coping skills. But sometimes in labor, you have to just not cope for a bit. Just totally lose it, cry, let out all the frustration and be in the discomfort of it for a little while.
The same goes for living through a pandemic.
You don't have to hold it together all the time, mama. You, too, can totally lose it, cry, let out all the frustration and be in the discomfort of it for a little while. Just remember to reach out to a therapist for help if it's too much or for too long.
6. You are not alone
In the depths of our isolation from each other, it's vital to remember that despite how lonely we may feel, we are so far from alone. We are facing this as a collective of humans working together to figure this out.
We wear masks.
We share heartwarming stories on social media.
We sign petitions.
We do many things that demonstrate how we support each other. Remember that the next time you realize you haven't seen another human in days. We may be in hiding, but we're here. And we're with you.
7. The other side will be better
It feels like the pandemic has caused so many issues, but the truth is that much has been wrong for a long time. Pre-pandemic, the problems were largely ignored—swept under the rug. COVID has lifted the rug and exposed them for all to see: the tremendous impact of systemic racism, trouble with our healthcare and insurance system, inequities in the workforce and uneven distribution of resources and access, just to name a few.
Now that we've seen them, we can't go back.
We will not accept what was "normal," we will demand better. The journey to better will be far from easy, but we're going to do it anyway. Mama, it will be so worth it.
8. Your kids know how much you love them
There is so much you want to do with and for your children that simply can't happen, right now. Financial restraints, safety concerns and limited access make it so our kids' existences look very different than they did just a few months ago.
Here's what hasn't wavered: your love. And they feel it.
They feel it when you breathe them in as you hug them.
They feel it when you close your laptop and say, "Yes baby, I will stop working to play with you for a few minutes."
They feel it when you let them eat Cheerios in front of the TV for dinner.
They feel it in the thousands of ways you love them each and every day.
Despite how it feels, you are doing right by your children. You have to trust that they know that, and that they are thriving from your love.
9. There are so many helpers
Circumstances feel dire right now. There are days when all news is bad; when hope feels like a distant memory of something we once experienced but can't really remember. But through it all, there are helpers (thanks, Mr. Rogers).
There are helpers taking care of the sick.
There are helpers working on a vaccine.
There are helpers delivering food and mail.
There are helpers re-imaging our education system.
There are helpers making, creating, inventing, thinking, supporting, building, dismantling, cleaning, fixing and raising, all over the world right now.
Helpers are out there trying to make this better. And mama? You're one of them.
10. You are shaping history
Have you seen any of the interviews with people who lived through the 1918 Pandemic? And when you did, did you get chills as you listened to them describe their journey, astonished at their strength and bravery? Mama, that's going to be you one day. History is going to remember this period of time forever—and you are (a very important) part of it.
You are helping to holding it all together. You are a force of change working to make it better.
You are shaping history by helping your neighbor.
You are shaping history by raising anti-racist children.
You are shaping history by loving your kids.
These are no small acts, mama. You are shaping history, and history will remember.