Motherhood was never meant to be done alone, yet this is the new reality most moms are facing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Making new connections as a mom (while always awkward) is harder than ever: There's no chatting up friendly parents at preschool drop-off. There's no breastfeeding support group at the local community center. There's no mom-baby yoga circle. For new moms, moms who have recently moved or moms who have entered a new phase of parenting (hello, kindergarten during a pandemic), it can seem like the old ways of finding mom friends no longer apply.
But this loneliness, this isolation, isn't just a social problem for mothers. It's a mental health problem. In fact, it's mission-critical for mothers to find and connect with each other—even during a pandemic.
Motherhood in isolation is linked to stress, burnout and depression
As physical distancing continues indefinitely, moms everywhere are finding themselves increasingly isolated from family members, friends and the emotional support systems they once relied on.
"It's important to acknowledge and not dilute the reality of how difficult life is right now," shares Joy Burkhard, Executive Director at maternal mental health non-profit 2020 Mom. "Moms don't feel heard or supported, and are finding there is little that is stable right now."
While there's no question COVID has had a disproportionate impact on women's mental health, moms in particular are at higher risk of stress and burnout—with no end in sight. It's not just our emotional supports that have disappeared—every part of our care support infrastructure has been impacted too, from school and childcare closures to being able to drop the kids off at playdates or with the grandparents.
"As the new school year approaches, it is more difficult and expensive to find childcare as demand for support is at an unprecedented high with low supply. If moms feel out of balance, disadvantaged, and stressed, what you feel is absolutely normal," says Christine Michel Carter, author and global advocate for working moms.
New moms-to-be, in particular, are forced to navigate a daunting set of challenges, from negotiating concerns about giving birth at a hospital during a pandemic, to the difficulty of quarantining with a newborn without help from family members. No wonder new moms are at higher risk of postpartum depression and anxiety right now.
According to maternal health specialist Crystal Karges, "The increased social isolation during the pandemic is concerning for new mothers, especially those who may already be at risk for postpartum depression and anxiety disorders. Risk factors include things like social isolation from family or friends, financial stress (including stress around childcare), lack of overall help and support, intimate partner conflicts and more."
"It takes a village—not just to raise a child but to care for a mother, and the village is forcibly absent during these hard times."
With so many moms at a breaking point, how and where can we find our village of support, build each other up, and find a sense of belonging and solidarity through our shared experiences?
1. We're using our phones to stay connected with friends
If there's one benefit of living through a modern pandemic, it's that our access to technology keeps us connected to each other, even when we're physically separate.
Text messaging threads with friends have kept Jen Schwartz of the online community Motherhood Understood sane "when I think I'm failing as a mother, which is quite often right now," she shares. "I also FaceTime multiple times a day with my sister, who recently had a baby and lives across the country. Sometimes we don't even talk; we do our own thing while being on screen with each other, which makes us feel like we are right next to each other."
Author and blogger Katie Crenshaw also reminds us that we don't have to miss out on celebrating important moments through Zoom and Facetime calls.
"I make sure to put friends and families special occasions on my calendar. Even though we are celebrating from a distance, I try to do something special like sending fresh cookies or donuts to a friend's house on their child's birthday."
2. We're connecting with local support groups online
Connecting with other new moms through local support groups can be especially grounding and comforting during this time of social isolation. "This is the time to lean in to your courage and reach out for connection, even when that feels too vulnerable," says clinical psychologist Dr. Ashley Solomon.
"I've been encouraging women I work with to create or join intentional mothering circles—small groups of women who are navigating the intricacies of motherhood together with the explicit purpose of supporting one another," says Solomon. "It can be as low-maintenance as a text chain, but it's more powerful if there is some real-time interaction on a regular schedule."
If you're having trouble finding a support group for mothers in your community, consider starting one yourself by reaching out to a few moms you know through your children's school to cultivate your own, or try an app that helps you locate moms in your area. Local community forums, special interest groups or virtual book clubs can also be a great starting point to connect with other like-minded moms.
For new moms and moms-to-be, Ashley emphasizes that it's especially important to "ask your medical provider or those in the mental health field if they know of any local groups, particularly for mental health support postpartum."
3. We're partnering up with a "Mother Buddy"
If finding a group of supporters feels out of reach, Christine Michel Carter recommends "having one great Mother Buddy to feel and experience the emotions with," which can be especially critical for your mental well-being and having others to validate what you're going through.
If you have a close friend or relative you're comfortable leaning on, Christine suggests they may also be able to help with "grocery shopping or watching the kids for a few hours while you pay bills and run errands. Delegate where you can, and stop feeling so guilty that you're not superwoman—no one is."
4. We're going on long walks to meet the neighbors
Have you found yourself taking more walks around the neighborhood since the start of the pandemic? Consider taking in more than the local scenery and get to know the people who live right by you. Though it may initially feel out of your comfort zone, all it takes is a friendly gesture to spark up a conversation on your shared pandemic experience. For mom of 4 and health expert Liz Brinkman, she found herself bonding with other moms on her neighborhood street.
"It became a nightly routine once we all acquired masks; we even started to form socially-distanced, front-yard meetups, reviewing the day and discussing what was happening in our lives."
This experience inspired her to hold a weekly mother-daughter virtual group for connection and support. "Finding even one other mother to share the journey can have a positive impact on how we safely shepherd our kids through this experience."
5. We're opening up more and sharing our stories
Though social media scrolling has become a common pastime for all of us, how often are you using it to tell others about your own experience? You simply can't deny the power of sharing stories: when one woman finds the courage to voice her struggles, others will speak up in support of her.
Engage with social media communities that have built safe spaces for moms to share their stories. "These stories help us find connection and make us feel seen and understood, which we all need right now," says Jen Schwartz of Motherhood Understood, whose Instagram platform shares weekly stories of mamas and their mental health experiences.
"When we share our stories and struggles, we are reminded that we're not alone and there's so much more that unites us than divides us," says Crystal Karges, who frequently shares behind-the-scenes glimpses of her life as a mom of 5. "It can be something as simple as sharing a piece of your own story, or asking moms the question: How are you really doing?"
6. We're bonding with colleagues
Working moms are juggling the back-and-forth of their job responsibilities and child care like never before, and it's likely you'll have a few peers who are also in the same boat. Swapping advice on homeschooling and time management, or simply opening up about parental challenges can renew a sense of camaraderie and appreciation for your co-workers.
"I am talking with my own team a lot, about how so many of us are working to juggle work and parenting. It can often feel almost impossible," says The Riveter CEO Amy Nelson.
"As a leader, I'm trying to model what that looks like for my team. I am not fully online and available until 10 am, and I'm extending whatever flexibility people need across the company."
Neferteri Plessy, who leads a community of single parent entrepreneurs through her non-profit Single Moms Planet, emphasizes the importance of cultivating safe and authentic relationships between moms in her community.
"These days, mothers, like many others, are in need of connection from their community leaders and members. It's a scary time for everyone with this virus being out of control and many of our leaders playing politics instead of looking out for our health and safety.
We all just want reassurance and support, and moms are no different. They are yearning for a sense of belonging and understanding."
Whatever the size of your village, the most crucial element is that you are feeling supported and heard.
And as separate as we think all are, it's comforting to know that somewhere out there—there's another mama who gets it too.