While there has been significant discussion on parenting school aged children during the pandemic, very little has been said about parenting toddlers. I work at a University that is tied to a large hospital in Chicago. Since the onset of the pandemic, the communications internally were vast, and scary. The past two years have felt like we’re in survival mode. In March 2020, all I was asked to do was to stay home. What a concept. No more 2 hours commuting plus another hour of getting my son settled and myself dressed and out the door. I would recover 3 hours of time back. I assumed I could just get up, get my son settled and walk to my workspace and just work. I imagined tossing a load of laundry in during the work day. I would prepare dinner during afternoon zooms, and I could even go for a walk with my son while listening in on calls. This was going to be a real game changer. More quality time with my son, working, getting housework done and no commuting. I believed I could get through this and feel accomplished personally and professionally.
Boy, did I have rose colored glasses on. Working at home with a toddler is not at all what I imagined. There were about 2 weeks of walks, prepping amazing weeknight meals and chores. But then it all became too much. And I felt horrible. I work with healthcare workers and am aware of their sacrifices. All I had to do was stay home, work, be a parent, live and so on. I felt like I was failing in a whole new way. Pre pandemic, I lived with the guilt of being gone 5 days a week from my son as a working mother. But when I got to be home and see him all the time, I felt like I was failing in a new way. Who was I failing? Who set these imaginary standards that I was holding myself to? I felt I was failing because I could not do everything and these negative thoughts just had me feeling defeated.
I have found myself locking myself in the bathroom to escape my toddler so I could have a moment of peace. I have taken work calls in my car just so I can feel like I actually “left” my home, and my appearance went from business casual to binge tv casual while being home. The adjustment to becoming a work from home mom took time but I found my pace. We had to bring back our child care in-home, after a quarantine period. I could focus on work and no longer had to try to schedule calls/meetings around his nap time. I felt like a better employee and mother by just admitting I needed to bring in help and that I could not do everything. But all was still not well. I was still lacking social connection and felt isolated. What made the difference for me was connecting with other women. Like so many others. I was one of many people who found ways to utilize zoom not just for work but rather for some social connections. I began meeting with 4 other women for weekly Zoom sessions.
This dedicated time was just what I needed, 4 women from varying backgrounds and experience connecting. We shared stories of life at home, slide shows of cocktails and meals made in our home during lock down, DIY projects, home repairs, you name it, we discussed it. I shared that the tree outside my window is home to a family of squirrels and they are a rowdy bunch. This led to my Zoom crew sending me coloring books with squirrels, a homemade wreath with a squirrel toy glued into it, greeting cards with, you guessed it, squirrels and even a brand of coffee with the mascot as the squirrel. Those 4 women helped me focus on lighter issues and laugh. Through our zoom sessions, the old adage, “laughter is the best medicine” came to life. The Mayo Clinic published a piece that discussed stress relief from laughter can reduce stress and improve your mood. We fell away from the weekly Zooms last Fall as many of our schedules began to change but that time together was so valuable and those women may not know how vital they were to my wellness during the initial phase of lockdown and being home.
As our world is reopening and we all venture out into it there will be another adjustment period. I have to remind myself then when things get too heavy and negative that it is ok to find some humor to feel better and to connect with others, because sharing this journey with others makes us better parents and people.