“Les, I’m having trouble with this K,” my Mother said. I suggested, “can you do one for her last name instead?” She looked up briefly and nodded a silent, ‘no.’ Then she found a hanger to push more stuffing into the narrow corners. We were surrounded by letter-shaped pillows. Each one represented a guest for my birthday party. I held my letter, ‘L’ closely while Mum worked. I can still remember the hum of her sewing machine. And the bright, flowered fabric.
She was the Queen of birthday parties, every detail was planned with love and creative flair. And I was so proud of everything about the kind of Mom she was. I remember how growing up, our home was spotless. When I took off my coat, she usually hung it up before I had time to turn around. She was always there for me and our family. But also, everyone else who needed her. She volunteered in our school, church, Girl Scout troop and the community. She gave cheerfully to everyone around her.
She was and still is, a loving Mother. And I’m grateful for it. But I see her sacrifices differently now.
There’s a Cost to Chronic Giving
Through my early childhood, she was incredibly happy. Because she was living the life she planned. But by the time I was in middle school, things changed. And we faced a lot of trials. When her life became bumpy and difficult, the stress and all that conditioned-people-pleasing, took a toll.
She hasn’t just aged, she’s weathered. When we’re together, I look for traces of who she was. And I often wonder, what if she had pulled back a little from Mothering? And reserved some of that once voracious energy, for herself? I wonder if she would have had more resilience. And more peace now, in her senior years.
We’re Distanced from our Families
Today, we extend ourselves even more than my Mother’s generation did. We spend more time with our kids and more time on paid work. And running a household is a lot like playing chess. You’re always planning your next move. For school to happen on time, breakfast had to happen on time. So, if you’re lucky, everyone slept and ate dinner the night before, when they were supposed to. It’s a complex system that gets adjusted in real-time. Constantly. And it’s okay to be proud of pulling the pieces together. Because it’s a feat of mastery! But it’s relentless. And it keeps us from living in the moment.
Because We’re Doing More of Everything
Over 2,000 parents, mostly Moms (97%) have participated in our pandemic research study. And as a group, Moms are breaking. Covid eliminated most of the workarounds, we used to manage unsustainable, fragile schedules. And although most surveyed Moms (87%) faced disruptions to childcare or onsite school. Most are doing more of all the things: more housework (78%,) childcare (73%) and kids activities (54%.)
And Lost Confidence in Ourselves
A common refrain, among surveyed Moms, is the fear of doing everything badly. Even in a global crisis, Mom-guilt persists. So, more than half feel like they’re doing terribly or not as well as usual, across their critical roles: as parents (53%,) partners (55%,) workers (48%) or caregivers to themselves (80%.)
Surveyed Moms have prioritized work and children. So, there’s less time for sleep, exercise, interests or healthy adult relationships. Of course, self-sacrifice for Moms isn’t new. But it’s harmful.
But we Can Return to Health
So, when your family is relaxing or the laughter starts, where are you? Cleaning? Making lists of the never-done things? Creating memorable experiences for everyone else, comes with a high price. We lose the beauty of presence. And women are more likely to suffer stress-related illnesses. Like anxiety, depression and hypertension. Conditions that shorten, alter, and claim countless lives.
Recovering from burnout takes time. And intention. So, say ‘no’ with abandon. Set and hold personal boundaries without apology. Create realistic limits on your time and energy, at work and at home. It’s okay, they will get used to it. To lighten the mental load, shorten your to-do list. Outsource or if partnered, find the path to spouse source. Whenever possible, remove things from your list altogether.
And (Re)claim Joy
Although the impact of Covid is heartbreaking, as my Mother says, “the longest day has a night.” And you’re part of this change. To close the chapters on racism, sexism, exploitation and unsustainable work, the world needs you. Your energy and brilliant ideas will lead to better conditions.
So, on the days where it feels easier to keep doing. And giving. Consider holding back precious time for your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Give yourself permission to get to the top of the Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs, more often.
Wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day!
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.