I was looking at my sweet 9-month-old the other day, deep into her hunter green eyes, and I thought, damn, if I’d known a pandemic was going to go down, I don’t know if my husband and I might have tried to conceive at that time.
I know, that’s a pretty bold thing to say out loud and on the internet, but I don’t think I’m alone here. I saw at least four pregnant woman when we went out to pick up groceries the other day, and instead of feeling happy for them, I felt terrified. Not only were they likely stepping into maternity care’s worse spell since its entire legacy before the pandemic went down, they were about to become parents of an infant during a pandemic. God help them.
We parents know what that means. That means all that time postpartum, when moms need people to help and take care of them, is probably going to be spent alone, doing it all. That means that all the things about having an infant that are a pain in the ass are about to become even more ridiculous. (It now takes five times as long to get your groceries instead of just three times as long. And going out to a restaurant takes a risk-assessment chart.) That means that if you already have kids, there’s likely to be a pause on couples deciding to have kids after this pandemic because it’s that hard, you all.
You sign up for a lot when you sign on to become a parent, but I can’t be the only one thinking, I didn’t quite sign up for this.
I wanted my kids to have play dates. I wanted my husband and I to have any date or ten minutes alone to talk about fun stuff like finances or retirement or our relationships with our in-laws. (Apparently, I’ve lost what it means to be fun.) I wanted to actually hang out with my friends. I dreamed of throwing big birthday parties going to museums regularly. Now, in the midst of this five-months-long-and-counting pandemic, I feel really alone. My husband and I are with my kids all day long. And their grandmas and grandpa and their aunts are not geographically close. I feel terrible for my kids, who’ve gone without a lot of social interaction. I’d just signed my toddler up for a soccer team that she never got to join about two weeks before everything shut down. I had swimming lessons planned and gymnastics. I started ballet when I was two-years-old. I wanted my daughters to have that kind of structure.
This article in the New York Times, The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting by Claire Cain Miller, is truly one of the most honest insights into modern-day parenting. It resonated before the pandemic, but it really resonates now.
Among other things, Miller discusses how raising children has become more time consuming with greater expectations placed on parents with very little social structure in America that actually supports families. You know, things like paid maternity leave and affordable childcare and college tuition. Safe schools. The bare minimum support. Our country clearly has a problem understanding and valuing parents’ and children’s needs.
Just having children woke me up to the so-minimal-it’s-borderline-suspicious lack of effort American government puts into supporting families and, let’s just say it, mothers. Now, during a pandemic, I see America’s non-parent public and government are completely behind in the reality of what it takes to raise children by today’s standards. It’s time we really question our “standards” – after all, which ones are based on privilege and Pinterest dreams? And it’s time our country bulks up the support.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten advice from childless, usually much older people in their 60s and 70s, about how I can keep my kids busy during the pandemic with crafts. These people were fully aware I had an infant at the time. Newsflash, infants don’t do crafts. More than that, neither does my three-year-old, unassisted. It takes heavy assisting. Like a web designer walking my mom through building a website kind of supervision. Basically doing it with them. It’s just not how parenting works these days, and frankly I don’t know if it’s ever how parenting has worked.
I went to a pediatrician appointment the other day for my youngest, where I was asked if she could say three words yet. The fact that she is walking by herself months ahead of the curve was not celebrated, but we really honed in on why she could only say two words so far, Mama and Dadda and not three. My pediatrician is a smart woman. I like her. But I really felt like crap on that car ride home. I actually sort of started sweating in the appointment. Was I not reading to her enough? Was I not talking to her enough? Was I not being enough of an engaged parent? My three-year-old, as my pediatrician knows, is way ahead of the curve in her verbal and storytelling abilities. But after this appointment, I felt like I had come up a little short as a parent when really, she wasn’t being assessed within context.
During Covid, a lot of parents are home with their children, all day, everyday, no break or end in sight. It feels a little like postpartum with the newborn. Every day feels slow, but every time you look at the clock, two or three hours have gone by and the laundry still isn’t finished. Another day wiped. Yet, Google “parenting during Covid” and there are a ton of articles telling you that you just don’t have enough activities planned.
Plan more. Engage more. Be present.
And if you are working at home during this time, Bless You, you are utterly screwed because not only are you not engaging (She’s been watching Daniel Tiger for how long? She’s been in the backyard playing with sand alone? Why don’t you work with her on her letters?!) but your childless boss is flummoxed about why you can’t just do more now that you’re home. With your kids. I mean, you cut out commute and drop off time, right? You’re not really taking lunch anymore, right? Why can’t you take on three more projects? Don’t little Hunter and Parker like crafts?
Let’s just cut the B.S. everyone. It’s literally impossible for me to be superwoman at work while spending quality time teaching or interacting with my kids under three every day. They are two separate jobs. They are both valuable. And they both take presence. Pretending like women can just do it all without our any kind of supports in place (we’ll open schools, but your kids might come back with Covid) is ridiculous and insulting to us as humans. It’s not flattering to have our country consistently tell us we can handle everything that is not humanly possible to handle. It’s exploitative. Then, when we fail, we’re given band-aids like Clueless Craft Advice and told other moms, faceless, but somewhere out there, according to their upbeat Facebook feeds, are handling it, so why can’t we?
Don’t swallow this lie. It’s hard right now. I guarantee 99% of homes are not doing it like Pinterest says they are. I see you. I’m with you. Mothering in reality.