Parenting in a Pandemic:: Is There a Magic Recipe for Working Mamas?

Parenting in a Pandemic:: Is There a Magic Recipe for Working Mamas?

Being a first-time mom in my mid-30s has its pros and cons, one of the biggest advantages having been the opportunity to watch many of my friends transition into motherhood before my own turn came. Between these observations, advice from friends and mentors, and so many “women in medicine” and “work-life balance” seminars, I have long had a concrete vision for working mama life post-baby.

Acing the Working Mama Life

While I knew I would love my daughter more than anything or anyone, I had every intention of traveling with her, continuing to help others build their own families through my work, taking date nights, and making time for my own passion projects and self-care. And the first few months went great. Baby girl went on a bunch of flights, survived a Colorado snowstorm, snuggled through multiple scientific conferences and meetings, napped in her carrier close to my heart through I think *seven* meals at Sixty Vines {among a long list of other restaurants}, and received excellent care from her nanny after my maternity leave ended, as well as occasionally from a great sitter and my mom, who visited regularly. Like every mama, I had my fair share of breakdowns and crying spells, but overall I felt like I was acing it. 

And Then Came COVID

And then COVID hit. As a physician, the pandemic meant new worries about staying safe at work and protecting my family, and new stress and guilt over still needing childcare, keeping my practice busy and my patients feeling cared-for, and not developing many “quarantine hobbies“! Despite all of that, through the first few months, my primary reaction was gratitude for what I have:: a job I truly love, a family that has stayed healthy, and more. But more recently, I have noticed a new edgy tension trying to make itself heard above the din of emotions I feel on any given day. 

What I have slowly realized is that for as long as I can remember, I have been told that happiness and success as a working mama is about delegation and boundary-setting. I had carefully constructed a village that afforded me a life that felt balanced amidst the chaos of first-time motherhood, but much of that world now sits outside our COVID bubble. In comparing notes from my fellow professional mamas who are still working outside the home, many of the options and resources upon which we relied have simply evaporated. So, when my husband says he hasn’t had a real conversation with me in months, when I simply can’t string together the free minutes I want to wash my hair or stream a workout, when I am constantly behind on volunteer or other personal commitments because I am “go go go” all day long at work and then chasing after my daughter and pooch at home, I have to stop and confess that I simply have no space to decompress.

When Self Care is Elusive

I have many favored self-care strategies I can’t or wouldn’t utilize now:: working it out over a sweat-fest at one of my favorite fitness studio workouts, grabbing a hug or gab session with my girlfriends, finding the right window of time for Zoom calls with my college or residency friends, stopping on the way home to sip a quick drink while reading at a bar or getting a blowout, or – most importantly – relying on my family, all of whom reside outside of Texas, to swoop in and lift me up. By the time I reach the one hour I have to myself at the end of the day, I am physically, mentally and emotionally spent. My ability to just file away that exhaustion as “pandemic life”, and deal by reminding myself that others have it worse, is wearing a bit thin.

And in 2020 in the USA, I hesitate to even say any of this while my health and safety are secure on a day-to-day basis. I feel embarrassed to have any emotional reaction other than gratitude to not be facing the homeschool versus in-school debate that mamas of older kids are having, or navigating life freshly post-partum, or struggling with infertility or miscarriages. But no one can, or should, suppress her emotions forever, and so I’m being more honest in conversation now about “how I am” with the hope that it helps other women in my position feel heard too in all the narratives being shared these days.

A New Philosophy

My new philosophy is simply this:: I had a magic recipe for working motherhood, but currently many of the crucial ingredients are indefinitely out of stock, and the resulting dish tastes fine, but is definitely lacking some nuance and robustness in flavor. I am and will be totally fine, but also a bit disappointed, annoyed and frustrated. I am raiding my metaphorical fridge and pantry for good substitutions, which is important because there are many more months of pandemic life to come. But while I look around and focus on giving extra grace to SAHMs, and homeschooling-while-working-from-home mamas, and Black mamas, I can set aside a little for myself too.


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