Mom Of 3 Opens Up About The Brutal Reality Of Parenting During A Pandemic
This honest mom told us what's REALLY happening at her house right now.
I admit it: There are two different versions of me when it comes to being a parent. One of them is the version I like the world to see: funny, calm and creative — the mom who throws together a mini-production of “Les Miserables,” using an old red beret and broom, followed by hot chocolate, croissants, and a kid-level talk about why 19th-century France sucked.
But there’s another mom within. Let’s call her … Mommy Dearest. Mommy is one of those people who are very, very nice, until she’s very, very not. She’s given to grinding her teeth in frustration and yelling. So if I have two distinct parenting personalities — nice and uh-oh — which one will win out while I am stuck at home with three kids and no break for what is starting to feel like forever?
As the world waits out COVID-19, unemployment numbers are at historic highs and hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. I get the seriousness. I get that as I sit here with food in the fridge and toilet paper in the bathroom, things could be much worse.
But staying in my house ALL day and ALL night means the people I love most — my husband and my three daughters, ages 15, 14 and 8 — will inevitably be on the receiving end of my good and bad moods, my embarrassing Dr. Jekyll-to-Mr. Hyde personality flip (without the murderous subplot, just so you know).
As a writer who’s working on a master’s degree, I’m now also expected to run a home school with three grade levels. That’s a lot for someone like me because of the unrealistic expectations I set for myself. Even in better times, I always found school breaks hard because I exhaust myself with my own plans.
The expectations I have for a week off involve activities both fun and educational: Hitting the art museum one day, with drawing practice afterward and baking a gorgeous red velvet cake from scratch the next, featuring a unit on measuring, plus a video on how wheat is milled into flour.
Meanwhile, cut to me and the girls at the museum. My inner Hulk starts to steam as they complain about being the only kids looking at Egyptian art on a sunny morning. That baking thing? What really happens is someone spills the flour before wandering off, and I get mad. Then, I feel crappy about acting out and ruining childhoods galore. And we never even got to that milling video.
I’m not proud of this pattern. It’s taken deep searching, including professional help, to realize that I wasn’t raised in a conventional family, and I absorbed dysfunctional behaviors. So if I don’t get a break, it’s not a matter of IF I melt down, it’s WHEN.
And I’ve gotten better at realizing what’s behind my misbehavior — a feeling that my passionate parenting is not being appreciated (because, duh, that “thank you” comes at least a decade later). Right before coronavirus, I was able to catch myself getting riled, and make a break for Starbucks. After a therapeutic Grande Almond Milk Mocha and a few moments of peace and quiet, I could return home chilled out and ready to parent.
That’s not the case today. My carpet is strewn with my younger kid’s puzzle pieces and my teens’ dystopian novels. Normally, I would force everyone to clean up. But these aren’t regular times. And I can’t go relax at Starbucks — I drove by, but chairs were stacked up on tables, a green sign proclaiming, “Closed Until Further Notice.”
I’ve had another revelation: I truly adore my family, but I don’t reserve my sweetest words for them. In fact, it’s the reverse: Those who share my last name can be the victims of my harshest criticism. I should have been quarantined with someone I don’t know well — maybe a second cousin? That might be easier in some ways because I am not responsible for making sure my second cousin gets good at floor puzzles or becomes an upstanding citizen who doesn’t think the only career out there is “TikTok millionaire.”
If you’re like me, self-care and lowering expectations need to be at the top of your t0-do list right now. Professionally-frothed drinks are hard to come by at the moment, but I CAN take my coffee mug and go use my newly-installed meditation app. Even three minutes alone with my brain seems like a long time, so I’ve been using Ten Percent Happier, which takes a skeptic’s approach to all the sitting and breathing.