What does it mean to be a mom? For many mothers, quarantine, social distancing, and the pandemic have reshaped the definition.
It’s no secret that moms often are asked to wear a number of different hats, but with mandatory social distancing, many mothers are forced to wear all these hats at once–a draining and often thank-less job.
Adjusting to Life in Quarantine
Dove Burns, has lived in Wilton for almost 35 years, raising a family just miles from her childhood home. Working a full-time job with a two-year-old son and a baby on the way, Burns’ home–once organized and quiet in the day–has been chaotically transformed to fit the needs of her new life.
“The daily routine has changed dramatically in that we are all trying to work in the confines of one home,” Burns shared.
As her husband spends 12 to 14 hours a day working in the study, Burn’s bedroom has been transformed into a workspace. The living room has been repurposed into a “makeshift nursery school” for her two-year-old and the nanny, and the first floor of her home has been home to 200-person virtual webinars.
“On the front end, it seemed great to have so much more quality time, also quality time while I’m preparing to have another child. But now it does get quite complicated with us all being in the same space,” Burns said.
Jennifer Stivrins, mother of nine-year-old Olivia and four-year-old twins Poppy and Kaz, said that organizing time has become the biggest challenge for her. “We really stick to a pretty strict schedule,” Stivrins said. “There’s an excel spreadsheet, I won’t lie.”
For Karin Hyzy, because of social distancing, her house was full for the first time besides summers since 2017. Her son Christopher, came home to finish his junior year at Villanova University through E-Learning, joining her Wilton High School senior Kyle, and her twin sophomore sons, Kevin and Craig. But though her nest may be full again, it doesn’t come without sadness.
“I’m going to be brutally honest with you because sometimes we don’t think we hear [that]…This isn’t normal as a mother to have her adult children home,” Hyzy said. “I think you prep for these years, as your kids are getting older, you do start to prep [for them to leave]. And you know when it’s taken away from them in this way it’s hard.”
Hyzy added that however happy she is to have her kids home, watching the year be ripped from them is harder still.
“Kyle has said, quite a few times, ‘This isn’t fair.’ Christopher is one of those kids that has just embraced college life and loves his campus and his friends and they become family to him, and he’s been really sad, at times. My little ones couldn’t get their permits, trivial things, minor things. But again…really missing that that interaction and that piece of not being able to see their friends. “
She said that as a mom, one of the big challenges is not being able to tell them for certain what the future will hold.
“I just think the grim reality is nobody really knows how anyone is going to come out of this on the other side,” Hyzy said. “We try to be as upfront and honest with the boys as we can be to prepare them as well, but we don’t really know how all of this is gonna unfold so you know it’s hard.”
The Emotional Toll
Along with the changing life has come changing roles. Hyzy said that at surface level, this means more meals, more quality time, and more conversation. But on a deeper level, she said it means being a cheerleader for her kids, even when she’s not feeling up to it herself.
“They’ve lost a lot of motivation, and I see it, and sometimes it’s hard to be that cheerleader,'” she said. “I always try to tell my boys if nothing else, finish strong, it doesn’t matter how you start it’s how you finish so let’s get it done. “
For her this means keeping her family focused in the present because obsessing about future uncertainty can be stressful–an approach made even tougher when she feels the stress too.
In particular, she said her heart broke for her senior, who wasn’t able to finish his senior year in person.
“I am a truly emotional person and I really wear my heart on my sleeve so I’ve had a lot of moments where I’ve broken down,” Hyzy said, adding that the day school was canceled permanently was especially hard.
“You hate to see it end this way. I know what he’s missing, I had a senior that graduated from high school so it’s not just the big moments, it’s not just the prom and the graduation, it’s the little moments… I was never prepared for this, and I’ve been preparing to let him go.”
For Stivrins, as a parent of children below the age of 10, she’s realized even more how important it is to comfort her kids, and how difficult that is to do when the future is uncertain.
“I think quarantine has really made me realize that the number one thing that my kids need to feel is being safe,” she said, which isn’t an easy need to meet. “You want to tell your kids the facts, but you don’t want to scare them.”
In addition to juggling her own job and responsibilities, Stivrins has worked hard to make sure her kids are still connected with the outside world, including her daughters’ girl scout troop and friends. Maintaining human interactions, though difficult, is necessary to keep spirits up, for both her and her kids.
“I think the girls just love getting a chance to chat with their classmates because they’re all sort of too young to have cell phones, so it’s like those [Zoom] meetings are really when they get to see their friends,” Stivrins said.
New Challenges, and New Outlooks
One of the most significant challenges Burns anticipates for the future is the birth of her second child–something that now looks completely different because of the pandemic. Her baby, due in mid-May, will be delivered in Stamford Hospital, but unlike with her first child’s delivery, she won’t have her husband by her side.
“What will be very different is that my husband actually is not going to be able to go with me to Stamford hospital for the delivery, because they only allow you to bring one comfort person…with you through the process and once they leave the hospital, that’s it you can’t have anybody else. And so my husband used to be home at night for our son. So he’s not going to see the baby until she’s like four or five days old,” she said. “That’s a major difference.”
She added that the “medical uncertainties are certainly tough” as well, and she worries about bringing an infant with little immunities into the world in a time as uncertain as this.
Stivrins is trying to look on the bright side.
“It’s exhausting but it’s also really rewarding,” Stivrins said. “I think there’s probably not another time in my life that I’ll have this much time alone with just my family. I think it’s a very rare opportunity that we have and we’re so fortunate to both have jobs and both be able to just stay home. And so I try not to take that for granted. I try to really, really be grateful for that.”
Vanessa Elias–who’s a mother of three, mental health advocate, and parent coach–wrote in an email to GMW that the most important thing you can do as a mom is to take care of yourself.
“Mothers are the glue of the family–they are essential to the well being of the entire family,” Elias wrote. “Mothers were overwhelmed, stressed and at risk for burning out before COVID–and this adds a whole new level. Remember your oxygen mask first–making yourself a priority. Don’t look for permission to take time for yourself and do what you need to do for your own well being.”
Burns added that when navigating through this uncertainty, she is inspired by the other women and mothers in the community, and know they will get through this, together.
“I feel very blessed with communities of women–some of which are mothers, some of which aren’t mothers–whether it’s personally that we stay connected through Facebook or zoom, or professionally, all across the country,” Burns said. “I’ve really drawn a lot of strength from connecting through technology with other women, especially in this uncertain time.”
Julie Stein, a mother of three in Wilton, shared this below poem by Mary Rita Schillke Sill in an email to GOOD Morning Wilton, emphasizing the beautiful impact mothers have on their kids, even when they’re not trying too.
She wrote that the poem, which hangs in her pantry, “feels particularly pertinent at this time when I feel like kids are really watching how everyone is reacting and serving in response to the current pandemic.”
For those who can’t be with their mothers this quarantine, for any reason, Burns wants to remind them that they are not alone.
“One of the biggest attributes of mothers is their omnipresence. So even if they’re not physically with you, you know they are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually,” Burns said. “Always remember that.”