On May 1 this year, we hosted our 86th National Convention of American Mothers—our first virtual convention in the eight-decade history of American Mothers, Inc. Last year and the first half of 2021 brought with it a lot of changes and challenges, but also some great shifts in our communities, relationships that have led to the discovery of better ways of thinking and doing. With that in mind, we hosted a panel discussion around motherhood during a pandemic. The discussion was moderated by Sharon Parker, President of the Maryland Association of American Mothers with panelists Charlotte Avery (2020 Virginia Mother of the Year®), Carol Muleta (2019 D.C. Mother of the Year®) and Dr. Renae Reinardy (2019 National Mother of the Year®). They talked about the impact of the pandemic on our lives, working through stressors and recognizing mental health issues, managing additional roles as mothers, grief, self-care, and finding a balance.
Here are some standout moments and excerpts regarding caring for others from the panel discussion. The is the second in a two-part series of articles about care.
Sharon Parker (SP): It is fair to say that mothers’ homes have been impacted during this pandemic in so many ways—from family members getting sick, losing loved ones, unable to touch and hug family members, loss of a job, unable to feed our children, some of us living alone, stress due to dual responsibilities of working and also taking care of a home. It’s like a full-time job, right? And then virtual learning challenges, social unrest…we can talk about it all day long. We’ve heard words like uncertainty, doubt, distrust, fear, disbelief, alone, division, hate and racism. So as mothers, how have you been able to shield your children or child from these challenging times?
Dr. Renae Reinardy (RR): It hasn’t been easy. I haven’t been able to shield her all the time, but I think a lot of that has to do with structure, routine, a lot of creativity, and a lot of flexibility. And, kind of changing where we put our standard as a mother…to cut herself a little bit of slack. Know that things may not be to the level that we would have wanted them to be as we’re trying to be our child’s teacher, mother, entertainer, physical therapist, and all of these roles that we all of a sudden had to take on, that sometimes we didn’t know anything about… Also, having some humor during tough times and finding ways to explain to our children what going on in child-friendly ways.
Carol Muleta (CM): My challenge was not being with my sons because they are in their third year of college. So I really had to parent long distance. The benefit of that though was that I had an opportunity to see whether the life lessons and the home training really took hold with them. I’m very proud of the way they conducted themselves. Obviously, college didn’t look the way they were expecting, but they kept themselves safe and just used very good judgment. With them away, I found that I was often helping parents with younger children. I really try to help them see the silver lining. Yes, this is a big change but it is an opportunity to really connect with their children in a new way and maybe even teach them some new things they were too busy to teach them before because of our busy lifestyles.
Charlotte Avery (CA): I have seven children and all of them are different ages from 17 to seven years old. I had to have very age-appropriate conversations with my children as far as the pandemic and the social injustice that have been going on. I call my kids ‘the bigs’, ‘littles’, and ‘the middles.’ So my conversations with them have been different because I have to understand their maturation levels and their capacity to understand. At the same time, I don’t really have the privilege to really shelter or shield them because I think it does them a disservice to not know what’s going on. But I make it my business to share with them things that are going on in very appropriate ways.
I really believe in finding the joy and the silver lining in everything—making sure that we as a family are not only surviving but thriving through the pandemic. So being able to find ways that to thrive as a family, making memories that will last far beyond the moment. I want our moments to turn into monuments where they can look back and be able to say, “We were in the middle of a pandemic, three generations of our family, and you know what my mom made our home safe, fun and loving.” We know it’s been stressful but even in that still trying to find the sweet spot.
SP: Charlotte, as a mother of seven children who are in elementary, middle and high school. How difficult is it for you to manage their individual education, extracurricular activities, outside of just being on the internet all day?
CA: So I’m a really big proponent of managing their screen time. And with virtual schooling, it’s been very difficult. I would prefer for my kids not to be on the computers, but they have to be for school. So when school is over, all the technology has to shut down. Here in Virginia, because the weather is getting warmer, when they have their 15-minute breaks from classes, I tell them to get out, get some vitamin D, go run and play.
I’m thankful that before virtual schooling happened, I was a mom who homeschooled my two older children for two and a half years. So it was easier for me to kind of jump back into it, probably than some other parents who had never homeschooled. It was really “virtual schooling” because homeschooling and virtual school are not the same. I just made sure that our schedule was tight, even though knowing that schedules can go awry. Scheduling has been a really big deal, from school, meals, technology time to after-school. We have schedules posted for almost everything. But I always tell people that I don’t have it all together, I try to. Sometimes things just happen, and when they do, I just roll with it. So I think that a lot of moms right now are really learning to roll with it. I’m a very Type-A person, so I had to learn to say, “you know what, it’s okay if the schedule just stinks for today. It’s okay to start over tomorrow.”
SP:Mothers are navigating through their family dynamics as a wife, sister, friend, entrepreneur, employee during this pandemic. What are some of the challenges that they have faced to balance these relationships now? I’m talking about not just within the family but all of them. How are they able to balance these?
CM: Well first, I think the mothers who have been able to balance it best have shown themselves some grace, because this is a time we’ve just never seen before. I know that going forward, everyone will remember where they were and what they were doing in 2020 and 2021. And so, I find that if we just stop and recognize that and let that sink in, and feel the feelings that you have—I mean, sit with it for a moment. Then really, again, just look around and see what you can do. I even talk about this with children, They often perseverate on the next thing they don’t know how to do or the next thing they don’t have control over. So it’s really about taking stock of what you are able to do, and then letting go of some things as well. Like really taking care of the essentials, making sure everybody’s safe; everybody is in a good space, emotionally, and spiritually; and then that things are taken care of. And then, step out from there. Little-by-little take care of other things, but they are just some things we had to let go. And you know what I bet you when we really kind of go back to this quasi-normal, there’s some things we’re not going to pick up anymore because there were probably some things before that we were doing or we were involved with that we didn’t need to be doing. So this really was an opportunity to take stock.
SP: There are challenges to staying at home due to the pandemic. Some people like it and some people don’t. Carol, can you share some benefits though, of staying at home?
CM: I think for parents, as well as for children, you can stay home and connect with each other and learn more about each other, do more things that you hadn’t done before like taking walks outside, playing board games, all of that—definitely lean into that family time. I will reiterate what I said—teaching your children life skills because we live in this really fast-paced world, where we just know we can do it better, we can do it quicker, we just don’t make time. Then our children hit adulthood and sometimes they don’t know how to do basic things, basic self-care.
So, this is an opportunity to really pour into your children and teach them how to do things that they’re going to need. [It’s also time] to rediscover yourself, hobbies or things that you’ve always wanted to do and you haven’t been able to get around to. Because again, as moms, we’re so busy making sure that everybody’s taken care of. What you need is to feed your soul, so dust off those projects. So find those ways to just reconnect with yourself. And by all means, hold on to these new practices. When we open up, don’t go back to normal. That’s what I’ve been preaching, as I’ve been speaking to different groups, use what you’ve learned during this time and create the life that you want, and also model that for your children. That they too can go in a different direction based on what they’ve learned about themselves.
Do you have moms in your life you’d like to nominate for the Mother of the Year® honor? Nominate them today!