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 ourselves from the panel discussion. This is the first in a two-part series of articles about care.
Sharon Parker (SP): They say one out of five women has lost childcare support due to the pandemic, and over 2.6 million women have been forced out of the workplace because they had to stay home with their children. How have you in your practice helped mothers work through the psychological issues, depression or anxiety that they may be dealing with staying at home now that they’ve lost their job?
Dr. Renae Reinardy (RR): There’s so much for people to talk about and so many transitions. And having to multitask is stressful, right? We all have experienced that. When people have had these huge transitions in their lives and now are facing things they never thought they were going to have to face again or face even in their lifetime, and bam, there it was. [The pandemic] did really impact a lot of women and children especially. So it’s trying to make treatment and resources more accessible. Letting moms know that it’s okay to reach out and that it’s not only okay, but please reach out for help. You don’t have to do this alone. That’s a really important thing. Because so often, we don’t want the help, we want to do it. We’re used to doing it all on our own. But for a lot of people, it crossed a threshold where it just wasn’t possible to do it. And so it is familiarizing yourself with resources and getting help until we can get to that point again—of being back in our supermom position that we think is necessary. So it’s good to kind of take that as an opportunity to rebalance and kind of get passed our ego and know that we can’t do it all, all the time.
SP: They say most individuals in their lifetime, especially mothers, may lose someone to death, lose a job, lose a friend, but not all at the same time. So to me, this pandemic is just not normal. So, Carol, I want to ask you, you have interviewed several mothers around the country for your parenting platform. Please share with us how they have dealt with loss during the pandemic and also if you can provide some tips to help them discover the joy that is in their lives.
Carol Muleta (CM): So with the families that have experienced loss, we really talk a lot about how to remember and honor those loved ones. And perhaps even for those that didn’t necessarily lose their loved one but lost connection with them or they weren’t able to visit them. We talked about how to be creative in making those connections, through video, or coming over to visit from the outside. Doing all of that, but just to really think about what you have and creatively honoring what you do have while still honoring those that you’ve lost or the things and privileges you’ve lost.
That’s what I’ve done a lot of, and they’ve come to realize some of the advantages, like even having to take over the school duties. And all of that, while it is an extra workload, some parents said that they really appreciated being able to see what kind of learners their children are, they aren’t able to see that because they’re at school. And so they either can provide additional support if they noticed their children need support, or there’s just a sense of satisfaction and pride that maybe their child is doing well. They can find additional ways to enrich what they’re doing because now they know more about what their children are doing in school. So that’s really I really tried to strike that balance.
SP: So we have heard this phrase, “a mother’s role on steroids.” A lot of mothers out there have large families. And I can’t imagine how underserved communities are dealing with this pandemic, so we need to keep that in consideration. As a mother to seven children, [that phrase] is probably really real for you, Charlotte. How can mothers embrace that balance of responsibilities while finding time for self-care?
Charlotte Avery (CA): Self-care is very personal… that’s why it’s not [called] everyone care. It’s really you caring for yourself. As moms during this time, we’ve had to find ways to take care of ourselves while we’re taking care of everyone else. For me, I’ve had to be able to ask myself, “what are the things that give me joy?” A lot of moms are just like, “I’m so stressed out, I don’t know what to do.” So I ask them, “where do you find your joy? Do you find your joy taking a walk, or reading a book, or closing the door to your room and soaking in your bathtub?”
What are the things that brought you joy, even before the pandemic? Because some of those things, we just decided that because I’m taking care of these people, I’ve got to sacrifice myself. You can’t take care of everybody and be in a good mind space if you’re sacrificing yourself. You have to show up for yourself. So what are those things that you can do so you can show up for yourself, that are going to bring you joy, so that you can also show up for your family? Are you going to take an hour a week to say, “This is my hour and everybody needs to respect my hour?” Find that thing to go back to that gives you joy—your personal joy—and it doesn’t include everybody else. It’s just for you, and it’s okay to do that. You don’t have to have mommy guilt taking care of yourself.
SP: Renae, to kind of piggyback on what Charlotte just said, give us some advice on some of the clinical things that mothers can do. People talk about meditating and taking a walk. So can you share some more tips?
RR: Charlotte gave some fantastic examples. And when it comes to therapeutic strategies, they also need to be personalized. It starts with a good assessment of where we are going off track, if I’m going off track with a lot of negative thoughts toward myself that’s not going to help. So sometimes, we have to use a cognitive restructuring strategy. Relax. When people have all those physiological symptoms, their shoulders are riding up here, and that’s where we’re doing things like progressive muscle relaxation. When we’re breathing just like through the top of our throat—learning diaphragmatic breathing might be helpful. So there’s lots of things: meditation, learning assertiveness, learning how to delegate, adjusting our expectations. There are so many therapeutic strategies that we can use. You know, we might have lost our job that we had for a really long time and we haven’t interviewed for a long time, there can be a lot of fear with that for people. That’s where exposure therapy can be helpful. Stepping outside of our comfort zone. Being able to do something different. Having our world get a little bit bigger in a way, when it got smaller if that makes sense. So we do have to challenge ourselves in healthy ways to be able to grow and adapt. Humans are the most adaptive creatures, but we can’t do it all at once. So it’s taking that inventory, looking at where do I start? That’s an important thing to consider.
CA: So I’m piggybacking off of one thing that Dr. Rene said. One thing that I have also found is how important support systems really are during this time. Sometimes we’re out here thinking that we’re just in this thing by ourselves. The pandemic has made us feel like we’re just in our own silo in our own house, so sometimes we’re like, “Okay, I’m about to go crazy. I’m about to go on flip mode, and I don’t want to go on flip mode on my kids.” But things just keep building and building. And it’s really knowing who are your people? Where is your support system? Because I’ve dealt with women who live in different states and they have no support system. So even just trying to figure out, with my family not close, where’s my support system. What does that look like for me? Is that somebody in my church? Is a neighbor up the street that I can trust, and to be able to say, “Hey, I need to decompress.”
Do you have moms in your life you’d like to nominate for the Mother of the Year® honor? Nominate them today!