Parents are the most essential workers of all…

It would be a gross understatement to say that parents have been overwhelmed because of the measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

We haven’t been getting enough of almost anything we need to be resilient, patient, and happy, or to be the parents we most want to be.

We haven’t been allowed to do almost anything we used to do recreationally, unless the thing we used to do was something alone or with our immediate household, outside, or inside of our own dwelling. So… no coffee with a friend, no knit nights, no dancing, no singing, no playing in a band, no playing sports, no swimming, no going to the movies, and no going out for a meal. There have been restrictions on going to church, birthday or wedding celebrations, funerals, high-holiday feasts; and especially, visiting anyone in a nursing home.

As parents, we have had to accommodate all aspects of life for everyone in the household in our home. Everyone working, schooling, eating, resting, and playing all at home, all together, all the time. We have had to try to do our work with almost constant distractions, or surrender to the fact that we just couldn’t. Or worse, we have had to leave our kids alone at home without childcare while we went to our ‘essential’ jobs. We have had to manage all the extra cleaning and maintenance to keep the spaces functional, or surrender to the reality that we couldn’t do that either. We have also had to create emotional space for all the feelings that we and our family members have been experiencing: boredom, confusion, frustration, sadness, fear, anger, grief, powerlessness, and hopelessness, or again, surrender to the fact that we just couldn’t do that every time either, and instead go to bed and cry ourselves to sleep.

During this same time, the news has been consistently shocking. The effects of climate change, ignored and unchecked, have begun to manifest in un-ignorable ways: wildfires, “heat-domes” oceans polluted and overfished to death, and polar icecaps melting.

All this and the news constantly reporting case counts of Covid-19 while failing to report anything that might alleviate our fears, like actual information about people who died from it – how old they were and what other health conditions they had that might have been why they were living in a nursing home in the first place…

…while simultaneously sowing seeds of discord, fear and blame about rising case counts by dehumanizing people who don’t want to wear face masks by reducing them all to “anti-maskers”, or those who don’t want to get vaccinated by reducing them to “anti-vaxxers”; instead of listening to any valid concerns they may have to contribute to the conversation. Remember at the beginning when the story was, “We must not overwhelm the hospitals”? That morphed very quickly into a mantra of fear. “Stay home. Stay safe.” I can’t imagine how that might increase anyone’s anxiety or feeling of hopelessness, can you?

The culture of divisive, dehumanizing behaviour and kangaroo-court style “justice” that is being dispensed via social media has become a kind of terrorism, where we are all afraid to say or do anything that might offend anyone, or be taken in a way we didn’t intend. Just today I read in the Hamilton Spectator that a kid lost their co-op placement for making the ‘OK’ sign with their hand in a photo because apparently that is a “white supremacy sign” now?? Really? Who decided that?! But I digress…

It’s really no wonder that overeating, alcohol consumption, prescriptions for anxiety and depression, drug use, domestic abuse, and marital separations and divorces have been on the rise.

Mothers especially, because we are wired by estrogen to connect with others, feel these effects even more strongly. We can see that there is much more that is needed than we have the capacity to contribute individually and yet we are unable to get the support we need to even do our basic jobs or take proper care of ourselves. We, as powerful as we are, cannot do this alone. We need help, and we need to work together.

The pandemic has been a lesson not only in our reliance as a society on the unpaid labour of caregivers, but also the difficulty, stress, and complete lack of support provided to the role. And there is a lot of extra stress right now. Mothers and other stay-at-home caregivers and homemakers need our support and recognition, not just counselling and mind-altering medication. They need not only financial security, but also our acknowledgement of how absolutely essential the job they do is, and support to do it to the best of their ability.

In the meantime, while we are waiting for this revolution in which unpaid workers have basic income supplementation and medical benefits and pensions, we can start by acknowledging for ourselves how crucial our work is, and that we must make it non-negotiable that we take proper care of ourselves physically and mentally.

We have to protect the time we set aside to refill our cups by asking for help, or by simply saying ‘no’ to further requests/demands on our time and energy. We must take time for personal care, eating properly, exercising, going outside, meditating or praying or journalling, doing absolutely nothing, or (dare I even mention it?) doing anything just for fun. We have to do this instead of drinking alcohol or doing drugs, scrolling social media, watching media, oversleeping, overeating or any other coping mechanisms that are not serving us if they take away more than they give back.

One of the silver linings of the cloud of Covid has been that we have learned to cherish our interactions with others, however brief. A smile from a stranger on a walk. A driveway conversation with a friend. An outside, socially distanced visit with extended family. Even the awkward, tedious online meetings. We have had to cultivate compassion and patience for ourselves and others, all doing our best in this nasty mess.

Now that things are starting to open up again, we need to make seeing our friends a priority. Don’t cancel on your friends because you’re too busy, or time-stressed. Protect your time and energy so that you can show up for yourself and your friends. Don’t cancel unless you HAVE to. No one else is coming to rescue us anytime soon and we have to take care of ourselves and each other.


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