Since the pandemic began in March, my oldest has graduated from kindergarten, lost a total of seven baby teeth, and learned to read with impressive fluency. My youngest has gone from a wobbly, non-verbal toddler to an at-home acrobat who now speaks in full sentences. They are visibly older and taller—each month’s photos taking with them bits and pieces of the babies they were in the spring.
It’s disorientating. It feels like some sort of science-fiction time glitch to see my kids grow while simultaneously stuck in an infinite loop of March weekdays. Every day is the same, with the exception of who has a meltdown and what we’ll eat for dinner.
Eternal Optimism Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be
All that being said, this year has been an exercise in perspective. For every minor grief 2020 has wrought, my inner cheerleader has rallied to point out the positive: yes, my family is isolated, but we’re safe and together. Sure, every social interaction my kid has is through a screen, but I love this extra time with her. OK, so I never leave the house, but I now have a collection of sophisticated loungewear.
As someone who is, at heart, a glass-half-empty sort of person, this long-haul optimism has been exhausting. And with the recent holidays, it feels almost contractually agreed upon to be happy. I’m just going to come out and say it—I can’t keep going.
It’s OK to Not Be OK
Like every parent, I want my children to feel safe and stable. This has meant putting on a brave face and faking my way through any number of situations, from flu shots to new schools to our current crisis. As mothers, we are often human shields, absorbing every hit and heartache in the hopes that our kids won’t have to. But the trouble is, of course, that we are still human.
On a Zoom call a few weeks back, almost all of my mom friends admitted to sobbing in the shower. The pressure, loneliness, and grief of this moment are too much to contain. It needs a release valve. We are exhausted, scared, and running on empty. We never expected to be in this for so long alone, with no finish line in sight.
As mothers, we are often human shields, absorbing every hit and heartache in the hopes that our kids won’t have to. But the trouble is, of course, that we are still human.
And yet, it feels built into our mom-DNA to tamp down any real-life reactions or negative emotions—as if even a whiff of them might alter our kids forever. Every concealed cry my friends admitted to on that call was accompanied by guilt. They either felt guilty for being overwhelmed by their own families or because they felt fear or anxiety in place of immense gratitude.
I’m not advocating for unleashing all of your anxieties on your family or breaking down in front of them on the regular. I still think it’s critically important to make our children’s lives as ordinary and stable as they can be. But there has to be some sort of balance where we can infuse their lives with hope and normalcy and also allow ourselves to just not be OK—and not feel bad about it in the process.
A New Plan for the New Year
This season, I spent an untold amount on Christmas decor for places in my home I have never once decorated. Truly, the money leaving my account has kept me up at night, even when the need to fill my house with holiday joy feels compulsive. It was almost like if I could convince my eyeballs the world is full of cheer, the rest of my mind and body will follow suit. I’m pretty certain that sounds nuts, but I’m also confident many parents the world over are doing the same. The need to conceal our negative feelings, even from ourselves, feels part and parcel of motherhood.
Now that I’m recognizing this, I’m calling for change, for myself and any other mom who feels the same. During this time when our instincts might be to overcompensate or hide everything we’re juggling, I hope we all allow those urges to pass. My wish for all of us is to be gentle, go slowly, and give ourselves permission and space to feel anything our hearts need to feel—even if it isn’t exactly comfortable. My hope is that all of us moms can lower our expectations, release some pressure, and be OK with not being OK this coming year. What an amazing gift that would be.
Read More: How 2020 Helped Me Let Go of Control