It’s no secret that the pandemic has taken a toll on parents. Between navigating working from home, taking on the role of homeschool teachers, and keeping up with regular chores and responsibilities, more and more parents are feeling stressed out. But there’s one group that’s been hit particularly hard in the past year and that’s new moms. Combine the unfamiliar task of taking care of a newborn baby with the fear and uncertainty of a global pandemic and you’ve got a recipe for burnout.
We spoke to Jefferson Center’s own Perinatal and Postpartum Mental Health Clinician, Victoria Becker, and Adult Outpatient Clinician, Rayna Quimby, to get a better idea of the challenges new moms have faced in the pandemic as well as steps they can take to regain their balance in a world that feels off kilter.
How Has the Pandemic Impacted Parenting?
While becoming a mom for the first time is always a mix of excitement, uncertainty, and maybe a little bit of worry, the pandemic has upended those expectations and made the experience of becoming a mother harder than ever before. One of the elements that has made this such a difficult time is the lack of community and easily available resources. In the past, new moms were able to join support groups, meet with friends and family for advice, or even call a babysitter to get a few hours of alone time when things get overwhelming. However, with our new circumstances, many of these social nets have all but disappeared. Victoria notes that new moms are experiencing increased isolation, “especially in the postpartum time, which is often already isolating and that comes with loneliness, overwhelm, and anxiety because it’s made the outside world scary.”
Rayna has also observed a new phenomenon taking place among new mothers: increased codependency. Of course, new moms are protective of their newborn babies, who are vulnerable in a wide variety of ways, but with a virus that can infect anyone at any time, more and more moms are self-isolating and having all of their mental and emotional energy go to protecting their children. The end result is that these new moms have no space or time to rest and the idea of securing those social supports might increase feelings of anxiety due to worries about accidentally bringing COVID-19 into the home.
What About Dads?
While a large number of families have seen both the mom and the dad transition to working from home, the balance of parenting hasn’t suddenly become equal. In fact, both Victoria and Rayna have seen a huge increase in stressed out moms who have had to take on more responsibilities and more roles than dads.
According to Victoria, this is the phenomenon of the default parent.
“Women and moms are solidified in the default parent role,” she said. “Parenting is their domain. This can be unconscious and not purposeful on the part of the other parent, but when you have to ask the partner to do certain things, it can be very draining.”
Not only are moms doing more of the parenting, they’re also doing more of the communicating and organizing. Rayna says this has become very visually obvious in a lot of homes.
“When everyone is home at the same time, you start to see who the default parent is,” she commented. “Which parent does the child go to first?”
All the little moments of stopping to take care of the baby or help a child with their homework or unload the dishes can add up throughout the course of a day in a way that presents a heavier load for moms than dads. Victoria notes that part of this is due to the fact that many men are much more comfortable carving out time for self-care, while moms don’t feel like they are able to do the same thing and don’t feel like they can advocate for their own needs as strongly. In some cases, this can lead to feelings of resentment between parents.
Taking On New Roles and Responsibilities
When it comes to working from home, raising a new child, and potentially even schooling from home if you have multiple children, Rayna summarizes the situation well.
“It’s simply just do it all,” Rayna said. “Figure it out and find the time to do it.”
This is the impossible task that most moms are facing right now. How to do it all. And not only just getting it done but excelling at every element of each task. With that comes the feeling of chronically not being enough in every aspect of life.
“We only have so much to give,” said Victoria. “We also only have so much space in our cup. When we’re chronically stressed, we’re asking people to be chronically overflowed with a cup that can’t hold everything.”
The overflow starts to affect relationships, work life, home life, parenting capabilities, and more. It can also start to seep into a new mom’s identity and the evaluation of her self-worth.
Losing Your Own Identity
Prior to giving birth, the focus is all on the moms-to-be. How are they feeling? Are they eating well enough? Are they resting? Once the baby arrives, many moms feel like their own wellbeing falls to the wayside since so much time and energy becomes dedicated to the newborn. This can continue over time as many moms begin to feel a lack of identity and question who they are aside from just mom. The loss of identity is one of the major factors that can contribute to postpartum depression, which is important to identify and seek help for early on.
To counter this, Victoria and Rayna ask new moms to recall what brings them joy. Many moms struggle to find a quick answer because they’re so focused on caretaking and parenting that everything else related to their own happiness and satisfaction gets neglected. Within a pandemic, it can be difficult to go out and explore interests and socialize when you’re guilty and fearful of real danger and exposure. However, there are solutions out there.
Balancing Your Mental Health and the Wellbeing of Your Children
According to Victoria and Rayna, therapy is one of the best ways for new moms to regain that personal connection with themselves and establish clear boundaries with family that will help improve their mental health. Outside of therapy, there are plenty of ways moms can feel more in control of their home lives. Rayna suggests setting up a system where you can ask for help or support. “It’s a necessity to have at least a few moments alone each week for your own mental wellbeing.”
Additionally, Victoria says that new moms should ditch the “supermom” mentality. “You physically and emotionally can’t do it all, so you have to figure out what’s most important,” she said. “That’s uncomfortable because moms want to be perfect. They want to be supermom and there’s such pressure on moms to be perfect.”
For Victoria and Rayna it comes down to separating out the needs from the wants. When the natural support systems aren’t there, the question becomes what can be sacrificed to get what you need. If the choice is between folding laundry for thirty minutes or taking a nap during that time, Rayna emphasizes that you need to pick the thing that will be most effective for you in the long term.
Finding Additional Support for Moms
One thing the pandemic has created is plenty of ways for people to connect through new means. Although the in-person component of many social groups for moms might be a ways off, many moms are finding the community and support they need online.
Victoria and Rayna lead an online group through Jefferson Center called Mama Circle. The group is open to any woman in the postpartum period with a baby up to two years old. Mama Circle is a non-judgemental, open, validating space to discuss the real, honest struggles of motherhood. It’s a space to validate and support each other. As Rayna says, the group is “needed, necessary, and valuable.”
For new moms, this time can be incredibly stressful and scary, but they don’t have to do it alone. Support is available. For more information about Mama Circle and local resources, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.
Here are a few other resources for new parents:
- Postpartum.net – a wide variety of online groups for all types of parents
- Dad Chat – monthly time for dads to meet and talk via postpartum.net
- Nurse Family Partnerships through Public Health for first-time moms
- “Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts” by Karen Kleinman
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