'Schedules are out the window': How frontline moms have coped with parenting during a pandemic

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Research has shown that the pandemic has been particularly tough on working moms. Since the virus was declared a pandemic, women's participation in the workforce has dropped to its lowest number since 1988, and another 275,000 women left the job market in January.

In many areas, working parents — including moms — are overseeing remote learning while trying to do their own jobs. And, for those who have been working on the front lines of the pandemic, they've also been juggling the stress of being regularly exposed to COVID-19.

Several of these frontline moms opened up to Yahoo Life about their experiences balancing demanding jobs, a suddenly changed childcare situation and fears of the virus. While many are hopeful about what’s next, they all admit it hasn’t been an easy year. Here are their stories.

From left to right: Jennifer Kinsberry, Mandi Tuhro, Dr. Dara Kass and Dr. Uché Blackstock.
From left to right: Jennifer Kinsberry, Mandi Tuhro, Dr. Dara Kass and Dr. Uché Blackstock.

'Schedules are out the window.'

As a mom of three kids, ranging in age from eight to 13, Dr. Dara Kass is used to juggling things. But Kass, an emergency medicine physician and associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, says the pandemic has completely changed the way her family operates. “Schedules are out the window,” she tells Yahoo Life. “We tried — repeatedly — to add in scheduled experiences during the pandemic and they all devolved.”

The upside, she says, is that she gets to see her kids more. “We all eat dinner together and I see my kids every day, which wasn’t what happened before,” she says. Kass’s children are doing hybrid learning schedules, and she’s operating a learning pod out of the first floor of her house during the day. The hardest part of the pandemic, she says, has been the “guilt” of wondering if the irregularity in her children's days is too much. “Are they doing enough? Are we messing things up? Are they getting outside enough?” she says. “There’s a balance between wondering if you’re giving them enough freedom to feel safe or giving them too much freedom that they’re not advancing.”

Kass says that she’s dealt with a lot of anxiety about being an ER physician during the pandemic, but she’s balanced that by “being grateful for the small moments,” like reminding herself that her family is safe.

“Memories are funny,” she says. “Even with all of the traumatic experiences this year brought, I will look back and the thing that will stick out most to me will be that this is the year that we spent the most time together as a family. I will miss that one day.”

'There’s a lot of worry.'

Dr. Danelle Fisher, is a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., with a 9-year-old son. During the past year, Fisher’s son has done remote learning, which she says has been stressful on many levels.

“There’s a lot of worry,” she tells Yahoo Life. “I worry that my son is not getting the academic enrichment that he needs from being in a classroom setting. I worry that my son is not getting the social input that children need during childhood to help with their growth and development.” But Fisher, who sees patients in an office and hospital setting, says she also has a “huge worry” that she’s grappled with since the pandemic began: “that I could bring COVID-19 home and get my son or my husband sick.”

Fisher says she’s struggled with “guilt about leaving the house” since she can’t be home to oversee her son’s schoolwork, and has done more “comfort eating” than she’d prefer.

It hasn’t all been bad, though. “I’ve really realized how important self care is during this pandemic, and I’m trying to make sure I’m fitting in time to exercise,” she says. Fisher and her son also started taking tennis lessons together, which she calls “the biggest joy.”

“Getting to spend quality time with my son, outside in the fresh air, playing tennis is my favorite part of this whole pandemic,” she says.

Fisher says she also feels like she’s been a good role model for her son during this time. “He’s expressed many times that he’s proud I’m a doctor, which gives me pleasure—even though it’s been rough,” she says.

'My kids are definitely getting more screen time now and I'm feeling less guilty about it.'

As an emergency physician and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, Dr. Uché Blackstock has been busy. “Overall, it’s been stressful,” she says, of juggling her work and parenting her 4- and 6-year-old children during the pandemic.

She tells Yahoo Life that the start of the pandemic, when her children were doing remote learning, was “challenging” because her children are “so young and got bored with it.” But, she says, it was a “game changer” when her kids went back to school in the fall. “They were more happy, and their father and I were more happy,” Blackstock says.

Blackstock says her children were “bouncing off the walls and fighting a lot” at the start of the pandemic but things have settled down at home. “My kids are definitely getting more screen time now and I'm feeling less guilty about it,” she says.

'I didn’t want my stress to rub off on my children.'

Dr. Virteeka Sinha, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, is mom to two boys—a 6-year-old and 12-year-old.

“To me, parenting is a way of life,” she tells Yahoo Life. “You are constantly trying to do your best for your children and second-guessing every action you take in a normal world. Adding to that the stress of a pandemic with a disease that we knew very little about and it was a challenge.”

Sinha says it’s been “stressful” to try to keep her kids safe, “physically, mentally, and emotionally, while also going to work and giving my best," and “challenging” to work in the emergency room with COVID-19 patients and not bring the emotional impact of what she witnessed home. “I didn’t want my stress to rub off on my children,” she says.

Sinha says that there have been positives of this past year, though. “We’ve spent more time as a family at home than ever before. It gave us time to focus on what’s important,” she says.

Sinha says she’s also found hobbies she can enjoy with her kids. “Painting and baking with them has helped take my mind off of the immense stress at work,” she says.

'This pandemic has totally upped my baking and Kidz Bop dance party skills.'

Even doctors have struggled with childcare during the pandemic. Dr. Kierstin Cates Kennedy, chief of Hospital Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, tells Yahoo Life that finding “safe and reliable childcare” for her 2- and 5-year-olds has been the most stressful part of the pandemic.

We experienced the school closures last spring and since then have had to quarantine after potential exposures at school,” she says. “Both scenarios provided no advance notice to allow us to find alternative childcare.” Kennedy says it’s been “hard to find babysitters that you can trust are following guidelines and won't bring COVID into the home,” but, in the case of quarantines, they were on their own.

“The safest thing for all parties was to stay home with them myself, which is far easier said than done when you are a doctor who cares for sick patients in the hospital,” she says. “Hospitalized patients must be seen and cared for every day, so if I can't go to work ,one of my colleagues has to care for my patients in addition to their own, and sometimes high volumes of patients can impact the quality of care. We had to really get creative to juggle childcare and work responsibilities because so much was at stake.”

Kennedy says she’s “grateful” that she’s been able to spend more time with her children, and cook more often. “Also, during the cold weather months when we couldn't play outside or have indoor play dates, we had to find things to do indoors as a family,” she says. “This pandemic has totally upped my baking and Kidz Bop dance party skills.”

'My youngest still cries every time I come in and am not able to hug her right away.'

Dr. Sara Andrabi, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that she and her husband, a fellow healthcare worker, sat down their children to explain the pandemic to them when it began.

“With schools closing, people wearing masks, etc. they knew something was up,” she says, of her 7-, 6-, and 2-year-olds. While her oldest had questions about what a virus was, Andrabi says her middle child was more worried about safety. “He wondered why Mommy was going to work even though many other parents were working from home,” she says.

Andrabi says one of the hardest parts about being a frontline worker during the pandemic is not being able to hug her children when she gets home. “I have a strict process when I get home to go straight to the shower before I hug or interact with any of my family,” she says. “My older two get this and it has become their new normal now. My youngest still cries every time I come in and am not able to hug her right away. I don’t think hearing her cry for that reason will ever get easy for me.”

Andrabi says that the pandemic has made her “focus on the positives and be mindful of how I am behaving” and be thankful for her husband. “We are really a team,” she says. “I am thankful to have an amazing husband who works in medicine and ‘gets it.’”

'I have taken more time to mentally adjust and to prevent profound negative effects of isolation through meditation.'

Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an ob/gyn in Texas tells Yahoo Life that “parenting has taken a new look” for her family during the pandemic, noting that there have been changes to school, family time, and working to ensure her sons’ emotional wellbeing.

She says it’s been especially stressful to keep her kids “engaged” and “meeting education goals, and also trying to keep them safe while they also have to adjust to not seeing their extended family for a very long time.” She’s also had a “high fear” of becoming infected at work and bringing it home to her family.

Now, Shepherd says, she’s learned the power of self-care. “I have taken more time to mentally adjust and to prevent profound negative effects of isolation through meditation,” she says. “I use the meditation device Core to help me center and align my thoughts.”

'I am so much more capable of everything.'

Mandi Tuhro, a registered ICU nurse at Missouri Baptist in St. Louis, has a son named Walter who will turn 1 next month. Tuhro was on maternity leave at the start of the pandemic and was worried about returning to work, balancing her family and their safety and her patients.

“There would be times I’d be waking up to screams, 3 to 4 times a night with the baby, and then having to go to work and be sharp and mentally ready to take on a day of taking care of the sickest patients I’ve ever taken care of,” she says. "There were many nights I came home and I just burst out in tears. Although I'm no stranger to death, the hardest part was just seeing so much. I often ask myself, would I be feeling some of the ways that I'm feeling if COVID wasn't a thing and I was just a new mom?"

Ultimately, Tuhro says, "becoming a new mom has definitely shown me that I am so much more capable of everything."

'When I see my child learn something new, that's the highlight of my day.'

Jennifer Kinsberry has a two-year-old daughter and two jobs, working as a respiratory therapist and a volunteer firefighter. Both jobs are pretty stressful, she says, and COVID "has heightened that stress, I think for myself and for everyone, just because it's this fear of the unknown."

The hardest part for Kingsberry has been finding the right balance between being there for her child and serve her Philadelphia community. "There would be times where I would be waking up two, three, four times a night with the baby and then having to go to work and be sharp and mentally ready to take on a day of taking care of the sickest patients I've ever taken care of."

It's the joyful moments that help Kingsberry keep perspective. "When I see my child learn something new, that's the highlight of my day," she says. "Being a therapist and being a frontline worker makes me a better mom. It has allowed me to really appreciate life and everything that goes into that. When it was my time to become a mom, I just take all those positive experiences and the gratitude from the blessing that a kid is. And I apply that to motherhood."

— Video produced by Jenny Miller


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